The importance of teaching grammar.
Grammar is the way, how a language manipulates and combines words (or a bits of words) in order to form longer units of meaning. Grammar consists of finite number rules but it is capable of generating an infinite number of well-formed structures. Knowledge of the grammar rules and language features appropriate to the relevant social context leads to the creation of thoughtful expression the various ideas.
Grammar is partly the study of what forms or structures are possible in a language. Grammar is a tool for making meaning.
The implication for language teachers is that the learner’s attention needs to be focused not only on the forms of languages, but on the meanings these form convey.
Until recently, the grammar presented the learners of the English has been based entirely on written grammar. It is only recently that spoken grammar has been closely studied and that arguments have been advanced in favor of the teaching it.
So, grammar can be defined as “a description of the rules for forming sentences, including an account of the meanings that these forms covey. Grammar adds meanings that are not easily inferable from the immediate context”.
The need to teach grammar is obvious. Grammatical knowledge allows us to generate sentences. At the same time we need to have a pattern how to make the sentences. For many years grammar has been seen as the main thing in learning languages.
Grammatical knowledge is necessary to give the students something to help them to express their meaning.
Nowadays, when a stronger emphasis in teaching falls on language as a mean of communication, the role of grammar is still important. Why is it so significant? The knowledge of forms and functions of grammar structures plus the vocabulary are sufficient to express idea and be received correctly in a foreign language.
The way of teaching grammar
We should begin by presenting the grammar structures. The aim of presentation is to get the learners to present the structure – its form and meaning – in both speech and writing and to take them into short–term memory.
A good presentation enables the students to discover the meaning and use of the given structure on their own. In the inductive approach of teaching grammar the learner should be a researcher of the language.
After presentation we focus on the grammatical items themselves: what they sound like, what they mean, how they function, the explanation stage helps the students to understand these various aspects of structure.
Then, during the practice stage, the students do a series of exercises. Their aim is to cause the learners to absorb the structure completely or transfer what they learn from short–term to long–term memory, the learner is able to understand produce examples of it with a teacher’s support.
Finally, the students will use language as a vehicle of communication and their main purpose is to study and complete some kind of communication tasks. In this stage the students are responsible for their own learning – the very practice of communication encourages the ability to communicate.
Attitudes to grammar
Differences in attitude to the role of grammar support differences between methods, between teachers, and between learners. It is a subject that everyone involved in language teaching and learning has an opinion on.
Grammar Translation, as its name suggests, took grammar as the starting point for instruction. It followed a grammar syllabus and lessons typically began with an explicit statement of the rule.
Direct Method prioritised oral skills and rejected explicit grammar teaching. The learners found the grammar by being immersed in language.
Audiolingualism was even stricter in its rejection of the grammar teaching. Sentence patterns formed the basic of pattern–practice drills, distinguishing feature of Audiolingual classroom practice.
Chomsky’s Natural Approach leaves both a grammar syllabus and explicit rule–giving. Instead, learners are exposed to large doses of comprehensible input. Innate ability converts this input into out put in time.
It may mean simply teaching to a grammar syllabus but otherwise not making any reference to grammar in the classroom at all (Audiolingualism). On the other hand it may mean teaching to a communicative syllabus but dealing with grammar questions and answers that arise in doing communicative activities.
How to teach grammar
We can distinguish two approaches of teaching English, Both deductive approach and inductive approach are popular and commonly used.
Both of them have advantages and disadvantages. A deductive approach starts with the presentation of a rule and is followed by examples in which the rule is applied.
An inductive approach starts with some examples from which a rule is inferred.
One of the advantages of deductive approach is:
- it is direct, it can be efficient,
- it respects students’ intelligence, expectation and learning style.
On the other hand, it can be seen as dull, over-technical and demotivating for the students. Among the advantages of using an inductive approach are these:
- without having met the rule, the learner studies examples and from these examples derives an understanding of the rule.
