A new colleague jokingly asked me yesterday if I were a ‘Grammar Nazi’ when he realised what I did to earn a crust. I laughed it off and suggested that instead – if I saw myself as anything – it was as a ‘Grammar Socialist’. I don’t suppose for one minute that I inadvertently coined a witty new phrase (I haven’t googled the term), but I think that it offered a fair summation of my attitude. Grammar seems to be such a stumbling block to many people who I deal with every day. Not stupid people but very intelligent people who will offer up their work at arm’s length, as if it were radioactive or contagious and ask me to edit and rewrite things for them because the burden of having to do things correctly is just too great.
I’m not a grammarian but I do have a working knowledge of the strictures of the English language. Any skill that I have is one born of a) reading and b) writing. It’s that simple.
It’s an attitude that seems to be born out by research as well, as in a recent article in The Atlantic: The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar.
Just as we teach children how to ride bikes by putting them on a bicycle, we need to teach students how to write grammatically by letting them write.
And I wholeheartedly agree. In the workshops I’ve given on copywriting, the biggest piece of advice that I give to people is to read their work out loud. The chances are that if if sounds OK then it is fine to use. People instinctively kn0w when something doesn’t sound right, but are often at pains to know what it is. Turning the words into sounds is the best way to fix this – far better than poring over one of the thousands of grammar readers out there. when I suggested this during a session a few weeks ago, there was an audible intake of air from the participants as the scales fell from their eyes and they seemed liberated before my eyes.
Could it really be so simple?
I’m not suggesting that the rules should be thrown out of the window, but they shouldn’t be allowed to shackle creativity and confidence. Reading and writing are the best advantages that any writer can give themselves and, like learning any skill, practice will yield results.