This article is devoted to grammar which gains its prominence in language teaching, particularly in English as a foreign language (EFL) and English as a second language (ESL), in as much as without a good knowledge of grammar, learners’ language development will be severely constrained.
Keywords: EFL, approaches, consciousness-raising, explicit knowledge, implicit knowledge, deductive approach, inductive approach.
Traditionally grammar rules can be presented as rules with a focus on form. For example, in the present simple tense, regular verbs in English take an ‘s’ on the 3rd person singular (he walks, she walks, it walks). This kind of information is very useful, but it doesn’t tell you when to use the present simple, or what it means. Communicative approaches to presenting grammar usually include a focus on meaning and use as well as form. Grammar can be taught in many ways — there is no ‘best’ way that suits all grammar points. In the context of EFL, teaching grammar has traditionally been dominated by a grammar-translation method where the use of mother tongue is clearly important to elicit the meaning of target language by translating the target language into native languages. For example, in such a method learners are required to learn about grammar rules and vocabulary of the target language. In the case of grammar, it is deductively taught; that is, learners are provided the grammar rules and examples, are told to memorize them, and then are asked to apply the rules to other examples. Many teachers think that teaching grammar separately is not favorable to learners since learners only learn the way language is constructed, and very often when they are given grammatical rules, the learners work well on such cases. However, when they write or speak, the learners make grammatical mistakes or even unnecessary ones. Helping learners apply grammatical rules into communicative tasks (for example, writing and speaking) is very challenging. Therefore, teachers, especially in the context of EFL, could benefit from learning some alternative teaching approaches for teaching grammar so that they can integrate grammar or structure into other language skills in such a way that the goal of learning language is ultimately achieved. For most teachers of English, the priority of teaching grammar is to assist learners to internalize the structures, rules of language, taught in such a way that they can be used for communication both written and spoken. For this reason, the two terms practice and consciousness-raising are important to define in this paper since they play an important play in successful grammar teaching, especially in the case of EFL.
Ellis defines consciousness-raising as an attempt to equip learners with an understanding of a specific grammatical feature, to develop declarative (describing a rule of grammar and applying it in pattern practice drills) rather than procedural (applying a rule of grammar in communication) knowledge of it. Richards, Plat, and Plat define consciousness-raising as follows: It is an approach to the teaching of grammar in which instruction in grammar (through drills, grammar explanation, and other form-focused activities) is viewed as a way of raising learner’s awareness of grammatical features of the language. This is thought to indirectly facilitate second language acquisition. A consciousness-raising approach is contrasted with traditional approaches to the teaching of grammar in which the goal is to instill correct grammatical patterns and habits directly.
In short, in consciousness-raising, learners are required to notice a certain feature of language (that is, sentence patterns), but there is no requirement to produce or communicate the certain sentence patterns taught. To summarize, practice is directed at the acquisition of implicit knowledge of a grammatical structure.
Explicit and Implicit Knowledge. In the case of teaching grammar to EFL learners, a teacher may feel frustrated when learners are taught grammatical items separately. Students may become good at grammar; however, when told to write and speak, they often make grammatical mistakes. This case is very challenging to solve. When facing this problem, particularly with adult learners, it is useful to be aware that there are two kinds of knowledge necessary to gain proficiency in a second language. These are known as explicit (conscious learning) and implicit (subconscious acquisition) knowledge (Klein, 1986).
According to Ellis (2004), in a practical definition, explicit knowledge deals with language and the uses to which language can be put. This knowledge facilitates the intake and development of implicit language, and it is useful to monitor language output. Explicit knowledge is generally accessible through controlled processing. In short, it is conscious knowledge of grammatical rules learned through formal classroom instruction. In this respect, a person with explicit knowledge knows about language and the ability to articulate those facts in some way. Explicit knowledge is also obtained through the practice of error correction, which is thought to help learners come to the correct mental representation of a rule. This works if there is enough time to operate it; the speaker is concerned with the correctness of her/his speech/written production; and she/he knows the correct rules.
Implicit knowledge is automatic and easily accessed and provides a great contribution to building communicative skills. Implicit knowledge is unconscious, internalized knowledge of language that is easily accessed during spontaneous language tasks, written or spoken. Implicit knowledge is gained in the natural language learning process. It means that a person applies a certain grammatical rule in the same way as a child who acquires her/his first language (for example, mother tongue). According to Brown, the child implicitly learns aspects of language (for example, phonological, syntactical, semantic, pragmatic rules for language), but does not have access to an explanation of those rules explicitly. As an example, Jack speaks and writes English with good use of present tense, although he has no idea about the grammatical rule behind it.
Two Core Approaches in Grammar Presentation
Broadly speaking, in teaching grammar, there are two approaches that can be applied: deductive and inductive. In this section, I would like to briefly highlight the two, and then I link both approaches to the theory of second language acquisition (SLA).
A deductive approach is derived from the notion that deductive reasoning works from the general to the specific. In this case, rules, principles, concepts, or theories are presented first, and then their applications are treated. In conclusion, when we use deduction, we reason from general to specific principles.
Dealing with the teaching of grammar, the deductive approach can also be called rule driven learning. In such an approach, a grammar rule is explicitly presented to students and followed by practice applying the rule. This approach has been the bread and butter of language teaching around the world and still enjoys a monopoly in many course books and self-study grammar books. The deductive approach maintains that a teacher teaches grammar by presenting grammatical rules, and then examples of sentences are presented. Once learners understand rules, they are told to apply the rules given to various examples of sentences. Giving the grammatical rules means no more than directing learners’ attention to the problem discussed. To sum up, the deductive approach commences with the presentation of a rule taught and then is followed by examples in which the rule is applied. In this regard, learners are expected to engage with it through the study and manipulation of examples.
In the case of the application of the deductive approach, therefore, Michael Swan outlines some guidelines for when the rule is presented. Among them are:
the rules should be true;
the rules should show clearly what limits are on the use of a given form;
the rules need to be clear;
An inductive approach comes from inductive reasoning stating that a reasoning progression proceeds from particulars (that is, observations, measurements, or data) to generalities (for example, rules, laws, concepts or theories) In short, when we use induction, we observe a number of specific instances and from them infer a general principle or concept.
In the case of pedagogical grammar, most experts argue that the inductive approach can also be called rule-discovery learning. It suggests that a teacher teach grammar starting with presenting some examples of sentences. In this sense, learners understand grammatical rules from the examples. This approach involves learners’ participating actively in their own instruction. In addition, the approach encourages a learner to develop her/his own mental set of strategies for dealing with tasks. In other words, this approach attempts to highlight grammatical rules implicitly in which the learners are encouraged to conclude the rules given by the teacher.
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