Richard Hudson and Geoff Barton on us, you and them

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Since this column is all about communication, we decided it was time we made it a little less one-sided.

We've decided we need to be more interactive. So, 85 columns in, we thought we would open up a dialogue, starting with some introductions. This is, after all, an unlikely pairing. Dick Hudson is a theoretical linguist.

He spends his time finding out about how language works and exploring ways of applying this in the classroom (something he's been interested in since working with Michael Halliday in the 1960s). Geoff Barton is an English teacher and now secondary headteacher. His degree was English with linguistics and he writes English textbooks.

After meeting at various seminars on such subjects as The State of English Grammar in Schools, we got into discussion about the role of grammar in schools. The one thing we both believe passionately is that good grammar teaching helps students to express themselves more precisely and, yes, more creatively. That is the basis of our columns.

Regular readers will know that we certainly aren't stereotypical grammar gurus. There's plenty that we don't quite understand about language. We don't prescribe compulsory Latin in schools. We think it's probably time to give up on the distinction between "can" and "may". And we're happy to start sentences with "and". We're also prone to dangling participles.

That's us; now you. We imagine you are a teacher of English, or perhaps modern languages, or perhaps simply have a passing interest in grammar (as one linguist said, being homo grammaticus is what distinguishes us from other animals). We reckon you probably teach KS3 students, though you may well also teach KS4 or KS2. You may, like many of us, feel that a degree in English didn't fully equip you for the demands of the literacy strategy.

Now them: your students. They will be generally good at talking but still finding their way in writing. They will have enormous intuitive knowledge but will benefit from expert guidance on language. This doesn't mean a comprehensive understanding of grammar, but the right tools for the job, the job being to communicate as well as possible.

So - belatedly - it's good to meet you. Now we'd like to address your classroom-based languages issues more directly. Stuck in a grammar rut? Hesitant about your own knowledge? Seeking clarification on a particular issue? We'd love to hear from you. So do get in touch:

Call your email "Toolkit". Whatever your query, we'll do our best to help.

Richard Hudson is professor of linguistics at University College London

Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk


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