What has grammar go to do with conversation? Michael McCarthy takes a look at corpus data to explore how grammar influences how we organise information and use tenses in natural conversation.
This article brings together two aspects of language teaching which are not often dealt with at the same time: grammar and conversation. We often think of grammar as the abstract set of rules that enable us to talk about things like time (the different tenses), position (e.g. in, at, on), number and quantity (e.g. some vs any, countable vs uncountable nouns), conditions (e.g. structures with if and unless), making things negative (e.g. not, none, nobody) and so on. And when we think of conversation, we often think of enabling students to talk about their lives, their families, their ambitions, their activities, world issues, how to thank people or apologize, and so on. So, what has grammar got to do with conversation? If we learn enough grammar to express our ideas accurately, isn’t that enough?