Fronted adverbials top the charts as the most confusing grammar topic for parents

Busuu, a language learning community has released a new study revealing the most confusing English grammar topics for homeschooling parents in the UK, and whilst children were at home remote learning there was a 455% increase in queries about ‘fronted adverbials’.

The study analysed Google search volume data from different UK lockdown periods to compare the growth in queries for English grammar topics from the school curriculum. Fronted adverbials topped the charts as the most confusing topic – with searches growing by 455% in January 2021 (compared to November 2020) and by 290% year-on-year during the first lockdown school closure period in 2020.

Other English grammar topics that saw significant growth in Google searches included modal verbs, noun phrases and determiners, in addition to simpler concepts such as adjectives, nouns, verbs, and conjunctions.

“Nine times out of ten, the topic name makes the English grammar theory sound a lot harder than it actually is,” says Hannah Morris, Senior English language expert at Busuu: “I love that fronted adverbials are right at the top. Of course, they would be. No wonder Brits homeschooling their kids were perplexed! They sound scary, even though they’re not. It’s all in the name.”

The most confusing English grammar topics for UK homeschoolers found in the study were:

2021 lockdown 

#English topicJan 2021 searches% change (vs Nov 2020)
1fronted adverbial109,820455%

2020 lockdown

#English topicLockdown 2020 average monthly searches (March – June 2020)% change (vs same period 2019)
1fronted adverbial26,920290%
2modal verb20,300170%
3noun phrase23,600166%
10relative clause19,490122%
11subordinate clause23,290120%

Working mother of two, Andrea Thomas, commented: “I’d like to think I’m really good at English, as I have a languages degree. Plus, we’re one of the lucky households who have things like a spare laptop, colouring pencils, and space to spare. But honestly, I found it really hard. There were tons of grammatical terms that I didn’t recognise and could never remember. Fronted adverbials was one of them. No parent knows what a fronted adverbial is!”

Caroline Fields, headteacher at Yavneh Primary School sheds some light on parents’ struggles with today’s English primary school curriculum: “Sadly, one of the most challenging parts of homeschooling is that the way children learn, and the way teachers teach have changed since many parents were at school. Grammar is now embedded into everyday language and lessons. Parents struggled with a lot of grammatical terminology that we don’t necessarily use as adults.”

Some expert advice to parents from Busuu, should parents find themselves homeschooling English grammar topics again:

  1. Collect a bank of examples. Remember, if you speak English, you already know innately what all these English topics are. You use them every single day. It’s just the naming that’s scary. If you have the energy to be hands on, the best thing to do is collect a bank of examples for each topic, and when in doubt, refer back to them.
  2. Don’t feel bad or guilty. Why would you know what these terms mean, unless you’re an expert, or you’re still at school?! If you’re a native English speaker, it’s likely you learned how to use and speak English, not how to label it. Equally, if English isn’t your first language, then it’s hardly surprising that you’re finding these things hard. Cut yourself some slack!
  3. Happiness and wellbeing come first. Even if you didn’t get as far as doing English homework and you couldn’t tear your kid away from The Simpsons, that’s okay. You don’t have to be their teacher, just a loving caregiver.

To view Busuu’s full analysis, including a breakdown of the most confusing topics by year group, visit: 

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