Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, February 20, 2006

Grammar In Perspective

by AJ

I want to be clear-- grammar has its place. Obviously, grammar is an important element of language (though not most important, as most textbooks & teachers claim). The question: what is the most effective way to acquire grammatical competence? A related question, relative to other activities... what proportion of time should direct study of grammar take up? Also, what kind of direct grammar study should we use?

Based on both research and teaching experience, I put the proportion at about 10-20%. That is, I devote this percentage of time to direct analysis of grammar "rules". Furthermore, I limit direct grammar study to the basics only.... following Dr. Krashen's advice. Practically, this means I teach first year basic grammar only (basic verb tenses, comparatives, possessives, etc.). I do not teach the passive voice or other complex grammar constructs... having found they are best acquired unconsciously via comprehensible input.

Another note about grammar-- I do not correct errors. The research on direct error correction is strong and clear-- it doesnt work. Students who receive error correction have no better grammar performance than those who do not. Though students often ask for this, the usual result of error correction is that all the students become obsessed with making mistakes... and thus their ability to COMMUNICATE worsens rather than improves.

Most of my time is spent focused on comprehensible input from authentic sources. I use TPR storytelling. I use interactive reading. I use the movie technique. I use sheltered content. I use books on tape. I use discussions, mini-projects. I use songs. Id like to use more internships, guest speakers, recorded authentic conversations, and other "real world" sources.

These activities constitute 80-90% of class time. Sometimes I assign the textbook grammar as homework. Usually I review the textbook during the first 30-60 minutes of class (out of a 4 hour day).

Basic grammar rules CAN speed comprehension... but only if they are kept simple & basic. And only if the number of rules studied remains relatively small. By far, the most efficient route to grammatical excellence is through unconscious acquisition... gained through authentic comprehensible input.

Help your students put direct grammar study in perspective.