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The Role of Grammar in the Modern Classroom

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The Role of Grammar in the Modern Classroom.  There is much concern nowadays about the approach to teach grammar to our students. The present authors have done research on different opinions around the language teaching experts, and we state them, but we defend the communicative approach to grammar teaching.

Authors:  

Haydée Ramírez Lozada  Bed*

José Alejandro Concepción Pacheco PhD**

Rebeca Naranjo Corria  Bed***

 

Many authors have given tremendous importance to grammar and grammar teaching methodology, so they have the merit of providing Grammar books and articles which are at hand of English teachers all over the world, as a good material for consultation.

 Agnes V. Martinet (1949) is a good example of those authors who gave importance to the study of the grammatical level of language. She called the attention of linguists describing “the duality” function of language, only present in human language. This is what she called “double articulation”, with what she meant that human language had two levels of structural organization: phonological and grammatical, in which the lower level of phonemes makes up the higher level of word-forms.

 Since Grammar has been described as the regular system of rules that we use to weave sounds into the meaningful units with which we express our thoughts and ideas, creating language, it has come to be the “skeleton” of language. It means that it is not possible to teach a language without taking into consideration its grammatical structures.

 The teaching of grammar varies according to our students ‘ needs. In the case of future professionals of health, as in our case, they need to achieve communicative competence in the language. So, (Beare, 2004), what is important is to answer the question: How do I teach grammar? .Many teachers might think that teaching grammar is just a matter of explaining grammar rules to students. However, teachers must answer these questions first:

  • What are the objectives of this class?
  • What type of learning background do learners have?
  • What learning materials and resources are available?
  • What kind of learning style does each student have?

 

The approach to use depends on a number of factors, as it can be appreciated, but in a case of a homogeneous group we may decide to use one approach more effective to us.

Getting accuracy in grammar does not mean that the students should master rules and rules, what is , of course, something very important, but  they should know how to use them in real situations. Many students (Leech, Svartvick, 1984) get bored about learning rules for many years and, it happens  they  get tired and experience a grammatical  fatigue, so they could be benefited  by  a new approach to  teaching. We have the experience of working in a senior high school for   3 years, and in higher medical teaching for 19 years. Many students do not forget how to write a sentence in the passive voice, for instance, I am making reference to where the doer of the action is stated, if mentioned, where the receiver, the use of the form of BE and the Past Participle of the verb ; but they have not been able to talk about important things that  have happened to them, where they need to use the structure for communication. 

The approach we select depends deeply on teachers’ theories in grammar teaching (Borg, 1999). It also depends on the Teachers’ Knowledge about Grammar (TKG), (Borg, 2001), which has an impact upon deciding approaches to use and results. We entirely coincide with this author in the fact that when teachers are well-developed in the subject they tend to use interactive strategies and learner-centred lessons, which are in relation with the communicative methodology; but when teachers are uncertain of their understanding of the subject, they tend to use didactic strategies and teacher-centred lessons. Thus, the teacher of English needs to be very well prepared on grammar contents, not to use teacher-centred lessons, which are inadequate to our students’ development.

 Though many authors defend different approaches, we still use the Communicative Approach to Language Teaching. Teachers may not be afraid of using it. Indeed, It was once born a child trying to get through with difficulties of comprehension among teachers about the ideas proclaimed by some authors in regards to  the independence of accuracy in relation to learners´ development of communicative skills and strategies, and what mattered was ‘ getting the message across’(Davies and Pearse, 2002). But has already grown up and has been my partner in higher medical teaching for 19 years.

 When priority was given again to grammar in the 90s, it did not mean that the communicative approach dissapeared from the field of ELT. In this decade, for some authors, instead of dying we faced an adolescent trying to get the way to adulthood. Now, after many years, (OUPTeachers’ Club debate, 2004) about the 93% of teachers all over the world claim to teach grammar, but in a contextualizad way, communicatively.

 In the adulthood of the Communicative Approach, (Brumfit, 2001),  Brumfit considers as blockage to language teaching the use of the term ‘the four skills’, and suggests an alternative base for effective language learning. He also criticizes the terms ‘presentation stages’, ‘practical stages’ and ‘controlled’, ‘guided’, and ‘free’ applied to writing activities. All of which involve grammar. However, he considers the distinction between accuracy (¨language work for pedagogic feedback¨) and fluency (language work for an external real-life purpose) to be still valid.

