【小論文】論文法教學的發展及趨勢(New Developments in Grammar Instruction)

這一篇Assignment主要是討論文法教學的相關文獻及發展。

幾個重點:

1、文法教學的必要性:研究指出,即使學生長時間處在外語的環境,並不能保證學生因此就獲得文法的進步,相反地,學生仍可能在某些文法形式上犯錯。

2、初學一種外語時,建議仍以溝通為優先,文法可以放在後期的進步。

3、文法教學的內容,不必死啃整本文法書,從最常用的文法規則下手,比較中外文法的差異,並且指出最常犯的文法錯誤,可以收事半功倍之效。

4、在學習後期,老師宜多給予學生訂正,學生也不要怕丟臉,應該多鼓勵他人的指正,才能從錯誤中學習。

5、行有餘力的老師,在教文法時也指出文法在形式、意義和使用上的差別(Form-Meaning-Use)。例如“There is a pencil on the table” 和“A pencil is on the table”雖然意義相同,但使用上前者較禮貌。要能不只將文法用得正確(accurately),還要能有意義(meaningfully, i.e., semantics)  和貼近當下情境(appropriately, i.e., pragmatics)。

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New Developments in Grammar Instruction

Introduction

In terms of second language education, grammar teaching is always a very controversial issue and has sparked a spirited debate. Even though the acquisition of grammar plays an important role in second language learning, whether grammar should be taught always confuses people. Some people assert that teaching grammar has fundamental influence while many others argue that it has negative implication as well. Some scholars such as Krashen (1981) asserted that since communicative ability was dependent on acquisition, natural exposure would be more valuable while grammar instruction would only have limited effect. This argument had led to the teaching method which is called the natural approach and virtually no grammatical analysis was involved in this approach. However, several pieces of research have shown that teaching grammar could be beneficial to advance students’ language ability. For instance, Norris and Ortega (2000) have pointed out that despite a long period of time in exposure to meaningful input, learners do not achieve accuracy in certain grammar forms. They engaged in systematic procedures for research synthesis and meta-analysis to summarize results from experimental and quasi-experimental investigations into the efficiency of second language education published from 1980 to 1998. After comparing average effect sizes from 49 unique sample studies, it showed that focused on L2 instruction results in large target-oriented gains and explicit types of instruction are more effective than implicit types. Thus the popular teaching method Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) which emphasizes the education about communicative ability and does not employ grammar teaching in curriculum is found to be inadequate. Since it is apparent that grammar should be taught, the issues such as what should be taught, when should we teach and how to teach grammar would be important and need to be investigated thoroughly. The purpose of this study is to focus on a discussion of the relevant research about these three issues and then to investigate how to use these theories to serve for the practical goal in a specific context-Taiwan.

When should we teach grammar?

Research has shown that, to a certain degree, the early inter-language of a language learner is not grammatical (Ellis, 1984). For instance, a pupil at the beginning level may give the utterance such as ” Me no (= I don’t have any crayons)” or “Me milkman (= I want to be the milkman)”. Even though these kinds of sentences are not grammatically correct, they could still convey the meaning successfully in the specific context. Thus, the first important task for the pupils would be learning how to use these context-embedded meaningful vocabularies and then they could cultivate their abilities to use them in context-free communication. To a certain degree, this argument corresponds to the theory of CLT, which pays more attention to meaningful communication skills and focus on “fluency-first” tasks (Brumfit & Johnson, 1986). However, like what has been discussed before, in order to help the learners to achieve higher grammatical accurate performances, grammar instruction is still necessary and just does not need to be taught at the beginning level. As a result, the delay of teaching grammar until learners have developed the basic communicative ability could advance their second language acquisition.

What grammar should we teach?

First and foremost, comparing to teach the whole of the grammar of the target language, due to the limited time most teachers could use to teach grammar, several selections are necessary. Conventionally, the frequency of some grammar structure was concerned first to achieve the practical goal (Mackey, 1976), but in this method, some cognitive difficulties still happened commonly and need to be conducted. Thus, in Ellis’ (2006) study, he suggested that teachers should teach those forms which differ from the learners’ first language. He explained that some difficulties happened while learning language because of the different grammar structures between the two languages. For instance, there is ample evidence (Trahey & White, 1993) which shows that French learners of English produce errors of the kind “Mary kissed passionately John” because French allows an adverb to be positioned between the verb and the direct object. Hence, contrastive analysis, which indicates the difference between the target and the first language, should play an important role while we choose the text to teach grammar.

Ellis (2006) also contended that the common errors produced by the learners are another important concern. Since these errors could indicate what the pupils’ lack and needs to improve, the selection of texts should also base on this notion. Some materials could help to deal with this, such as Turton and Heaton’s (1997) Longman Dictionary of Common Errors and Swan and Smith’s (2001) Learner English: A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems. Physicist Niels Bohr once said, “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field,” In terms of learning grammar, it is in the similar condition. Thus, one of the obligations teachers should take charge of is to help learners avoid being trapped in these mistakes.

How grammar should be taught?

