Teaching Grammar: Exploring Past and Present Realities
Renuka Dhakal, KU
Celce- Murcia and Hilles (1988) define language as “a type of rule-governed behavior and it is a subset of those rules which govern the configuration that the morphology and syntax of a language assume”. It is obvious that grammar is the clusters of rules which govern and which shape the language. It is well known to all that grammar is one element that gives a shape to language. In this article, I am reflecting on the strategies that I used while learning grammar in school and current pedagogical practice I adopt as an EFL teacher. It expresses my understanding of grammar teaching and learning from my school days to the present professional life as a teacher and a university student.
Teaching grammar communicatively in the EFL setting like ours is an interesting topic. I would like to reflect on it as it is associated with my academic and professional endeavor. Learning grammar struck me from my school days. In school I couldn’t perform well in grammar in Nepali and English both. I, therefore, would hesitate to speak and write in English. Even after so many years when I as a teacher look at my students’ performance there has been little improvement in this area.
In school grammar teaching was based on rote learning: drilling and memorization. My teacher taught us grammar through the use of the deductive method. He would write a set of rules on the blackboard and we were expected to memorize all patterns at all cost. Let’s imagine how horrible it might have been! Despite being able to produce almost all grammatical rules, I was unable to produce sentences. When I compare the way we were taught with the way we are trained to teach these days, I feel that this practice of imitation, repetition and memorization has become outdated, especially in this globalized context where learning English for communication has got the top priority .
It is still fresh in my memory how puzzled and confused I was when I could not produce meaningful sentences out of the practiced structures. My teacher once asked all the students to make sentences using the present perfect tense. I came up with a sentence like, “I have writing a letter”. It was one of the common mistakes other friends also made. Later I realized that students pick up the progressive form more quickly than the perfect form. The errors like this can also be attributed to the lack of adequate exposure, and practice and production opportunities.
The question can be raised, “Why students often have the habit of using the progressive form where the perfect is required?” As my understanding says, the progressive form is easier to make since it implies +-ing and more flexible than the perfect form. The perfect tense involves more complex grammatical operation. I think our teaching should be informed by the most commonly committed errors like this. Only correcting them on the surface level without reaching the root cause fails to yield any fruitful result.
I am teaching English to lower secondary students. I have been facing the same problems on the part of my students too. Recently I spent 10 days to teach the different forms of tense and its use in sentences. I found that my students were making the errors similar to those I would make in school. They could produce correct structures but when it came to their use in speaking and writing, their sentences were replete with errors. The insights that I have got from this is that the problem lies in our traditional concept of teaching grammar, that is, teaching grammar means to have students learn the rules rather than use them in their speech and writing. If we use the same methods, problems are never solved. Teachers and students both should realize the fact that grammar is more than a set of formal rules. It is inseparable from meaning, function and context.
No doubt, there are different ways of teaching and learning grammar. Among them the communicative way can be the best one. Therefore, these days my main concern is how the communicative method can be best employed to teach and learn grammar. I find the similar concern in Master and Liu (2003) who conclude that the need to teach grammar has not really been a question for most teacher educators, how to teach grammar has been a great challenge due to the complexities of the subject matter and the difficulties in approaching it. As an English language teacher, I also feel that grammar teaching is a daunting task because I was taught grammar through traditional way but I have been studying that it should be taught through the approaches such as Communicative Approach and Task Based Approach.
In the EFL setting like ours, grammar should be taught for and through communication. As a result, learners can develop all components of communicative competence in a balanced way. Grammar teaching should value the role of games, songs, stories and dialogs, realia, problem-solving activities, and communicative techniques such as role-play, simulation, and strip stories and so on. While doing so, such resources and techniques provide learners with opportunities to integrate grammar with vocabulary and all language skills.
Master, P. & Liu, D.(2003). Grammar teaching in teacher education.
Murcia. And Hills, S. (1988). Techniques and resources in teaching grammar. China: oxford university press.