Grammar Teaching: Implicit or Explicit?

Based on my 15 years of EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teaching experience, the statement “grammar teaching should be implicit, not explicit” could be argued both for and against. Whether to teach grammar as an extracted focus of ELT (English Language Teaching) or more passively as an inductive, integral topic has been the theme of countless debates on the part of institutions, professors, grammarians and language researchers for decades. Grammar is the branch of linguistics dealing with the form and structure of words or morphology, and their interrelation in sentences, called syntax. The study of grammar reveals how language works, an important aspect in both English acquisition and learning.

In the early 20th century grammarians like the German-American anthropologist Franz Boas and the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen began to describe languages and Boas’ work formed the basis of various types of American descriptive grammar study. Jespersen’s work was the fore-runner of such current approaches to linguistic theory such as Noam Chomsky’s Transformational Generative Grammar.

Chomsky, who studied structural linguistics, sought to analyze the syntax of English in a structural grammar. This led him to view grammar as a theory of language structure rather than a description of actual sentences. His idea of grammar is that it is a device for producing the structure, not of a particular language, but of the ability to produce and understand sentences in any and all languages. Since grammar is the means by which we can understand how a language “works”, a definitive study of language grammar is essential to language study.

Strictly explicit grammar study however, and even grammar-focused lessons are often not communicatively based. They can therefore be boring, cumbersome and difficult for students to assimilate. The strict teaching of grammar / structure, except with students of the Logical – Mathematical or Verbal – Linguistic multiple intelligences, can be frustrating and highly ineffective.

Grammar teaching should be implicit

In the early 20th century, Jespersen, like Boas, thought grammar should be studied by examining living speech rather than by analyzing written documents. By providing grammar in context, in an implicit manner, we can expose students to substantial doses of grammar study without alienating them to the learning of English or other foreign language. I also agree with this implicit approach of teaching grammar. The principal manner in which I accomplish this is by teaching short grammar-based sessions immediately followed by additional function-based lessons in which the new grammar / structure is applied in context.

The hypothesis is that adult language students have two distinct ways of developing skills and knowledge in a second language, acquisition and learning. Acquiring a language is “picking it up”, i.e., developing ability in a language by using it in natural, communicative situations. Learning language differs in that it is “knowing the rules” and having a conscious knowledge of grammar / structure. Adults acquire language, although usually not as easily or as well as children. Acquisition, however, is the most important means for gaining linguistic skills. A person’s first language (L1) is primarily learned in this way. This manner of developing language skills typically employs implicit grammar teaching and learning.

Grammar teaching should be explicit

This does not exclude explicit grammar-teaching entirely, however. Some basic features of English language grammar structure are illogical or dissimilar to speakers of other languages and do not readily lend themselves to being well understood, even in context. In cases where features of English grammar are diametrically opposed or in some other way radically different from the manner of expression in the student’s L1, explicit teaching may be required.

Aspects of English language grammar that may offer exceptional challenge to EFL students include use of word order, determiners (this, that, these, those, a, an, the), prepositions (in, on, at, by, for, from, of), auxiliaries (do, be, have), conjunctions (but, so, however, therefore, though, although), interrogatives, intensifiers (some, any, few, more, too) and distinctions between modal verbs (can, could, would, should, may, might, must). Phrasal verbs also present considerable difficulty to Spanish speakers learning communicative English.

Some students also are logical or linguistically-biased thinkers who respond well to structured presentation of new material. Logical-Mathematical and Verbal-Linguistic intelligence learners are prime examples of those that would respond well to explicit grammar teaching in many cases.

Based on my English language teaching and on my second and third foreign language learning (L2, L3) experience, an exclusive approach using either implicit or explicit methodologies is not as effective as utilizing one or the other of these approaches as required. Although it is essential to teach elements of language and develop communicative abilities in our students, there is no one best way to introduce and provide practice in them. Young learners have more natural facility in acquisition, while adults may benefit substantially from more “formal” language learning. Learning styles and intelligence strengths are also a significant factor.

