The process of language learning is considered to be complicated and combines a number of tasks. Grammar learning necessity is the background for successful language mastering. The paper will be concentrated on a theoretical study of grammar learning based on literature review and examination of central aspects highlighted by outstanding theorists. It is necessary to underline the fact that the key aspects to be analyzed will be aimed at disclosure pedagogical practices for the teachers and clarification of the main advantages in the process of L2 learners’ language mastering. It will be concentrated on grammar presentation in classes in the form of making the learners understand the material clearly.
It is necessary to underline the fact that the learning of grammar should be the start to language mastering; teaching will allow reaching effectiveness in classes for the shortest period, through providing involving and clear instructions for the learners. The analysis of grammar teaching will clarify the basic regulations in pedagogical policies development and disclose the central elements to be considered in grammar rules presentation to achieve positive results.
Background and theories
Grammar is an important element in any language structure; everyone should be aimed at mastering its rules and regulations from the early stages of learning. To prove this fact it is necessary to analyze the view of linguists on this point. Thus, according to Larsen-Freeman (2000, p.10), grammar is defined as “a rational, dynamic system”, that is comprised of the structures characterised by form, meaning and use. Therefore, grammar involves three functions (Larsen-Freeman, 2000, p.10).
Learners have to master the grammar first because it will allow them to build up the basic development of the target language. Therefore, grammar teaching in L2 acquisition is a core element, and grammar rules and forms are structures. Moreover, Larsen-Freeman (2003) points out “the fact that we have grammatical options to help us negotiating social relationships (Larsen-Freeman 2003, p.67).” Thus, L2 learners learn well grammar; it will help them to improve their language competence of communication.
It is necessary to stress that Penny McKay (2005) points out children’s cognitive stage of knowledge and development are very important; it can make young language learners’ assessment effective. Penny McKay (2005) points out “young learners also benefit from opportunities to focus on form”. It means young learners should focus on the “Stuff” of languages such as grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation; because young learners’ natural tendency is to attend to meaning rather than form (Bialystok, 2001).
Besides, it should be mentioned that Lynne Cameron (2001) based on traditional grammar-translation methodology and other forms of grammar-centred language teaching, stresses that Grammar is being an important element in language. The mastered rules of grammar are required to build up in Language learning; learners have to step by step to build up their grammar rules in the learning process.
We can see the importance of grammar in language; there are many grammar rules and tenses used, such as “the past perfect tense” in Metalinguistic labels. The terms and organisation all needed to speak about language becoming another part of what has to be learnt. Learners are expected to know the grammar rules and practise constructing sentences.
After learners do more practice, they might use the rules of grammar in the correct sentence automatically. In addition, using the teaching methods to learn the structures or rules are sorted into a sequence. It is the fundamental element for teaching progress of gramma (Lynne Cameron, 2001).
The effectiveness of grammar learning can be illustrated following VanPatten (1993, p. 438), stating, when students’ attention is drawn to grammatical forms in the input, the result is a more efficient intake. This claim is supported by research evidence from VanPatten and Cadierno (1993), showing that, when grammar instruction and practice involve interpreting and attending to input, learners more successfully understand and produce the targeted grammatical structure over time subjecting exposed to traditional (i.e., deductive) grammar instruction.
To dive into the depth of theoretical analysis it should be noted that according to Ryo Nitta and Sheena Gardner (2005), there are two theoretical perspectives on grammar teaching: consciousness-raising and practice. Those two theoretical perspectives on grammar teaching can help learners to learn well their grammar in English (Ryo Nitta and Sheena Gardner, 2005).
“Grammar practice activity is the third communicative type whose major function helps L2 learners create interaction and develop using of grammar form frequently” (Ryo Nitta and Sheena Gardner, 2005).
On the other hand, Ellis (1991: 235-7) believes that the popularity of grammar practice does not help L2 younger learners to contribute learners to use the structure of grammar rules in language learning, and improve their autonomous ability to use by psycholinguistic constraints. Therefore, he argues that the conventional wisdom of “practice makes perfect” is incorrect, especially such as a series of consciousness-raising tasks: grammar consciousness-raising tasks, interpretation tasks, and focused communication tasks (Ellis, 1993). Ellis (1997:160) defines grammar consciousness-raising tasks as “a pedagogic activity”. L2 learners will be asked to do some action per L2 data with classmates. The major purpose for L2 learners is to reach the destination of a clear understanding of the target language. Moreover, the task has a target rule of clear understanding that relatively “direct” connection sticks to grammar points.
