BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK
Whether we blame it on hip-hop, poor schooling, or our embracing Ebonics, our children struggle to speak and write sentences free of double negatives (“I’m not doing nothing”), subject-verb disagreement (“You is”), and adjective misuse (“worser”).
Unfortunately, we have no one else to blame but ourselves; the comfortable mode of speech in many homes in the Austin Community is Ebonics, an African-American dialect that is important to black history but does not conform to the rules of Standard English. And though at times we code-switch, or divert to Standard English when speaking with business associates and bill collectors, we mainly immerse our children in a language that sets them up to compose grammatically incorrect essays and poorly executed speeches.
Teachers teach children basic grammar rules, but parents need to enforce these grammar rules at home. The following tips are motivating ways to help your child master basic English grammar.
Discuss the importance of learning standard English
Unfortunately, many of our black boys and girls don’t choose role models who consistently use correct English. Our youth look up to rappers, basketball players and singers, all professionals who are extremely talented, but don’t mind their speech as much as they mind their money. Because of this, our children equate speaking Standard English with “speaking white.” Before you enforce the use of Standard English in your home, discuss with your child the reasons why it is important to speak Standard English – so others can take you seriously, so all English speakers can understand you, etc.
Rewrite bad grammar lyrics
Browse through your child’s English or language arts book and find grammar rules that you can type and print out for your child to reference. Have your child use these rules to correct writing with which they are familiar. For example, many rappers creatively write sentences with double negatives, incorrect subject-verb agreement, or no verb at all. Have your child print out the lyrics from lyrics.com or elyrics.net and rewrite them in correct Standard English. Of course the rap or song won’t be the same, but your child will have a fun time discovering how songs would really sound if they were written in correct English grammar.
Use a bad grammar bucket
Does your family consistently use bad grammar? Have them pay for their mistakes. Clean out an old bucket and cut a hole in the lid. Place the container in a room in your home where you most often engage in family conversations. Each time someone in your family breaks a grammar rule in which you choose to focus, have him or her drop a dime or a quarter in the bucket. Challenge your children to catch family members breaking a grammar rule they have already learned at school. Using a bad grammar bucket can also be a way for your family to get money for special family treats. For example, once the bucket is full, you can use the money to buy a gallon of ice cream or a cheap DVD for the whole family to enjoy.
Create a correct grammar chart
You don’t have to be a grammar expert in order to help your children speak well. You already know of certain words, phrases and sentences that just don’t sound right. For example, children often cut off the end or beginning sounds of words, such a saying “fo” instead of “four” and “cuz” instead of “because.” If you notice this inadequacy in your child’s speech, create a chart that shows your child the correct way of saying certain words, phrases and sentences.
On a big piece of chart paper, create two columns. Title the first column Say It This Way. Title the second column Not This Way. Under the first column, write Standard English words, phrases and sentences that your children often distort, like “am not” and “she is silly.” In the same rows under the second column, write the way your child often mistakenly says the phrases and sentences in the first column, like “ain’t” and “she be acting silly.” Take the chart and post it on your child’s bedroom wall or on the kitchen wall to use as a reference when correcting your child.
Help teachers rid your children of bad grammar habits by using the teaching tools above. Make learning basic English grammar fun, and your child will be more motivated to speak well and, maybe, correct you when you speak.
China Hill is a teacher at KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.