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Adult Literacy - was/were

Discussion in 'English' started by lmdoyle, Feb 7, 2007.

  1. Hi everyone

    This is my first post and I hope that I have put it in the right place. I am a student teacher currently doing my PGCE in FE with a Level 4 specialism in Adult Literacy. I have chosen this forum because my question is firmly embedded in the subject of English.

    My question is this - does anyone have any lesson ideas/activities for teaching 'was/were' and the correct circumstances to use each term.

    The learners are at Level 1 aiming to achieve their Level 2 qualification and persistently seem to slip up when identifying grammatical errors such as "He were going to the shops" instead of "He was going to the shops".

    I hope that all makes sense - any help would be much appreciated.
     
  2. Hi everyone

    This is my first post and I hope that I have put it in the right place. I am a student teacher currently doing my PGCE in FE with a Level 4 specialism in Adult Literacy. I have chosen this forum because my question is firmly embedded in the subject of English.

    My question is this - does anyone have any lesson ideas/activities for teaching 'was/were' and the correct circumstances to use each term.

    The learners are at Level 1 aiming to achieve their Level 2 qualification and persistently seem to slip up when identifying grammatical errors such as "He were going to the shops" instead of "He was going to the shops".

    I hope that all makes sense - any help would be much appreciated.
     
  3. 'Was' and 'were' are past participles of the verb 'to be'. It is 'irregular' and conjugates like this:

    I was
    you (singular) were
    he/she/it was

    we were
    you (plural) were
    they were

    They won't believe that they're wrong because they've used it incorrectly all their lives. They are likely to stare at you blankly and say "But *I* say 'we was'" and regard that statement as irrefutable proof that they are right! :)


    Good luck...
     
  4. but they are 'right' if they're speaking their dialect. It's only incorrect, according to standard English, when it's written.
     
  5. Since it's adults you're talking about, why can't you just put the correct version on the board and get them to copy it down, along with some memorable sentences using them.
    Surely 'he were/we was' is wrong whether it's spoken or written. Nothing to do with dialect.
     
  6. It has everything to do with dialect and IMHO it's only 'wrong' if you expect people to talk using standard English - a standard that applies to the written mode!
     
  7. Local dialect here is 'we was'. I insist they use the correct terminology in English lessons. There is also the local 'go town' rather than go to....

    I insist on it simply as it is Standard English, and they need to be aware that in written form it is not acceptable.

    Okay, also as it drives me mad.

    Was = singular, were = plural. End of.

     
  8. re posts 3 and 5:
    No, Standard English applies to both the written and spoken form. Quite often, regional dialects use non-standard English which is grammatically incorrect.
     
  9. Have to dig my heels in on this one: there is no such thing as spoken standard English. Of course, text that is written to be spoken such as a speech will perforce follow the standard, but you would be hard pushed to find anyone who speaks as they write, it would sound horribly stilted. The grammar of talk is completely different - decades of conversation analysis (and many, many of my own hours) has shown this to be true.
     
  10. Can only say that I have yet to come across anyone who has disputed the we were/was thing. They may not always use "were" but do know the difference - like so much grammar and punctuation, knowing it and using it are two completely different things! f you take the majority of students, adult or otherwise, through the declension (??) of the verb "to be", they can do it quite effortlessly!
     
  11. Look at the grade descriptors for GCSE EN1 (Speaking and Listening)if in doubt. Pupils are required to show competency in Standard English vocabulary and grammar to achieve a C grade or above.
     
  12. Helenski - I'm not in doubt, I'm familiar with the descriptors. It still doesn't make it right though and it's so obviously related to class. Pupils need to learn and use standard concord for example when writing, but come to understand that this is also required for 'public speaking', otherwise they will be immediately disadvantaged in this class-biased society.

    In my opinion, and I feel passionately about this, pupils should not be taught that that which helps to define them - their speech, their dialect, their idiolect is 'incorrect'. What a put-down!
     
  13. Oh dear, is this what they are teaching on the PGCE courses now?

    Teaching pupils to speak using correct Standard English does not have to be a put-down or an attack on their social class.

    e.g Pupil: Miss, X and Y was throwing things at Z!

    Me: Oh, so X and Y were throwing things, were they?

    If it can't be taught in English lessons, then where will it be taught?
     
  14. A few thoughts:

    If you read travellers' diaries/accounts of 200 years ago you'll find that native English speakers very often had to find an 'interpreter' when visiting other parts of Britain.

    A 'standard' form of a language enables clear and unambiguous communicaton.

    Since when did the beliefs of an individual (*I* do it like this, so it must be right) take precedence over the collective agreement/understanding/knowledge of a society (for want of a better term)? Why bother to teach anybody anything if there is no consensus as to what is right and what is wrong?
     
  15. Helenski - Ignoring the 'oh dear' and its implications, I'm confused: why would you think that my feelings and views on this are something I've been taught on a pgce course?

