A web site for the developing language teacher

What is grammar and how should
we teach it ?
by Jeanette Corbett

- 3

How has Grammar been taught

Grammar Translation
It used to be that a study of a language was the study of the grammar, as in the grammar translation method, with a syllabus focus and explicit rules. Learners were instructed to do exercises involving translation in and out of L1 & L2.

Direct Method
Which challenged the above by prioritising oral skills. Learners acquired the language through the formation of correct habits, irrespective of rules. A syllabus was graded list of sentence patterns which were practised through drilling. Involved explicit language teaching.

There after the explicit teaching of grammar was rejected, as in audiolingualism. Learners acquired the language in a similar form to the direct method, but LA was viewed as an innate human capability rather than habituated behaviour. Probably it was here that the focus of language learning shifted towards the learner. We became more interested in how they learnt and sought to apply this to our teaching.

Natural Approach
It was apparent that there was genuine interest in the learner. The approach underlined the views of Krashen that language could be picked up by immersion, as a child with their mother tongue.

Communicative Language Teaching
Which can be split between ´shallow´ and ´deep´. The shallow approach did not reject grammar teaching and sought to use grammar and vocabulary to achieve communicative goals. Whereas the deep approach rejected grammar teaching and acquisition was encouraged through a system of tasks and the emphasis was on the successful completion of the task.

Synopsis of past teaching methodologies
Grammar seemed to have been taught indecisively, swinging from a pro to anti approach. Yet learners did acquire the necessary language. We created double edged sword- it may have been irrelevant if the methodology was pro or anti, learners acquired the language through the natural process as argued by Krashen or what was formally learnt did pass into the acquired system as argued by McLaughlin.

The earlier methodologies placed a higher emphasis on production in a limited form (Grammar Translation, Direct Method), but never considered the needs of their learners or presented language as a package, therefore in my opinion failed the recipient of instruction - the learner. Whereas later methodologies did not, they combined learners needs with tasks to enhance their communicative competence but arguably sacrificed accuracy over fluency, as there was no focus on form (CLT shallow & deep approach).

Bibliography, reference : 4 & 5


1. Teaching grammar in context,
Nunan, ELT Journal 52/2 April 1998

2. The role of context in the presentation of grammar,
Petrovitz, ELT Journal 51/3 July 1997

3. Grammar and the Language Teacher,
Bygate, Tonkyn & Williams, Prentice Hall International, 1994

4. How to teach grammar,
Thornbury, Longman, 1999

5. Language Teaching Methodology,
Nunan, Longman, 1998

6. Defossilizing,
Johnson, ELT Journal 46/2 April 1992

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