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Tema 3- Concepto y enseñanza de la gramática. La gramática en función del uso de la lengua.

Modern orientation about grammar and language:

Modern grammar studies language taking into account forms and not meanings. Grammatical theory is not the base of the linguistic education. It serves us to get the methodical practise of speaking.

Nowadays a syllabus offers varied activities where we can find grammar used according to the use of language. For instance when we organise ideas, when making a wall chart, compositions, notes, where we can see the agreement between nouns and adjectives and nouns and verbs, the correct use of punctuation marks will ease the reading of what has been written, the clarification of sentences according to the tone or attitude of the speaker will make conversation more lively and interesting. All of them are examples of grammar used according to the use of language. However, there are many expressions which are considered mistakes in writing and they are admitted in speaking.

Grammar must correspond to use and not use to grammar. It is language which makes grammar and not grammar language. Grammar does not serve us in itself to learn a language.

There are 2 extreme opinions:

  1. The first one thinks that grammar is the only way to teach and learn a language.
  2. The second one thinks that grammar must be ruled out of the teaching and learning a language.
  3. However, the most adequate position is an intermediate one, by means of which a language cannot only be learnt imitating the correct forms of expression, but we must also offer some knowledge about the norms that govern a language. In other words, grammar is not an aim in itself and cannot also be ruled out completely. Its real aim is to help to correct mistakes of expression in a reasonable way.

Principles that rule the teaching of grammar:

We have to study grammar by means of language and not language by means of grammar. The teaching of grammar must help the linguistic training.

There are 2 general principles in the teaching of grammar: the dynamic one and the objective one. By means of the first one the student participates actively in language and with the second one by means of comparison and reflection, he separates the correct forms from the mistakes in language.

These principles must be completed with a third one, the didactic principle of systematisation which is the previous organisation and the careful planning of the language teaching.

Aims in the teaching of grammar:

1. To develop and perfect language in oral and written communication: speaking and writing.

2. To stimulate the ability to interpret what we hear and read: listening and reading.

3. To orientate the student to the use of grammar as an instrument to enrich and manifest his language.

4. To develop habits, abilities and linguistic skills.

5. To initiate the knowledge of language structure.

Importance of grammar:

1. Grammar, as theory of language and as a science in which language is the object of investigation, precises and clears up not only the linguistic phenomena but also the mental processes.

2. The most adequate process to teach grammar is the inductive one (induction) we have to go from particular cases to the general rule, not with deduction, from the general rule to particular cases.

3. The formative process of grammar is from the sentence. We can see it in the fact that words for grammar are only parts of the sentence.

Techniques to direct the learning of grammar:

In general, the study of grammar must be done not only in a theoretical way but also in a practical way. A language cannot be taught through the memorization of grammatical rules. A language is learnt by means of writing and speaking it.

The general techniques of the learning of grammatical rules are in the inductive-deductive way, never the other way around. There are 3 main techniques:

1. Incidental: It is the one we have to use in the first levels of the process of learning. It consists of the indirect learning of the grammatical principles and it is based on experiences.

2. Functional-systematic: systematic is the way of teaching the grammatical principles through a plan subject to grammatical rules. Doing this way, the teacher gives the student some grammatical knowledge, which will help him to solve on his own the difficulties of language and to have a better language.

3. Motivation: As grammar is such an abstract subject which does not have many reasons to interest students in the lowest levels, its motivation is a bit difficult. So the teacher has to invent many ways of interesting the student in the learning of grammar. This motivation can be done through the description of notices, wall charts made by the students, cards with common expressions, the reading of texts or poems, games, pictures, videos etc.

Conditions to teach the grammatical principles:

1. The grammatical principles must be in accordance with the language and level of understanding of the student.

2. The grammatical principles must be studied in relation to all kind of activities.

3. We have to give preference to understanding over memorization.

4. We have to take into account that it is a long-term process.

5. We have to take into account the individual differences.

6. We have to give importance to the natural and correct discussion of ideas.

7. We have to know the influence of social and environmental factors on language.

8. The grammatical processes must be taught and learnt in an inductive-deductive way.

The place of grammar in language teaching:

There is no doubt that knowledge, implicit or explicit, of grammatical rules is essential for the mastery of a language. You cannot use words unless you know how they should be put together.

There has been some discussion in recent years of the question: Do we have grammar exercises? Isn´t it better for learners to absorb the rules intuitively through communicative activities than to be taught through special excercises explicitely aimed at teaching grammar? The answer should be not necessarily, that is, the ability to communicate effectively is probably not attained more quickly or efficiently through pure communication practice in the classroom.

Grammar must furnish the basis for a set of classroom activities during which it becomes temporarily the main learning objective. The learning of grammar should be seen in the long term as one of the means of acquiring a thorough mastery of the language as a whole, not as and end in itself.

Four stages to teach grammar:

1. Presentation: We usually begin by presenting the class with a text in which the grammatical structure appears. The aim of the presentation is to get the learners to perceive the structure (its form and meaning) in both speech and writing and to take it into the short-term memory.

2. Isolation and Explanation: At this stage we move away from the context and focus temporarily on the grammatical items themselves: what they sound and look like, what they mean, how they function, that is what rules govern them. The objective is that the learners should understand these various aspects of the structure.

3. Practice: The practice stage consists of a series of excercises done both in the classroom and for home assignments to absorb the structure thoroughly, that is, to transfer what they know from short-term into long-term memory.

4. Test: Learners do tests in order to demonstrate how well they have mastered the material they have been learning.

Of the four stages, the practice stage is the most important one because it is through practice that the material is most thoroughly and permanently learnt.