July 25, 2009

Grammar Ways & Whys

John and Liz Soars, authors of Headway Upper Intermediate TB, give a list of reasons to teachers to explain their prominence of grammar in their materials:

  • It is the mechanism that generates the infinite number of sentences that we produce and receive.
  • It is a tangible system, and can provide one element of a systematic approach to teaching a language.
  • It develops students' cognitive awareness of the language. Language is rule-based, and conscious or sub-conscious knowledge of the rules is the key to "generalizability" and creativity.
  • It conforms to students' expectations of language learning, and meets an often-heard request for "more grammar".
  • It will be of assistance to teachers in the planning of their lessons.

Now, if I were to express my viewpoints without referring to the discussion whether language is lexicalized grammar or grammaticalized language, I consider grammar a tangible system that develops cognitive awareness. It helps us, teachers, to give an order to the teaching of a foreign language and allows students to raise their awareness in learning strategies and conscious knowledge. However, I don´t believe that students associate "more grammar" with "more English". Language is broad enough to cater all appetites. One the one hand vocabulary is what makes the difference between an intermediate learner and an advanced one; on the other hand, learning the grammar rules is handling the ABC of the language. It is up to us to decide in which way to design varied syllabi with the proper combination between vocabulary and grammar. Either one or the other needs to serve our purpose of contextualizing the other; there is no language if one of the areas is missing. What's your idea about it?

Based on Tricia Hedge, Teaching and Learning in Language Classroom, Oxford, 2000
(Chapter 5)


  1. Yohi!
    It is amazing to see how similar our viewpoints are! As I told you in my blog entry, I do believe that we need all the elements, all the language systems, to make up a complete and comprehensive study of the language. Grammar is the skeleton of the language but vocabulary, phonology and semantics are the other components that build up this complex organism. Since we need the whole system, and not only one of its components, to be English speakers we must show our students that they will need all of them to become effective communicators.
    Keep blogging! (:

  2. Hi Yohi!
    I definitely loved your statement that "Language is broad enough to cater all appetites."! 8-D!

    On the other hand, I'm afraid I don't quite agree with you when you say it is just vocabulary range that makes the difference between an intermediate and an advanced language user, or that syntax is the "ABC of the language". It seems to me such beliefs go hand in hand with the traditional view that it is grammar that builds up the basis for language teaching, and therefore must be taught to beginners as their "ABC" (leaving vocabulary development as a priority only for later stages, you see?).
    Maybe we can go back to this discussion later in our course, as we look into the question of assessment!
    Big hug,