Teaching grammar


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Teaching grammar

  1. 1. Teaching grammarGrammar is the system of language that governs the conventional arrangementand relationships of words in a sentence (Brown, 2001). Cook (2008) adds to thisdefinition that grammar is a central part of language in which other parts such aspronunciation and vocabulary revolve. Indeed, they connect to each other throughgrammar. This system of language is probably the most controversial one which afterbeing considered the central aspect of the grammar translation method, it became anearly forbidden aspect in methods such as the direct method or natural approach sincethe memorization of grammar rules had been highly criticized. Nowadays, in acommunicative language learning context, the question is no longer whether grammarneeds to be taught or not; the question now is how to teach grammar.Cook (2008) differentiates four types of grammar; the first is prescriptivegrammar which is the rules found in schoolbooks and, as the name says, it prescribeswhat people ought to do. Prescriptive grammar deals with the reasons why somegrammatical forms are “better” than others but just based on certain criteria instead ofgrammar itself. This kind of grammar is at some point considered as obsolete sincelanguage should be taught as it is not as an artificial form that nobody uses. However,one area where prescriptive grammar still thrives is spelling and punctuation aseverybody believes that there is a single “correct” selling for every word. The secondtype of grammar is the traditional grammar which concerns the parts of speech; thismeans labelling the parts with names such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. and givingrules that explain how they may or may not be combined. The third type is calledstructural grammar which is based on the concept of phrase structure that show howwords go together in a sentence and some do not. The phrase structure is usuallypresented in tree diagrams that show how words build up into phrases and phrases buildup into sentences describing how these elements fit together in an overall structure.However, the fourth type is the one in which second language acquisition relies on; thistype is called grammatical competence which refers to the knowledge of language thatthe speaker possesses in the mind. This competence is the cognitive state that containsall those aspects of form and meaning, and their relation. According to Brown (2001)grammatical competence plays an important role in the communicative competence,without the grammatical competence our language would be chaotic.
  2. 2. Form which is the organizational components of language and systematic rulesof the structure might be considered the central aspect of the grammatical competence,nevertheless, forms are literally meaningless without semantics (meaning) andpragmatics (meaning depending on the context). However, a form-based instruction isnot an inconvenient option depending on learners’ age, proficiency level andeducational background. Brown (2001) suggests that the focus on form is moreimportant when the learners are literate adults at an advanced proficiency level. On thecontrary it is less important to focus on form when the learners are young children atbeginning levels as they do not possess the abstract intellectual capabilities that adultsdo.On another vein, there are two major perspectives related to learning grammar.Nunan (1998) suggests that there is a linear approach which is based on the premise thatlearners acquire one grammatical item at a time that must be learnt properly beforemoving to the next item. Metaphorically speaking, learning grammar is likeconstructing a wall in which every linguistic brick is put at a time. The easy bricks builda foundation for the difficult ones consequently they build this wall in a correct a way inorder to avoid collapsing under its own ungrammaticality. Even though, the author doesnot agree with this perspective, instead, there is an organic perspective which can enrichthe understanding of second language acquisition. It explains it better as accuracy doesnot increase in a linear way but it decreases at times. Hence learners’ mastery of aparticular item can increase or decrease at different times. The organic perspective seesgrammar learning as growing a garden in which flowers do not grow at the same ratelikewise, learners do not learn an item perfectly in order to move on a next morecomplex one but they learn numerous items simultaneously and imperfectly.Due to the undeniable importance of learning grammar in communicativelanguage learning, Cook (2008) suggests that explicit grammar teaching has the purposeof convey grammar rules learnt consciously into unconscious processes ofcomprehension and production. Although this objective is not always achieved, somelearners that have learnt a language by studying traditional grammars have turned intofluent and spontaneous speakers who declare that grammar rules are useful as theysometimes visualize verbs paradigms to check what they are saying. This phenomenonleads to an important concept related to second language acquisition which is languageawareness. Cook (2008) declares that language awareness is a goal for second language
  3. 3. teaching and it should be raised even before learning the second language wantedbecause if students know what to expect in the new language, they are more receptive toit. There is an exploratory approach recalled by Cook (2008) where students investigategrammar in order to increase their awareness of language by coming up withgrammatical rules by themselves. This approach leads to an issue mentioned by Brown(2001); this issue refers to the controversy related to the kind of instruction offered tolearners. On one hand it is the inductive approach in which learners practice variouslanguage forms. Such language forms are practiced in order to leave learners discover orinduce rules and generalizations on their own. On the other hand, the deductiveapproach refers to grammatical rules or generalizations provided by the teacher or atextbook, in this approach the practice of such rules comes afterwards. Brown (2001)suggests that in most of the contexts, an inductive approach is more appropriatebasically because it allows students to get