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New Yorkers Enjoy a Little Help with Grammar


New Yorkers Enjoy a Little Help with Grammar
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New Yorkers Enjoy a Little Help with Grammar
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The New York City train system has a new unofficial stop – for people who love grammar…or even just have questions about it.

English language expert Ellen Jovin has put together an unusual “classroom.” There is a foldable table, books, a smile and a deep knowledge of grammar. She calls it Grammar Table. Jovin sits at the table in the subway and on city streets.

She smiles and waits for people to come by with grammar questions. Usually, she catches the interest of a lot of people.

“Hello! Welcome to Grammar Table!”

“Grammar Table! I love it. I love it! It’s hot.”

More than one billion people in the world speak English. Another two billion are in the process of learning it – or trying to.

But English grammar rules frighten many – even native English speakers. Jovin’s mission is to help people who find themselves afraid of or confused by the world of English.

Jovin is a linguist. She has worked to spread her love for the English language for a long time. She has taught grammar to business professionals and writing at universities. She is also a published writer.

Jovin also owns a business communication training company with her husband. Online and traditional classes are her life. But she decided to make things interesting and take her knowledge to the streets and subways of New York.

"I put the sign up and it took 30 seconds for someone to come up and ask me a question: How many words do I think Donald Trump knows?”

Though that is more of a political question, Jovin believes understanding language structure rules will help people around the world understand each other better.

On one recent day, a man came up to Jovin’s Grammar Table with a question about nouns.

"But I have read that it’s a collective noun. Is that what you’re calling it?”

“Yeah. So, it’s a special case. We can make special cases, right? Or do you want everything to be consistent?"

The Grammar Table appeals to all kinds of people for whom English is filled with mysteries: students and older people, engineers and house cleaners, actors and even other language experts.

Some of the most popular questions, Jovin says, are about commas.

"For example, if I say, ‘He ordered salad, spaghetti and soda,’ right before the ‘and,’ you can put a comma if you want in English. And it’s called the Oxford comma or sometimes the serial comma."

New York subway riders have accepted Jovin with warmth and interest. Musicians, policemen and even English teachers often stop by for a friendly chat.

Walter Skrepnick is a teacher of English literature. He recently shared his thoughts about Grammar Table.

"Things like that – that deal with language, that deal with culture – it’s refreshing from some of the other things that go on."

But not all questions are about English – or even in English. Jovin can speak and understand several languages: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, French, Chinese, Korean and Japanese. And she is trying to learn a few others, too.

I’m Alice Bryant.

Nina Vishneva reported this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

grammarn. the set of rules that explain how words are used in a language

subwayn. a system of underground trains in a city

mission n. ​a task that you consider to be a very important duty​

confusedadj. unable to understand or think clearly

linguistn. a person who studies the way languages work

consistentadj. continuing to happen or develop in the same way

comman. a punctuation mark that is used to separate words or groups of words in a sentence

chatn. a light and friendly conversation

literature n. ​written works (such as poems, plays, and novels) that are considered to be very good and to have lasting importance​

refreshingadj. pleasantly new, different or interesting

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