    I agree that implicit correction, such as you have described, may not come across as a put down, but then it's hardly likely to have much of an effect either is it? In fact, if your first reaction is one of correction then perhaps pupils won't even bother talking to you in the first place. You see, although a put down may not be implied, it might well be inferred, and that is damaging. My point is - why feel the need to do it in the first place?

    As for your point Maizie, I thought we were discussing issues of grammar not lexis. Do you really not understand, or think others wouldn't understand 'we was' or 'I aren't'? Come off it! Granted, there may be confusion with vocabulary - 'snicket' in Yorks. versus 'entry' where I'm from for example, but my experience living overseas taught me that problems of understanding are usually with accent not dialect.

    Somehow, I don't think we're going to reach an agreement on this :)
     
  16. roamingteacher

    roamingteacher Occasional commenter Forum guide

    I've been teaching Literacy for over 7 years and I (or any colleagues I have worked with) would never consider preparing a class for an exam without reference to the syllabus. In this case, the only concern is that the students need to show proficiency in English. Quite simply, they need to know what will help them pass. Arguments over non-standard English aren't particularly relevant if using their local variations is going to leave them with a fail. And I've never met a student (even in the most difficult of classes) that ignored the criteria from an exam board. They may argue with the teacher but if they want the pass, they'll have to bite the bullet and get on with it...
     
  17. Maja,
    > Was = singular, were = plural. End of.

    What about: 'If I were an elephant ...."?
     
  18. the 'if I were' is a different mood - subjunctive as opposed to indicative so verb forms vary accordingly.

     
  19. > In my opinion, and I feel passionately about this, pupils should not be taught that that which helps to define them - their speech, their dialect, their idiolect is 'incorrect'. What a put-down!

    I couldn't agree more.

    Like cleopatrajones, I do understand the point that you're making. I just disagree with it. Quite firmly.

    Standard English is only standard because it is the dialect used in the part of the UK (and by the class) that has traditionally held power, not because it is inherently 'right'. Language is not mathematics. There are many different dialects of any given language which function consistently and correctly. The form that is chosen as the standard written form is a matter of chance and politics, not inherent accuracy or aesthetic value.

    The reason we've embraced a standard written form of English is simply to facilitate precise communication with people of different dialects and accents. I think that's splendid, and I'll be anally retentive about grammar and punctuation with the best of them because without these rules we cannot ensure clarity or understanding.

    But make no mistake, written English is an artificial construct. It's a best fit, created to do a job. Spoken language came first. Speaking non-standard English is NOT 'getting it wrong'. It is ghettoisng oneself by using the language forms NOT favoured by the people in power, but it isn't actually wrong - any more than wearing jeans and a hoodie to an interview for a job at Citibank would be 'wrong.' Clothes have a function - they keep you warm. We attribute other layers of social meaning to them above and beyond their actual function - thus we have socially-accepted styles of dress deemed appropriate to different contexts. The jeans and hoodie function just as well as an expensive suit when it comes to the actual job of keeping one warm - perhaps they may even function better, and be appropriate in a wider range of contexts. But they are socially inappropriate if you want to blend in with the rich and powerful interviewers and be accepted into their world.

    There's nothing wrong with the jeans and the hoodie. But you'll get further in life - and make more money - if you can wear a suit when you need to. You won't be happier, mind you, or more virtuous, or more intelligent. But you'll probably be a bit richer.

    Seriously. I'm not just being a woolly liberal here, or celebrating ignorance - I'm talking about linguistics. I rather suspect that cleopatrajones is too.

    (If you're interested in exploring this, might I recommend Steven Pinker's most excellent text 'The Language Instinct'?. Or you could get a rough overview at wikipedia, if you like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Language_Instinct )

    This is not to say we shouldn't be teaching people how to use standard English, or the circumstances in which this is appropriate. Mastering the subtleties of language and how its use varies in different contexts is empowering. It's a good thing. Yay for that. But telling people that the grammar, accent or vocabulary of their community is 'wrong' and that the way Tony Blair et al speak is 'right' is both inaccurate and unhelpful. More accurate and helpful is a recognition of the fact that, yes, everyone in this community uses these speech patterns and words - but that you will command much more respect (and higher paycheques) if you can become bilingual and learn to adopt the standard vocabulary, grammatical structures etc for written English when you need to.

    In fact if you think about it a little, you'll see that it's the thin end of a rather nasty political wedge - that telling people their community's language is WRONG is the kind of attitude that leads to the quashing of Gaelic or Cornish or Irish. That had slave-owners forcing slaves to speak English rather than their own languages.

    Intentionally or not, it's a political act.

    Recognising that 'we was' and 'he were' IS correct spoken English within the context of a chat with one's mates in the pub demonstrates respect for the students' everyday experience of life, rather than putting them down. It's a lot easier to take on board the new information when you're not being made to feel like your whole experience of language use is somehow invalid.
     
  20. Fab posting sophiaP! ts great to kknow there's somebody else out there on the same wavelength :)
     

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