The analysis of grammar role in L2 teaching showed that the major task is to provide metalanguage (e.g. tenses, reported speech). In addition, learners will use metalanguage to describe the rule with their classmates until they all realize the grammar rule.
“Sue ate a cake at home yesterday”, she said. She said that she ate a cake at home yesterday.
For example, Ellis (2006) presents grammar teaching means a kind of teaching method that helps learners to become aware of particular grammatical forms to assist their understanding. As Nitta and Gardner (2005) present the grammar teaching in course-books, there are five types of form-focused tasks: Consciousness-raising tasks, Interpretation tasks, Focused communication tasks, Grammar exercises and Grammar practice exercises.
The role of grammar and teacher closely interact; according to Lee (2008, p15-16), a teacher can help students to mark their errors part in their writing, and learners can acquire good writing and increase more accuracy through the written feedback. There are some principles for teaching grammar presented by Ellis (2003).
Firstly, the tutor who teaches the grammar should emphasise meanings and uses, as well as form. Secondly, teachers should endeavour to focus on those grammatical structures and help learners to find out their problematic parts. Thirdly, there was an approach of focusing on a form that evidence learners have to increase an opportunity to practice in a communicative task.
The work by Adair-Hauck et al. (2000, p. 148) showed that “an explicit method of grammar instruction involves direct teacher explanations of rules followed by related manipulative exercises illustrating these rules.” This kind of explicit instruction is often referred to as the deductive approach.
Nevertheless, Fortune’s stresses (1998: 68-90), grammar presentation in the materials of the coursebook is based on the particular character of inductive approaches, helping learners to develop an understanding of the structure of the grammar section in the target grammar through manipulating tasks. In addition, deductive approaches are realized through grammar explanation to do the practice. Through these two approaches, the results show learners display inductive presentation, which is better than deductive presentation. In addition, recent research learners have to increase inductive activities, such as consciousness-raising, as it influences the process of learning the grammar structure and rules. On the other hand, according to Ellis’s analysis of grammar teaching material, it is preferable to use a deductive presentation to teach learners (Ellis, 2002:160)
Implement of theories
It is important to stress that in Taiwan, there are many cram schools; their institutional level is like private language school or college, after-school and tutoring. The particular assessment and curriculum needs are in the form of extra English lessons to improve students’ English competence after their school, especially in grammar.
There are several reasons to explain why students learn English after school lessons. The most important reason is that English has become a global language; therefore, many parents are requiring their children to achieve high standards. They hope their children could have at the best base of English competence; therefore, they require their children to study more English courses in cramming school.
The second reason is that a great number of parents are busy with their work and think cram school will help their children to become aware of their English learning. Therefore, the private language might be a good place to improve their language development and help parents to notice their children in learning. Thus, cram schools are becoming a kind of trend in Taiwan.
Development of appropriate pedagogical practices
In this case, the example of an environment as below:
- The class usually contains 15 students.
- Students are all young learners; the average age is seven-nine years old.
- The EFL Context is to focus on teaching grammar and rules.
- The major material is a textbook/coursebook based on cram school requirements.
- Teaching method will focus on form/forms.
- Deductive presentation, under the situation, the possible teaching methods can be similar to the above theories.
Penny McKay (2005) highlighted an important element that children’s cognitive stage of knowledge and development are very significant, as it can make effective young language learners’ assessment. Therefore, the stage can help young learners to acquire more knowledge and increase more opportunities to learn their target language well.
The role of grammar in early learning takes considerable place; according to Lynne Cameron (2001), young Learners need to master grammar as a formal explicit rule in young learners’ classrooms, especially under the age of 8 or 9 years. Learners need grammar to develop their language forward and build a more basic grammatical structure. As a result, the teacher will focus on L2 learning grammar. In addition, young learners get older; they also need to learn increasingly from and more formal instruction. Besides, according to Lynne Cameron (2001), grammar plays an important role in language. Students have to learn the mastered rules of grammar; because it will help learners to step by step to build up language grammar structure and learn English well.
Moreover, learners are expected to learn the grammar rules and to practise using the rule to construct sentences is in other to understand clear grammar terms and organisation. Learners should do more practise using the rules of grammar in the correct sentence automatically. The major function of teaching grammar progress is to help learners recognize the structures or rules well. (Lynne Cameron, 2001)
At the same time, learning grammar can help young learners to develop their internal grammar. Thus, many cram schools always ask students to have to learn grammar, because it will help them learn a good language. Moreover, Ellis (2006) also believes that grammar teaching is a good teaching method; it helps learners to understand more grammatical forms for using their target language.
