As far as grammar accuracy is concerned, native English-speaking teachers are generally pretty tolerant of unusual usages of their mother tongue.
They are definitely more tolerant than their NNEST counterparts.
The other day I threw in this remark in the staffroom: “Just imagine, I have seen the plural of homework (homeworks) in a couple of contexts. It was even used by a highly regarded professor of English I knew at uni”. Needless to say, my colleagues didn’t believe me. “Well, he apparently made a mistake”, they retorted.
I’m looking at my draft now and see that my spellcheck is as intolerant as my colleagues.
Or does it?
Somewhat confusing, right? If not for me, then definitely for an English learner who’s desperately trying to find the right answer when preparing for a grammar test. It seems that the more information available on the internet these days, the more complicated it gets.
As non-native speakers of English considerably outnumber its native speakers, English can’t resist the influence non-native speakers have on it. In Czech, homework is countable. When I came home from school, my mom would ask: “How many homeworks do you have today?” I would reply, somewhat downheartedly: “Oh, today I have three homeworks – History, Czech and Math.” “Okay, do your homeworks first and then you can go out”. Thus, at the very early stages of learning English, I tended to visualize separate homeworks when I talked about more than one piece. In other words, in my mind, homework behaved like apple(s) or pencil(s).
So far, I have used homeworks seven times in my post. Once somebody creates a corpus using the input from educational blogs written in English, my ‘incorrect’ usages will be included in the count. Then, at some point in the future, an insecure language learner will want to check the countability of homework (because he has just failed a grammar test), and he will whoop with delight: “Homeworks exists after all! I swear I’ll have my teacher for breakfast tomorrow”.
So, the word exist seems to be the problem here. Homeworks clearly exists because I have just used it several times in my writing. Even if the form hadn’t existed 5 minutes ago, it was born when I started playing with it. For me, it’s plain fascinating. I’m the creator and the starter. In fact, anybody can do the same.
Now, what do we do with this fascinating finding in the L2 classroom? As my colleague pointed out eloquently, we need some kind of codification that will help us decide what is right and what is already unacceptable. And she has a point. What do we do with homeworks in a student’s writing, for example? Will we accept it because it exists, or will we take it as a serious error because we have said a million times that homework is uncountable?