- it is learning through experience, through exposure to a massive amount of input the regularities and patterns of the language become evident, independent of conscious study.
A general model for introducing new grammar structure.
Introducing new grammar structure is very important because the aim of this is to present the students with clear information about language they are learning. Teacher must show them what the language means and how it is used, teacher should also show them what the grammatical form of the new language is, and how it is said and written.
Since a knowledge of grammar is essential for competent user of a language, it is clearly necessary for our students, obviously, for example, they need to know the forms of the verb “to be” if we want to teach to Present Continuous tense.
Luckily, there is a consensus about what grammar should be taught at what level. However, the most important thing of teaching grammar is the role of a teacher, too.
One of the teacher’s jobs is to show how the new language is formed – how the grammar works and how it is put together. One way of doing this is to explain the grammar in detail. Another way maybe more effective and less frightening, is to let the students see or hear the new language, drawing their attention in number of different ways to the grammatical elements of which it is to be made.
One of the most important things of effective teaching is an organisation of lesson.
A general model for introducing new grammar structures has five components:
- accurate reproduction
- immediate creativity
During the lead-in the context is introduced and the meaning or use of the new language is demonstrated, the students with the teacher’s support describe the picture from the textbook, say where the characters are, what they can see in the room, what time of day it is. The learners are aware of key concepts, which are those pieces of information about the context that are vital if students are to understand the context and thus the meaning and use of the new language. Then, we show the new language in use,
During the elicitation stage the teacher tries to see if the students can produce the new language. At the elicitation stage-depending on how well and if the students can produce the new language-the teacher can decide which of the stages to go to next.
If the students can not produce the new language at all, we will move to the explanation stage. If they can but with minor mistakes, we may move to the accurate reproduction stage to clear up those problems. If they know the new language but need a bit more controlled practice in producing we may move directly to the immediate creativity stage.
The next stage is the explanation, where the teacher shows how the language is formed. It is here that we may give a listening drill or explain something in the students’ own language. We may demonstrate grammatical form on the blackboard.
In this stage the teacher explains affirmative sentence of the Presents Continuous using isolation and distortion of a particular feature of the model, e.g.:
Teacher: listen… I am reading… I am reading… listen…
I… am… reading… I… am… reading… listen…
I… am… read… ing… read… ing… listen…
I am reading… I am reading…
Then the teacher explains question forms with inversion. Students of English frequently find the inversion confusing. The teacher uses the blackboard and gesture to make the inversion clear, e.g.
He is reading?
Is he reading?
One of the things the teacher needs to do is to show how a full grammatical form is contracted is speech. In this case the teacher uses their fingers or two hands to show the contraction, e.g.
He is writing a letter… He’s writing a letter,
Finally, arms can be used to indicate information patterns and stress patterns. This is especially useful for choral repetition.
After this stage we move to the accurate reproductions where students are asked to repeat and practise a certain number of models. The accuracy of what the students say is more important here, rather than meaning or use. The teacher makes sure that the students can form the new language correctly. It is time to perfect the students’ pronunciation.
Choral repetition, where the students repeat the model together, is a very useful technique because it gives all the students a chance to say the new language immediately, with the teacher controlling the speed and the stress. It also not stressful the students. Each of them can rehearse the target structure without having spotlight put on them. After using choral repetition the teacher uses individual repetition.
As far as the gerund form is concerned, the students might mispronounce the ending –ing. One of the most essential ways of eliminating the problem of mispronunciation is accurate reproduction of the ending, focusing on deleting /g/, e.g. by drilling, choral and individual repetition, reminding, making students aware of the problem.
When the students and the teacher are confident that the students can form the new language correctly they will move to immediate creativity. The students try to use what they have just learned to make sentences of their own, rather than sentences which the teacher or book has introduced as models. If they are able to produce their own sentences they can feel confident that the presentation was a success.
If the students are not able to produce the new language the teacher must go to the stage of explanation.
 Harmer, “The Practice of English Language Teaching” Longman 1995 p. 60