By María de la Lama
Frequently, in TEFL “grammar” equals “ syntax”. Thus, for many English teachers grammar is the teaching of how to build structures in order to develop in students, in a later stage, the ability to transform them when communicating. But the linguistic concept of grammar "as the total knowledge of a language" offers a much broader understanding of this term. Therefore, an effective teaching of grammar should allow students not only to form structures, but also to know how to use them in a meaningful and appropriate way.
The teaching of the Simple Past tense will exemplify this point . On the one hand, when the term grammar is limited to syntax, the methodology will emphasize more the use of the auxiliary "did" and the transformations that irregular verbs undergo in this tense. On the other hand, a broader conception of the term will motivate the teacher to teach other very important aspects of the mentioned structure, such as the pronunciation of regular verbs and, what is more important, the communicative functions of the tense.
Why is it then that this narrow perception of the term "grammar" is still rooted in our daily teaching? Maybe because the focus on teaching structures still works as a security blanket for teachers. Let’s see some of the reasons why we are fond of teaching structures:
A good tip for preparing our grammar lessons bearing in mind that “grammar” involves much more than syntax, is to identify the challenging aspect of a given structure for our students. In some cases, the pronunciation of the structure, and not its form, will pose a challenge for adult students, such as the pronunciation of the phonemes /s/ or /z/ in the formation of plural nouns. In other structures, the challenging point will come from the meaning of the structures. The use of the possessive illustrates this point as in the phrase “a month’s holiday”.
Challenging points can arise from other aspects rather than the form of the structure. They may come from the phonological component of the structure, from the correct understanding of its meaning or from its use. Overemphasizing the teaching of the form may hinder the students’ communicative competence.
NOW YOUR TURN:
Why doesn’t our teaching of grammar move towards more communicative ways? Is the teaching of grammar our security blanket in class?
DE LA LAMA, MARIA, Bachelor in Education, has a master's degree in Applied Linguistics and a Bachelor's in Linguistics, both obtained at the University of California, Davis. She also holds an MBA from Universidad del Pacífico. She currently serves as the Director of the Language Center at Universidad del Pacífico.
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