I Am The Queen Of Spanish Verb Conjugation...But I Royally Suck At English Grammar

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"There was a comical moment in the fifth year when our English teacher demanded, 'But you have had lessons in grammar?' and we all looked shifty, as if the fault were ours.  We had been taught Latin, French and German grammar; but English grammar was something we felt we were expected to infer from our reading..." (Truss 14-15)

I have had a few experiences similar to this.  Grammar was not something that we focused on in English class.  When I reached AP English my senior year, we had to take a sample AP English test.  Let's just say I did not score very well on it (don't worry; I didn't bother to take the actual test). 

But what's crazy is that I completely understand Spanish grammar; it makes perfect sense to me. 

When you learn another language, the teacher HAS to focus on the grammatical aspect of it; there's no getting around it.  It is an essential part of learning a foreign language.  But when you are taking an English class and English is your native language, well, they just expect you to know what you're doing.  Let me pose you this question: Who taught you your native language?  Let me ask you another: How good were they at grammar?  Chances are, you did not grow up learning perfect English nor do you speak it now.  It was only this year that I realized that my Pittsburghese (granted, I'm not from the city specifically, but the language affects the surrounding areas, trust me) had gotten the best of me.

For years I had thought that there was nothing wrong with the phrase:  "My car needs washed."  Or even "The cat needs brushed."  And "The walls need painted."  That sounded perfectly normal to me.

Let's translate these phrases into Spanish (hang in there, I swear this is relevant to my point). 

1.)  "El coche necesita estar lavado."

2.)  "El gato necesita estar cepillado."

3.)  "Las paredes necesitan estar pintadas."

Wait a second...estar is repeated in all three of these sentences.  Estar means "to be".  Where the hell did "to be" come from?  And why didn't I use it in my English sentences?!

It was at this point that I realized that my Spanish grammar was probably better than my English grammar.  Why had I picked up on that particular piece of grammar in Spanish and not in English?  The difference was that I was taught grammar in Spanish class; I picked up on English grammar from listening to the people around me.

Is it fair?  Not really.  I would like to open my mouth and sound like an educated human being.  But nobody ever told me otherwise; I had to figure it out myself.

This link needs clicked.


Utgi Garcia said:

Hi Lauren,

I got impressed by the sincerity exposed in your blog. As a translator by trade (native Spanish form Barcelona) and an English Grammar enthusiast let me point out some issues for you.

When we were taught English at school we were never warned about the fact that "ser" and "estar" have completely different connotations when used -as you did- as auxiliaries.

For instance:

-El coche necesita estar lavado.
---> This sentence is perfect, notwithstanding this, as you well know, no one here uses passive form in a casual utterance but on TV news where it is a style.
Besides that, if you use "estar" the meaning changes and focus goes to the fact that the action not only needs to be completed but also, and most important, that the action needs to be completed.
Summing up, I will use this sentence 0,5 out of 100 times, end even then, I would strongly consider any other option. And if you thing so, no!: not even in headlines for papers.

-El gato necesita estar cepillado.
---> Same goes here. The action focus beyond the completion of the fact more than in the fact itself.

-Las paredes necesitan estar pintadas.
---> I had to rethink this, frankly. If I were talking to my landlady and we were considering a new contract for the flat I could say: "Para que yo page lo que pide, las paredes necesitan estar pintadas".
Even so, it sound quite weird to me.

As far as I can tell, English grammar is much more complete and clear to me than the Spanish one.

Have you ever though how much effort is taken by Government here on linguistic issues? Almost nonexistant.

By the way, Catalan language do clearly points out when to use "ser" and "estar", something that could be adapted to Spanish in a way, for they are quite alike at this level.


Cyril said:

Many times people have not enough knowledge about the grammar of their native language. This is maybe the fault of the educational system which teaches the grammar on an early age only. It occurs often that people find out more about their own language while learning a different language. People won´t put any effort in their native language because they think it´s good at the moment.
Though not keeping up with a language can be a disaster and you will forget almost everything. Especially the grammar!

I think English is very easy to learn in comparison with Spanish. But in every language you can practice the grammar and vocabulary by reading. Reading in more then one language trains the brain and you will be capable to learn languages easier in the future.

Good luck with your language learning!!


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