 We consider that accuracy can be developed at the same time the students develop their communicative skills and strategies. If the structures are presented in problem-solving situations and the teacher ellicits the rules from the students, this means that he/she uses an inductive approach, what is known as ‘bottom up’. In other words, the students are discovering grammar rules while working through exercises (Beare, 2004). So they are moving from use or meaning to form. Nowadays ( Batstone, 2000) states that there is a fundamental distinction between teaching grammar as product, and teaching grammar as process. One of his main concerns, as well as ours, is to find ways of helping the learner to ‘attend simultaneously both the quality of their language and the meanings they are expressing’.

e.g  In the case of higher Medical Teaching the presentation may start with a situation like this :

 ‘A patient was carried to the emergency room with acute abdominal pain. He told the doctor that he had eaten a heavy meal the day before, so the doctor thought he had indigestion and sent him home after prescribing metlocropramide. After 8 hours the patient got worse and was brought to the hospital. He died of peritonitis’

 The teacher may ask: ‘What do you think the doctor should have done?’

The students may give their opinion:

Possible opinions:

- ‘He should have examined the patient carefully’, etc.

The teacher may ask:’ What do you do with the language when you say that?’

-The students may say:’ criticizing.’

Then an analysis is done about the form the students use to express this communicative function, which is going to be manipulated at the practice stage by means of different exercises and used in communicative activities based on problem-solving situations, either simulated discussions among ‘doctors’ or of another kind.

 When some dificulties arise, feedback and error correction may be done, either at the moment or afterwars by means of carefully planned remedial teaching activities. Teachers should remember that communication may not be interfered, just errors jotted down for further correction (Communicative practice or production stage).

 Working very hard with communicative teaching is a way of being able to achieve the goal of intelligible speakers.

 The selection of the grammar we teach is very much important not to achieve English speakers as if they were  grammar books. It has happened in these countries where English is taught as a foreign language and only used in the classroom and in other activities outside it, which are planned, such as ward rounds, case presentations and discussions, and others in relation to Medical English Teaching.

 In the case of General English we promote debates, role plays and other problem-solving activities. We emphasize  the importance of selection of  features of the grammar of the spoken language ( Carter and McCarthy, 1995), though they are generally considered wrong.

 Let us teachers promote students’ interaction since the very beginning of the lesson, with problem-solving activities that allow them to develop their thought. It is good to remember that language is the covering of thought (Vygotsky, 1934  ).

 This makes us conclude that without grammar, there is no language; without language, there is no thought; without thought: May we say we are human beings?

 

References

1-Batstone,R (2000). OUP Teachers’ Club. Articles. Grammar. [ in line] file:// Teachers’ Club. Fluency. [consultation: 04/05/03].

2-Beare, K (2004). The Internet TESL Journal. Teaching Grammar in an ESL/EFL Setting. [consultation:19/09/04]

3-Brumfit, Ch (2001). OUP Teachers’ Club. Individual Freedom in Languge Teaching. [in line] file: // A: Teachers’ Club Articles. Fluency. [consultation:04/05/03]

4-Borg, S.(1999). Teachers’ theories in grammar teaching. ELT Journal Volume 53/3 July 1999. OUP.

5-Borg, S. (2001). Self-perception and practice in teaching grammar. ELT Journal Volume 55/1 January.OUP.

6-Carter,R and Mc.Carthy M. (1995). Grammar and the Spoken Language. Applied Linguistics. Vol.16. No.2. OUP.

7-Davies, P and Pearse, E. (2002) OUP Teachers’ Club. Success in English Teaching. [in line] file: // A: teachers’ Club. Success in English Teaching. htm. [consultation: 19/09/04].

8-Leech G and Svartvik J. (1989). A Communicative Grammar of English. Pueblo y Educación Editorial. Havana City.

9-Martinet, A. (1949). ‘La double articulation Linguistique’ Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Copenhague 5:30-7.

10-OUP Teachers’ Club. The Grammar Knowledge Debate. [in line] file: //A: The Grammar Knowledge Debate. http//www.oup.com/elt/global/teachersclub/teaching/debate/grammar. [consultation:20/09/04].

11-Vygotsky, L.S.(1934). Thought and Language. English edition: Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press 1981. Spanish edition: Havana City. Pueblo y Educación Editorial. 1982.

 Authors´ Credits

*    Associate professor of English.

**  Full professor of English. Physician Degree in Pedagogy.

*** Assistant professor of English.

 

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