Grammar is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of the English language. It is the study of how the four main forms of a language: text, sentence, word and sound, are arranged to communicate a message accurately. Even though grammar is one of the crucial areas of English, the importance given to teaching it has been of great debate for some time. Some pedagogical theorists and practitioners question the necessity of teaching grammar and argue that English could be taught to non-native English speakers without grammar having to be the focus of a lesson. In 1622, a schoolmaster called Joseph Webbe argued that grammar could be mastered ?by exercise of reading, writing, and speaking?all things belonging to Grammar will without labour,?thrust themselves upon us.? (Thornbury, Scott. 2006, p.14. How To Teach Grammar. Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited.)
However, it is unquestionable that many non-native speakers believe otherwise. The majority of them would more than likely come to class with a fixed idea of how a lesson should be run, from previous schooling experience. Beginner students, especially, would come to class expecting to cover a lot of grammar rules and vocabulary. Being forced to comprehend and figure out the rules around a grammatical point by themselves may just create frustration and failure to do so may eventually create doubt in the teaching methods adopted by the teacher. Many language teaching schools today utilise a lot of communicative methods or activities to demonstrate a grammatical rule rather than giving out a lot of written exercises as is the typical method used by schools.
The next debate that pedagogical experts and teachers alike frequently come across is whether to focus on spoken grammar or formal/written grammar when teaching. Some argue that when English lessons are focused on formal/written grammar, students would not learn to comprehend the way English is spoken by native speakers. For example, ?bloke/guy/dude? are words that native speakers commonly use, where else in its written formal form one would simply just say ?man?. Others insist that English should always be taught its formal form as most students would most likely require English for a specific purpose in their current life or in the future, for example, going for a job interview, writing a report, etc. where formality is of extreme importance. One could also argue that spoken/informal English could be easily picked up upon immersion in an English-speaking country. While there is no real answer as to who is right about this debate, an ideal course would generally cater for these two forms of English. Teaching grammar may seem to be the most obvious and straight- forward thing to do. Plenty of teaching resources and supplementary activities are available on the web or from books that focus on each grammar point individually. But how would one introduce a grammar point?
There are two main approaches to teaching grammar from rules: a deductive approach and an inductive approach (Thornbury, Scott. 2006, p.29-48. How To Teach Grammar. Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited.)
When using a deductive approach, the teacher would firstly present the grammar rule and then provide examples in which this grammar rule is applied. The disadvantage with such a method is it could be quite off-putting for some students who hate to begin a lesson with a straight explanation of a grammatical rule. However, this method could also be an advantage as it gets to the point and therefore saves time. Some grammatical rules, especially complicated ones, are also better explained when teachers get to the point rather than leaving it to the students to deduce the rule by themselves.
The inductive approach is also known as the discovery learning approach where lessons begin by the teacher providing examples to demonstrate how the language is employed. In doing so, the students derive the rule by themselves and the language is practised in further activities.
There are of course other approaches to teaching grammar and none of them are free from disadvantages. Developing the perfect pedagogical method is probably impossible as teaching not only depends on the methods used by the teacher, but also on the study methods of each individual student.
Thornbury, Scott. 2006. How To Teach Grammar. Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited.
Author: Najiyyah Muhammad
Date of post: 2007-04-24