grammar headache

If you are a native English speaker then chances are that you have an intuitive grasp of the English language and its grammar. You know how to speak it. But you may have forgotten all the rules and definitions that come with it.

Some TEFL course providers believe that grammar with its rules and definitions that come with it are very important to know.

For example, is it important to know what an "auxiliary verb" is? Should I be able to explain the difference between teaching the "present continuous" and the "present perfect"? Are these definitions and rules important to know if you are teaching English?

Of course it is important to know them on an intuitive level. As an English teacher you should have grammatically perfect English. Your students will model you so if you are speaking incorrectly then your students will be too. But chances are you do if you are a native speaker.

Here's what one TEFL course provider thinks...

Some TEFL courses including the one I first took have a strong focus on grammar, its definitions and rules. Here's a comment from a TEFL provider's website in regards to what a good TEFL course should include:

"The course should include a comprehensive grammar programme. Grammar is a very tough subject to learn, let alone teach – so this part of the course is likely to be difficult, but it’s essential you know what you’re talking about when you start teaching." - some TEFL provider

I think that idea is not based on usefulness, but on fear that you have "to know what you are talking about" when you start teaching.

Here's what a couple has to say about their grammar heavy TEFL course...


Here's a quote from 2canucksabroad on Youtube. They were referring to the TEFL course they got on Groupon:

"It was a refresher course with all the rules to English. It didn't actually teach you to teach English, but... (Other person laughing) Yeah it didn't really teach you at all on how to teach English, but yeah a good refresher on all the English skills."

Studying grammar rules and definitions is just technical English. It's like studying Latin. It's not useful or practical. It's information reserved for the "nerds" or perhaps snobs.

Here's what a non-native English speaker thinks...

Here are some comments on one of my videos on Youtube:

Youtube comments about grammar and teaching ESL

This guy thinks that teaching English should be about studying "grammar and functions". He obviously doesn't look like a native speaker himself.

Here's another teacher in Korea commenting on grammar and whether or not it's important.

"So you're supposed to make it fun and everything. You're not supposed to be so responsible for teaching all this grammar and administering exams and all that stuff... ...So don't think that you're going to be the grammar lecturing pedagogical professor that's going to come here and change things. You're a guest English teacher." - Tom in Korea talking about the EPIK program

Amen brother, I want a useful and practical TEFL course

A heavy grammar focus is pointless especially for teaching children and beginners

If you are going to be teaching children or beginners then I think it is unnecessary. At those levels students are just learning vocabulary, sentences and Q&A. They don't need to know the language behind the language.

Why not? Because it's not useful to them and they don't ask questions like that.

Even if you are teaching higher levels of adult learners it's still not very important. In my experience questions like that are rare.

I don't think in your day to day job that you are going to get many questions like that. In my years of teaching abroad I might have seen a handful of questions like that. And I can't remember a single "student" asking me a question like that.

The only people who asked me questions like that were non-native English speaking co-teachers (like the picture above). Even when I taught adults I don't recall a question like that. So who did I teach?

I taught mostly children aged 6-14. But I also taught high school students and adults.

Kids could care less about such material. It's meaningless to them. A 12 year old child will never ask you, "teacher what's a past participle?" I think if you go into a classroom teaching children thinking you have to teach them "grammar" or recite grammar rules and definitions you are in for a surprise.

It's not just children either.

"Teaching grammar at this level (referring to adult beginners) I think should largely be in chunks of language, so more on a functional level. It doesn't need to be greatly analyzed." - Jo Gakonga

I think the key word above is functional. You need to teach them language that they can use. Language that will serve a purpose. Grammar rules are rather abstract and only mature students of a more advanced level might want to know what the "present continuous" form means or what "auxiliary verbs" are.

So who should have a good grasp of all these grammar definitions?

It's not so much the ability to recite, define and name grammar rules, but maybe someone who is planning on teaching higher level English learners.

Also like in the pic above possibly a non-native English speaker would of course need to understand English grammar and how to speak properly in order to teach it. In my experience there are quite a few non-native English speaking teachers out there who have imperfect English.

What if?

What if a student or fellow teacher asks a question when you don't know the answer? Well, if you want to save face then tell them your busy now and we can talk about it tomorrow. Then go home and research the answer to the question.


Based on my experience a TEFL course should be practical. You should learn how to communicate, how to speak as a leader, how to engage your students, how to create lessons that are fun and interesting, and how to manage your classroom and students.

You might get a kick out of studying these grammar rules and definitions so by all means go right ahead. It may make you feel superior or knowledgeable, but the real world application of studying and then using these terms and rules is pretty small.

That's why I would recommend a course that's more practical. ESLinsider's courses include a topic for studying grammar, but the emphasis is on learning practical tools. You need tools to teach and reciting grammar rules is not a tool.

But again what is the use of it? This is not Jeopardy and people are not learning a new language to be able to recite a bunch of meaningless facts. I suspect most native English speakers could not define what a "modal verb" is. And the majority of those speakers speak perfect English.

Yes, I want to take a useful and practical online TEFL course

How about you? How important do you think it is to be able to define and label English grammar as a teacher? Why?