Considering the question, an imperative theme which should be discussed is the form-meaning connection. As Van Patten, Williams, and Rott (2004) emphasized, establishing connections between form and meaning is a fundamental aspect of language acquisition. Thus, any relevant grammar courses that fail to describe the form-meaning connections of the target language must necessarily be inadequate. Similar argument could be seen in Larsen-Freeman’s article the three dimensions (2003), to emphasize the dynamic interplay of the subsystems of grammar, he arranged the subsystem into three parts: form, meaning and use. He indicated that it is important to be able to fill in all three blocks for anything we teach. For example, the sentence “There is a pencil on the table” has the same meaning as “A pencil is on the table”. However, if someone asked for a writing implement while he was on the phone, he would not be pleased to hear the second one. Furthermore, he asserted that”being able to use grammar structures does not only mean using the forms accurately; it means using them meaningfully (i.e., semantics) and appropriately (i.e., pragmatics) as well” (p.36). This is more about how to use the grammar structure correctly according to the context and usually this will be more difficult for a non-native English teacher because of their lack of the intuitions. In spite of this, it also indicates a direction about what teachers could prepare for their grammar courses.

Another controversial issue is about the three instruction types: planned focus on form, incidental focus on form, and focus on meaning. The question which type of instruction would be more suitable for pupils is important in the practical level. During the L2 content enriched instruction lesson, Grim (2008) examined the efficiency and effectiveness of this approach for second and third semester college  French. The results pointed out that the planned focus on form treatment could have more positive implication for the intermediate level students. This is interesting because that while CLT has been diagnosed as a method that may not lead to sufficient grammar accuracy, content-enriched instruction which integrates grammatical, lexical forms and culture within content may provide another better alternative. (Ballman, 1997) While there is no earlier research which examined the efficacy of this type of instruction in lower-level L2 classrooms, Grim’s study (2008) indicated a more concrete integration of content and form at low-intermediate levels.

Another relevant issue could be seen in Richards’ (1999) study which claimed that grammar learning could be divided into three different stages during task-work. Firstly, accuracy could be tackled prior to the task work. For instance, by teaching certain linguistic form or giving time to plan the task, teachers give assistance to help students complement tasks. Besides, during the task, by choosing how the task is to be executed, such as offering models of question patterns in a questionnaire, it could contribute to a better level of communication. Finally, after the task, several approaches such as choosing someone who is an advanced learner to repeat the same task could provide other pupils chances to concentrate their minds on the language resources. After all, only giving some corrective feedback during the end of the task may not be sufficient to advance the pupils’ grammatical accuracy. Thus, by accompanying these additional activities and means, the higher linguistic performance could be expected in second language acquisition.

Based on these researches, it shows that there are several important factors influencing the effectiveness about teaching grammar in the classroom. However, each country has its special educational background, and this should be taken into consideration. Thus, this article will later discuss the current situation of teaching grammar in my country-Taiwan and how to apply these theories to achieve pedagogical goals in the special context.

Evaluation

In Taiwan, grammar teaching is always a very prevalent and welcome topic in the field of English teaching, especially in private language centers. An English teacher is supposed to know each grammar structure well and be proficient in teaching them. Even though, the methods of teaching grammar are diverse and each teaching system could have different viewpoints about it. Thus, this is why I choose the topic to do the study.

I taught English in private language centers in Taiwan for several years. Generally speaking, grammar would not be taught at the beginning level and courses regularly are distributed (not massed), intensive on one structure each course, and planned focus on form or incidental focus on form there. Besides, teachers typically follow the textbook and adopt the Presentation-Practice-Produce (P.P.P) lesson format to supply students chance to apply them with some tasks if have enough time. The methods people teach grammar there both have advantages and disadvantages.

On the one hand, basically, in Taiwan, grammar would not be taught in the beginning level and would be delayed to let the students learn some basic pronunciation rules and vocabularies first. This could decrease the pupils’ pressure about learning English and encourage them to open their mouse to communicate in a foreign language.

On the other hand, there are some drawbacks emerged in that context. Firstly, like what has been discussed before, there is no need to teach the whole grammatical structures. In Taiwan, one concern in my teaching context is that some teachers would ask students to finish the whole practices in a thick grammar textbook. The method is like to return to the grammar translation method that ask students spend much time practicing all grammatical structures even though some grammar rules (i.e., past perfect tense ) are low frequent and easy to be forgotten. Even though it could also help students know the grammar rules, it requires a vast amount of time and in most situations students could not finish the whole practice and feel frustrated. In fact, teachers or the designers of the textbook could implement the principles discussed before such as choosing the most frequent grammar structures, contrastive analysis and the common errors pupils will encounter in that context. Since the time students could use to study English is limited, the method of teaching grammar should be more efficient. However, to do this, it not only requires teachers to choose the efficient method but also needs the designers of the text books to understand these principles. Most of the time people expect too much on teachers while the textbook also plays an important role. A good film cannot only have good actors without a good script. Since teachers are usually demanded to follow the teacher’s guide of the textbook and could not have too many chances to decide what to teach, the choice of text book would be an important decision and requires wisdom. Moreover, the publication of a good textbook could solve many problems and require further cooperation between educational experts and publishers.