Taking into account Ellis’s analysis in grammar teaching material, many textbooks are using deductive presentation to teach learners by L2 teachers (Ellis, 2002:160). Moreover, according to Adair-Hauck et al. (2000, p. 148), the deductive approach connects grammar teaching to the direct teacher to explain the rule. After that, students may understand the rules, and then, link manipulative exercises to explain these rules and do more practice. This clear teaching is presented through the deductive approach. Thus, the cram schools also use deductive presentation in their material to teach L2 young learners in the L2 learning process.
Students’ perception of grammar learning is also of great importance; according to VanPatten (1993, p. 438) students have got an awareness of grammatical forms in their input, the result shows students’ intake is more efficient. In addition, VanPatten and Cadierno (1993) both present their research to evidence this claim. They also believe that grammar teaching and practice include an explanation and attending to input; learners can recognize and produce the targeted grammatical structure more successfully over time, than subjects exposed to traditional (i.e., deductive) grammar education.
Another important point is that teachers should give writing feedback to learners; according to Lee (2008, p15-16), when teachers do the writing feedback, they can help learners to acquire better writing and increase more accuracy from their incorrect parts and grammar mistakes. Therefore, teachers have to do writing feedback to help a student to improve the grammar used in cram school.
It is necessary to stress that Nitta and Gardner (2005), present five types of grammar teaching in course books, there are five types of form-focused tasks; grammar practice activity task is used very often in cram school in Taiwan. The primary function is a practising task that helps L2 young learners create interaction in class and develops L2 students to use grammar forms frequently
Recommended teaching approach
Finally, it is necessary to analyze the central grammar tasks; Ellis (1997:160) states, that the major purpose is to make L2 learners reach the destination of a clear understanding of the target language. Moreover, learners can use metalanguage to describe the rule with their classmates to do practising until they all understand the grammar form. Due to the EFL context, the focus should lie on teaching grammar and rules; the major material is textbook/course-book based on cram school requirement, teachers can suggest them to use some material in course-book related to consciousness-raising. Nitta and Gardner developed five types of form-focused tasks in grammar teaching:
- Consciousness-raising tasks;
- Interpretation tasks;
- Focused communication tasks;
- Grammar exercises;
- Grammar practice exercises.
Grammar teaching has always been considered the path to successful language knowledge; in Taiwan, the education system, such as cram schools, focuses on grammar teaching in practice. Based on Ryo Nitta and Sheena Gardner (2005), there are two theoretical perspectives on grammar teaching, consciousness-raising and practice, that both can help learners to learn their grammar of target language well. So teachers should suggest that cram schools can try to use the consciousness-raising task to teach the students.
Grammar is usually misunderstood in the field of language learning; it can be explained by the complexity of rules and structures combination characterizing the language. Nevertheless, grammar teaching is considered to be the path to mastering the language without making grave mistakes. The analysis of the grammar teaching process based on the literature overview disclosed the role of grammar in mastering the language.
It is necessary to stress that vocabulary and grammar knowledge is considered to be the base of language knowledge; besides, grammatical competence is perceived as communicative competence, so, young learners are to be concentrated on grammar rules awareness. The theoretical analysis demonstrated the fact that the achievement of communicative goals cannot be reached without grammar learning; it is necessary to know the system of rules and its usage in practice to reach the set goals from the very beginning of language learning. Grammar operates the level of sentence structure and is the governor in syntax and word order structure; it is necessary to stress that the learning of grammar rules at early stages of language mastering will allow developing analytical thinking, which is a basic component of the general study process.
Adair-Hauck, B., Donato, R., & Cumo-Johanssen, P (2000). Using a story-based approach to teach grammar. In J. L. Shrum & E. Glisan, Teacher’s handbook: Contextualized language instruction (pp. 146-171). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Ellis, R. (2006). Current issues in the teaching of grammar: An SLA perspective. TESOL Quarterly 40(1): 83-107.
Lee, I. (2008). Ten mismatches between teachers’ beliefs and written feedback practice. ELT Journal. 63 (1): 13-22.
Larsen-Freema n, D. (2000). Grammar: Rules and reason working together. ESL Magazine 3 (1): 10-12.
VanPatten, B. (1993). Grammar teaching for the acquisitionrich classroom. Foreign Language Annals, 26(4), 435450.
VanPatten, B., Q Cadierno, T. (1993). Explicit instruction and input processing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 15,225-244.