Making Language Learning Funner



Recently, I read Sandra Wilde’s Funner Grammar, Fresh Ways to Teach Usage, Language, and Writing Conventions, Grades 3-8. What a lovely little book. Wilde gives the teacher a rationale and respect in allowing for meaningful language study in the classroom. She spells out the fallacy of trying to use worksheets to teach grammar as “not only boring, but useless.” Instead, Wilde offers sound approaches to teaching the absorbing subject of linguistics.

What I love most about this book is the questions that Wilde asks. To wit: “Were your parents annoyed by anything about the way that you talked as a teenager?” “How many languages are there in the world?” “What is language?” What is the most complex language?” “The easiest?” “Will we all speak the same language someday?” These are far more perplexing and child-friendly than diagramming sentences.

I am also grateful for Wilde’s thoughtful unpacking of language and social justice. She provides that to discriminate and stigmatize according to how one speaks or writes, is narrow-minded, as well as foolish. She challenges teachers to stop correcting kid’s speech, instead accept, acknowledge and celebrate the diversity and richness of our contemporary communication. I took this to heart.

Wilde offers an alternative path to teaching children the importance, meaning, joys and beauty of language. It is chock full of lesson ideas that I cannot wait to try out on my fourth graders. Plus, Wilde offers a plethora of bibliographic choices for teachers to explore. Her Kid’s Guide to Citations and Reference Lists, alone, is worthy of appreciation.

Resources for further study:

Below is a sample of resources that Sandra Wilde recommends interested teachers and students of linguistics to explore:

1000 Languages: The worldwide history of living and lost tongues: London: Thames and Hudson

You are what you speak: Grammar grouches, language laws, and the politics of identity. New York: Delacorte Press.

The Language of Names. New York: Simon and Schuster

The infinite gift: How children learn and unlearn the languages of the world. New York: Scribner

Sequoyah: The Cherokee man who gave his people writing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Ox, house, stick: The history of our alphabet. Watertown MA: Charlesbridge

Alphabetical Order: How the alphabet began [Monde de alphabets]. New York: Viking.

So now what?

More than anything, I am grateful for this book. Wilde does not advocate banishing grammar teaching; rather she gives sensible, thought-provoking strategies towards approaching all things language. It is time well spent and one of the few “teacher books” that I will reread (perhaps, right away!). If you are a teacher or parent of a little one, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy for your library or tablet.

Year End Blues

Each year, without exception, I become a wee bit out of sorts. The school year is over. The students are gone and I am without meaningful work. It truly is a difficult transition for me. Fatigue, the changes in routine, and the stress of saying farewell, all play a role. I imagine I am not the only teacher who feels this way.

Lack of structure is especially challenging. I take pleasure knowing that I have a job to go to each Monday morning. To be needed and held to high standards is a source of pride. To go from high stress to zero professional responsibilities is a cognitive challenge. Living overseas adds another level of difficulty. To combat the end of the year blues, I plan.

Below are several tips on how I cope:


I have already ferried off to Macau for an overnight with my wife. I have set up some family trips to New York City, Central Pennsylvania, Southern California and three weeks in Boston. I hope to reconnect with my American family in a big way. I will visit a few minor league baseball stadiums. I  have set up some chores to do around my mom’s house.

Teach Summer School

I really enjoy the weeks I spend teaching summer school. It is a joy to create my your own curriculum and to experiment with lessons. The dress code is casual, as is the learning.


I generally try to read about ten to fifteen books during the summer. I also spend this time lining up books for my expat book club. I try to visit local libraries wherever I am. I generally read two hours a day during the summer.

Take a course or two

This summer, I am studying Japanese online and taking some technology for educators courses at Harvard University. I will be meeting teachers from all over the world.


My road bike is ready to get a workout. I hope to refrain from renting a car while I am in the states. Biking, as a means of transportation is fun, saves me money and gets me in shape. I haven’t owned an automobile since moving to Asia. I take it as a challenge to map out my routes each day. I never clock my times or chart my miles on the road. I bring a small towel and clean up in public bathrooms.


I have previously worked in soup kitchens when I living in Washington DC. This summer, I hope to help get out the vote for the upcoming US presidential election.

Work on that hobby

This summer, I am continuing to practice my ukulele. I am forming a band when I get back to Hong Kong in August. Right now, I am mastering the intro to Pinball Wizard by the Who.

Accept that little is accomplished:

Each summer, I force myself to appreciate the time away. The understanding that there will be a job to return to is a great help for me. Accepting that there is little expected of me and that I need to rest and recuperate is essential. I remind myself each morning that this is my time to recharge. My goals for the day are drastically reduced.