a communicative feel related to the aspects oflanguage before being overwhelmed by the grammatical explanations and also becauseit builds more intrinsic motivation by allowing students to discover rules rather thanbeing told them. However, there are some occasional moments when the deductiveapproach is needed.In any of these cases, teachers must be aware of how they approach togrammatical explanation and terminology. Brown (2001) declares that unlike the strongemphasis made on the grammar translation method, in communicative languageteaching, metalinguistic knowledge might be too complex for students who are alreadyextremely busy trying to learn the language itself especially if they are young learner; asexplained in previous paragraphs, adults can be benefit from occasional explanation yet,it is strongly advisable that to keep grammar explanations brief, simple, supported byclear examples and as far as possible from getting tied up over exceptions rules. Asmany of students’ errors in speech and writing are grammatical, it is worth analysingwhether correcting students’ grammatical errors makes any difference or not. Brown(2001) suggests that students’ self- correction encouragement is ideal but due to thestudents’ dependence on the teacher for useful linguistic feedback. It is important forthem to take advantage of their knowledge in order to inject corrective feedback. Thiscorrection must always be injected at an appropriate moment and in an appropriate way,always taking into account each student’s personality.So do we need to teach grammar in a separated way or should this be integratedin other skills? Well according to Nunan(1998) language should be taught in context,
  4. 4. this means that if students do not explore grammar in context, it will be much harder forthem to understand it. In many texts or books, grammar is often presented out ofcontext, this means that students are not able to use grammar in other skills like writingor speaking because most of teachers only teach student’s grammar rules that they needto memorize for them to be able to understand grammar rules. Learners most of the timeare given isolated sentences, which they are expected to understand through exerciseswhich involve repetition, manipulation and grammatical transformation. Unfortunatelymany grammar courses fail in making clear the relationship between form and function.Students are taught about the form but they fail in the use of grammar in other contextor skills. This problem can happened for example when you ask a student to transformsentences from the active voice into the passive and back into the active voice; however,no one have explained to the students that they can actually use the passive voice inother skill for example in speaking. So most of the time, these enable students of beingable to use grammar in other ways.Brown (2001) thinks that the advisability of embedding grammatical techniquesinto general language courses rather than singling grammar out as a discrete “skill”, andtreating it in a separate course. This means that grammar is an enabling system ofcomponent of the communicative competences and grammar in this case is mixed upwith phonology, vocabulary all in one class; therefore grammar helps students to purserelevant language goals. In some schools or curricula, courses or workshops are donewithout grammar instruction and sometimes they appear to be anachronisms.There are many techniques for teaching grammar. Brown (2001) mentions someof them, which are charts, which are useful to practice patterns and for clarifyinggrammatical relationship. Another technique for teaching grammar is to make studentsbring different objects to the class, so they can be able to describe them to theirclassmates and also to give the students the chance to communicate with theirclassmates by practicing communication rules and using grammatical rules. Finally thelast technique is called maps and drawings, and the aim of this activity is to persuadestudents to use grammatical rules such as prepositional phrases, question forms, orimperatives, when giving directions.As a conclusion it can be said that grammar is one of the most complicatedsystems to be thought in a classroom. This is because in most schools grammar is notintegrated with other systems of the language , therefore grammar is studied as oneseparate subject, which most of the time is very hard to understand and use. This is
  5. 5. because of all the grammatical rules that exist in the English language, and which inmost of the cases, students find difficult to understand, so they get disappointed becausethey are not able to use grammar in real life and they just don’t want to learn it anymore.This system of language is probably the most controversial one and as it wassaid before, the most hard to understand to teach but on the other hand, when grammaris related to the communicative competences, and in this case is mixed up withphonology, vocabulary, all in one class, grammar helps students to purse relevantlanguage goals. This means that grammar should be, nowadays, in a communicativelanguage learning context, this means that grammar as the other systems of languages,should be taught together with other skills, like speaking or writing, so the student canbe able to use this system of language in another way, but the question is no longerwhether grammar needs to be taught or not; the question now is how to teach grammar.Even though they are many techniques for teaching this system of language likemapping, bringing objects to the classroom, and using charts or filling the gaps, is theteacher responsibility to teach this system in a interesting way, so students can be ableto understand it and also they are able to see that they can use grammar not only in thegrammar class, but in other classes to. So even though grammar is very hard to teachand sometimes teachers believe that this system should be taught as a separate subject,is one of the most important systems of the English language.
  6. 6. References.Brown, H. D. (2001). Teaching by Principles: An interactive approach to languagepedagogy. New York, NY: Longman.Cook, J. V. (2008). Second language learning and language teaching. London, UK:Hodder Education.Nunan, D. (1998). Teaching grammar in context. ETL Journal, 52(2), 101-109.Stephanie AedoValeska Soto