Grammar for Dinner

by • February 18, 2014

Guest post by Zack Crockett

Growing up with two English teachers for parents was something I didn’t always appreciate. For starters, each word had to leave my mouth with the precision and accuracy of an Olympic archer. My writing was never satisfactory, and I was constantly critiqued. Even worse, my parents recited me Shakespeare sonnets as bedtime stories. Retrospectively, this was all nourishment for the soul; at the time, all I wanted to do was read Goosebumps.

10710906-22519878-thumbnailDinner, in particular, was always an ordeal. My sister and I would receive a nightly serving of syntax with our mashed potatoes. Random capitalization quizzes were not uncommon; explanations of the differences between “its” and “it’s” were nightly fixtures. In one particular instance, I was given a twenty-minute lecture on the perils of brevity after abbreviating the word “birthday” on my sister’s cake. I often dreamt of being the child of someone who had no interest in pronunciations, commas, or prepositions.

But my childhood wasn’t just a grammar bootcamp — it came with the requisite nurturing one would expect from two skilled teachers. In one of my earliest memories, I’m perched next to my father in front of his 1988 Macintosh, reciting a story. As I speak, he pauses often and brings my words to life, raising his hands with calculated emotion, as if puppeteering each vowel and consonant. And as I conjure visions of adventure, he takes care to correct my phrasing, make suggestions, and guide me without discouraging me.

As I progressed through elementary and middle school, I found myself ahead of the curve.  More importantly, I began to look forward to writing, reading, and understanding language on a deeper level. I’m convinced this was a result of two things: being harangued by the grammar police at a young age, and receiving soft-handed creative encouragement.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have had the natural resources I did. Luckily, tools like Grammarly can now fill the void. Like my parents, Grammarly is able to spot ten times as many types of errors as your typical word processor. And, like my parents, the program also has a context-optimized vocabulary, and encourages language diversity. But most importantly, Grammarly teaches, guides, and works with the specific skill sets of each writer. It understands — and adapts to — different writing styles; it retains the natural flow of your writing.

But why is any of this important? Research at The Child’s Language Study Center has indicated that children may have an innate understanding of grammar, but continued practice and resources are required in order to capitalize on this early-stage knowledge. For professionals, grammar support later in life is equally necessary: In an article in Harvard Business Review, a prominent CEO makes it clear that he’ll never hire a grammatically-incompetent employee.

It is clear that poor grammar has a significant negative effect on a person’s personal and professional success. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Most grammar errors are easily avoidable with the right guidance.

While I’m grateful that I had my parents as a writing resource while I was growing up, I still benefit from using tools like Grammarly today. It serves as an extra set of eyes to look over my personal and professional writing — and it allows me to eat my dinner in peace.

Zack Crockett is a San Francisco-based storyteller with extensive experience in publishing and new media/journalism. In addition to being an avid grammarian, he spent a year in South America tracking traditional artisans, organized a Guinness World Record flashmob, and has been featured in The Huffington Post, Sacramento Bee, and Priceonomics. He’s also a musician and mountaineer, and has hiked through the Sierras and Patagonia with an array of stringed instruments strapped to his pack.

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