There are many generally accepted ways of introducing the sounds, structure and vocabulary of English, including colloquial forms of conversation and the four basic communication skills. Grammar provides for “communicative economy”. Grammar teaching should be implicit, or explicit, as teaching / learning conditions may dictate helping to minimize the student response teachers fear most, “Teacher, I don’t understand.”

Note: Academic references for this article are available on request.

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Related language learning and teaching articles in this series available online include:

“Learning a Language: 6 Effective Ways to Use the Internet”
http://ezinearticles.com/?id=76453

“Six Quick Tricks for Learning a Language”
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“What’s the Strangest Thing you’ve Ever Eaten?”
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“What Makes a Person Intelligent?”
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Teach English in Colombia: Grappling with Grammar, Gold, Guns, and Guayaba
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Try This for Perfecting Past Tense Pronunciation Practice
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7 Steps to Better Business English: Choosing a Business English Training Program
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English Only in the EFL Classroom: Worth the Hassle?
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Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an English language teaching and learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. Now YOU too can live your dreams in paradise, find romance, high adventure and get paid while travelling for free.

For more information on entering or advancing in the fascinating field of teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language send for his no-cost PDF Ebook, “If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know”, immediate delivery details and no-obligation information are available online now at: http://bettereflteacher.blogspot.com/

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The Importance of Rhyme

Recent research into the development and acquisition of early literacy skills has conclusively shown that rhythm and rhyme play a hugely important role. This is because children’s early literacy skills are about listening and speaking rather than reading and writing. These first two skills are the bedrock foundation for the latter, and create much stronger ability in the latter if ingrained deeply and early on.

In days gone by it was second nature for parents to sing nursery rhymes, chants and songs to their babies, dangling them on the knee, bouncing them up and down and inventing actions and silly games to accompany them. But according to this research, many children are no longer hearing these nursery rhymes as often (or if they do, just a very few) and therefore not benefiting in the same way as they once were. During my 10 years of teaching 5 year olds, I met many who had never heard or sung a single nursery rhyme in their lives, and indeed had been spoken to very little at all.

A report about this topic in the US found that in 1945 a typical child had a vocabulary of 10,000 words, compared to the 2,500 average of today. It concluded that many of the literacy problems faced by today’s children are due to the fact that they are not memorising rhymes and stories in the way that they once were. [See this link for more information about this research.]

What’s so great about rhyme? => http://bit.ly/l0dsNn

Language as a Window into Human Nature

In this new RSAnimate Steven Pinker shows us how the mind turns the finite building blocks of language into infinite meanings.

Speaking science: Watch your grammar, win an election?

More than most people, politicians are acutely aware that what they say and how they say it can affect their future success. But a recent study suggests that a tiny twist of grammar—one that they’re probably not aware of—could influence their electability.

… continue reading here =>http://bit.ly/hpoxzO

From the kids blog – Inkys, Where the Wild Things are, Text to voice

The Inkys are Australia’s only teenage choice book award

See the 2010 shortlist and longlist, where to vote, and a display competition for schools and libraries
http://bit.ly/ci8gZd

Maurice Sendak reads his book “Where the wild things are” and so does Barak Obama – videos => http://bit.ly/dzuIYH

Free Software that converts text to voice – reads text directly from other applications, without copying or pasting Free downloads available => http://bit.ly/9j4njR

The inimitable Fry on language

Words, reading books – The Rise of the Acronym

When did we start speaking in sets of capital letters? Lane Greene looks into the rise of the acronym and its sibling the initialism …

From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Autumn 2010

Perhaps the perfect modern movie is the cult classic “Office Space”. The anti-hero, Peter, begins his working day with a dressing-down from a droning boss about forgetting to put the cover-sheets on his TPS reports. We never find out what a TPS report is. Nor do we have to; the name alone tells us all we need to know about the life seeping out of Peter’s days, three capital letters at a time.

Acronyms have become so prevalent that they suffer what anything does when coined without end: devaluation. “Oh, my God” still packs quite a punch in the right circumstances. “OMG”, by contrast, is barely effective as a plaything any more.

Read more …http://bit.ly/bp558z

Business jargon and management buzzwords – LOL!

I just love this list – “A tongue-in-cheek guide to business jargon and management buzzwords since 2002”