Besides, since most English teachers in Taiwan are not native speakers and may lack the instinct about the connection between form, meaning and use, the preparation for courses and learn more about the connection would be necessary. Even though it is not easy to cultivate this kind of linguistic knowledge, some books such as the grammar book (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999) could be helpful for teachers’ preparation. As John Cotton Dana asserted: “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” there will always be something a teacher needs to learn about one’s professional subject.

According to teachers’ preparation, like what Richards (1999) has indicated, teachers could divide the course into three levels to prepare the relevant activities: prior to the task, during the task, and after the task. Richards also provided several recommanded activities that could be adopted. However, because sometimes there are are too many pupils (more than 20) in one classroom in Taiwan, some task like group work would face the difficulty in practical phase if the teacher do not want to let the course out of control. This would be detrimental for the students to have sufficient chances to practice. The good thing is that since the birthrate is less and less, the situation sould be better in the future and teachers could provide more diverse activities for students to apply the knowledge they learned .

Another interesting issue about the role of textbook in grammar teaching is that, like Grim (2008) indicated, choosing the planned focus on form type during the L2 content enriched instruction could probably lead to the best learning outcome. However, since content-enriched instruction means the integration of grammatical, lexical forms and culture within content, it requires the designer of the textbook to include these elements in the textbook. Since CLT possibly could not contribute to the accepted grammar accuracy and Content Based Instruction (CBI) seldom choose culture as a theme in the content while culture could be an interesting and useful topic, content enriched instruction has unlimited potential in Taiwan and should be promoted more. Especially the research (Grim, 2008) has shown that this method could be implemented not only for the advanced level students but also for the low-intermediate level students.

In Elley’s (2006) study, he argued that “corrective feedback is important for learning grammar. It is best conducted using a mixture of implicit and explicit feedback types that are both input based and output based” (p.102). In Taiwan, since it is English as a Foreign Language (EFL) environment, most pupils lack enough opportunities to practice the language outside the classroom. As a result, to give the corrective feedback would be an even more important task of the English teachers there than that in the other English as a Second Language (ESL) countries. However, because giving corrective feedback such as correcting students’ articles requires a great deal of time, some teachers are not so willing to do it. In addition, some teachers prefer doing one-way teaching and focus on only input-based teaching style while the output of students is often ignored. This could also be attributed to the phenomenon that too many pupils in one classroom. To give each pupil correction feedback demands a great deal of time and could only be conducted well in small group tutorials. Moreover, in the examination-based language teaching environment in Taiwan, the reading and writing ability are given more priority. Thus, most of the time, second language learners lack sufficient opportunities to practice and be corrected regarding to the grammar accuracy in the respect of oral communication. These problems all indicated what should be addressed and improved in the future.

Conclusion

Before doing this review, I had the belief that while teachers teach grammar, it would be better to teach the more frequent and problematic grammar structures than try to teach the whole of grammar. There are also some professors in Taiwan who have published books to emphasize this viewpoint even though many other teachers still lack of this kind of understanding. By conducting this study, it reinforces my belief that grammar could be taught in a more efficient way than teach the whole of the structures. Besides, it also reveals the important connections between the three dimensions: form, meaning and use, which is what most non-native teachers could improve in the future.

To sum up, although some changes and improvement need a long time to accomplish, it nonetheless appears that it would be in the best interests of the pupils to adopt these new developments and apply them in the practical education system.

Besides, even though the present study has yielded findings that have both theoretical and pedagogical implications, the relevant issues in some specific context such as Taiwan still need further examinations to be implemented form theory to practice. Overall, I am convinced that we should further promote the education to let the teachers or relevant managers know the new developments in grammar instruction and meanwhile the government should introduce more resources to help grammar teaching be more effectively.

Word count

3023 words

References

Ballman, T. L. (1997). Enhancing Beginning Language Courses Through Content-Enriched Instruction. Foreign Language Annals, 30(2), 173-186.

Brumfit, C., & Johnson, K. (1986). The communicative approach to language teaching (ELBS ed ed.). Oxford: English Language Book Society/Oxford University Press.

Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The grammar book (2 ed.). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

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Ellis, R. (2006). Current issues in  the teaching of grammar: An SLA perspective. TESOL Quarterly, 40, 83-107.

Grim, F. (2008). Integrating Focus on Form in L2 Content-Enriched Instruction Lessons. Foreign Language Annals, 41(2), 321-346.

Heaton, J. B., & Turton, N. D. (1997). Longman dictionary of common errors workbook (2nd ed. ed.). Harlow: Longman.

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Larsen-Freeman, D. (2003). The Three Dimensions Teaching language : from grammar to grammaring (pp. 34-48). London: Thomson/Heinle.

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Richards, J. C. (1999). Addressing the grammar-gap in task work. TESOL in Context, 9(1), 3-9.

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VanPatten, B., Williams, J., & Rott, S. (2004). Form-meaning connections in second language acquisitions. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.



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