10-second review: English as a second language student (ESL) rarely makes mistakes in agreement (subject/verb) until he studies agreement in a textbook and then he makes a large number of mistakes in agreement.
Title: Review of Teaching Writing As A Second Language. A S Horning (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987. Reviewed by A Raimes. College Composition And Communication (May 1988), 249-250.
Summary/Quote: “We hear that G.W. made only one agreement error in his first five papers, and note that the error occurred in an attempt at an extremely complex sentence. However, one-sixth of the assigned textbook, we are told, was devoted to agreement, and after discussion of rules of agreement, G. W. began to make errors [in agreement]. One wonders why, once he had demonstrated in five essays that he had acquired the rules of agreement, he was subjected to classroom procedures to help him ‘learn’ those same rules. In fact, poor G. W. reached the point of making twelve agreement errors in one essay….”
Comment: After I finished laughing about this ironic problem in grammar instruction, I thought about why anyone would teach rules of grammar to someone who already knows them, even intuitively. In my opinion, the reason might be that long, complex sentences hide the problem, whether it’s subject-verb agreement, parallel structure, dangling modifiers, etc. My purpose for working with these rules would be to help students who know the rules to recognize and to apply them in long, complex sentences where they will be likely to make the mistake in their writing.
Still, I can accept the point of view that when students already know the rules, helping to apply them in long, complex sentences in their own writing rather than textbooks would save time—and be more efficient and effective—than the time spent on probably useless grammar exercises that they will have forgotten when the time comes that they are faced with the problems in their own writing. RayS.