by Elaine Gallagher I just returned from two UNOi conferences in Brazil, to initiate Brazil’s academic school year beginning about February 3rd. The goal of […]
I just returned from two UNOi conferences in Brazil, to initiate Brazil’s academic school year beginning about February 3rd. The goal of the two conferences (for 1,000 teachers in each session) was to develop teachers new to UNO. They were NOT indoctrinated into the «text». The goal was learning how to become part of change.
Traditionally in Brazil, as in other countries, grammar has been a vehicle for teaching second or third languages, with poor results. Students may be able to read and translate, but they can’t exhibit oral fluency. Since UNO supports and promotes CLIL philosophy for language learning, in fact, my talks were about CLIL, many teachers asked me the role of grammar in language learning.
The following is what I explained to them.
An easy-to-remember definition of GRAMMAR is: “Grammar is the way a language is organized.” Every language is organized in some way, so, obviously, every language has grammar.
For students to acquire English well, grammar should not be emphasized or taught in formal, rigid ways. The style of overt, obvious grammar teaching never obtained excellent results, so gradually, teachers have been moving towards a more communicative and natural approach at teaching English.
Overt grammar teaching, (inductive teaching) including memorization of rules and lists of verb tenses (such as: I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, you are, they are), is an archaic and non-productive way to teach a language, resulting in students who claim that they “hate English”, or who believe that they NEVER, EVER will learn English. They concentrate so much on not making mistakes as they speak, that they simply don’t attempt to speak. Overt grammar teaching means that you provide the students with grammatical rules and explanations. Grammatical information is openly presented, and it is expected that the students will learn all the rules of grammar by practicing many worksheets.
Overt grammar teaching does NOT get good results!
Covert grammar teaching (deductive grammar teaching = part of CLIL philosophy) hides grammatical facts from students, presenting them subtly, gradually, even though the students are learning the language. For example, the students may be asked to do an information gap activity or read a text where new grammar is practiced or introduced. Attention, however, will be drawn to the activity or to the text, not to the grammar.
With covert grammar instruction, teachers help the students to acquire and/or practice the language, but they do not draw conscious attention to any of the grammatical facts of the language.
Teachers ask the students, “What do you notice here that is different than before?” Or teachers may point out a complex sentence, such as, «I would have gone camping, but it rained.» Verbs can be identified, but no tense «names» are taught until; perhaps B-2 or C-1 levels. Instead, the teacher will ask, «Which verb happened first in this sentence? Then what happened?»
Covert teaching is explicit and clear about mentioning some grammar points, but teachers only introduce the new language, expecting that students will subconsciously absorb grammatical information. The goal is that students gradually will acquire the language.
Most language specialists urge teachers to emphasize acquisition activities, (Stephen Krashen), yet not forget to include learning activities, in order to have the material absorbed, acquired, assimilated by the students. This will result in students who are more fluent and comfortable in English, speaking and writing in a more natural way.