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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006

Автор: Беляева А.А.

Grammar takes the central place in teaching and learning languages. It is a difficult aspect of language to teach well. Many people, including language teachers, hear the word “grammar” and think of a fixed set of word forms and rules of usage. They associate “good” grammar with the prestige forms of the language, such as those used in writing and in formal oral presentations, and “bad” or “no” grammar with the language used in everyday conversation or used by speakers of non-prestige forms.

Some language teachers, influenced by recent theoretical work on the difference between language learning and language acquisition, tend not to teach grammar at all, believing that children acquire their first language without overt grammar instruction; they expect students to learn their second language the same way. They assume that students will absorb grammar rules as they hear, read, and use the language in communication activities. This approach does not allow students to use one of the major tools they have as learners: their active understanding of what grammar is and how it works in the language they already know [11].

Other teachers, including myself in the past, give long rules with all cases of using the grammar point and all exceptions, and then drill students on them. It is boring and students are able to produce the correct forms in tests and exercises, but make mistakes using language in context. The question about grammar teaching has been interesting for me since I began to teach students who do not make their degree in English. I have been teaching English for 3 years but in different colleges, and every year my attitude to grammar teaching has been different; programs and purposes, and students’ levels have also been different. This year I have three groups of non-linguistic students. They have my classes two times a week. I used to spend the whole class to explain, for example, the Present Simple Tense. I never had a textbook and I had to create the course myself. This year I have a textbook for my students, and I have noticed the way grammar presented in the textbook. The rules in textbooks are short. I thought that I was wrong explaining grammar and complaining that students didn’t study the material I gave. Or, may be the authors of the textbook I have now are wrong, that didn’t give long rules with all cases of using the grammar point and with all exceptions. What is the right way to teach grammar? The purpose of the paper is to answer the following questions: Is it really important to teach grammar? Which approach proves better? What are the requirements of teaching grammar the right way?

What is Grammar?

Grammar is the system of rules governing the conventional arrangement and relationship of words in a sentence. Grammar refers to sentence-level rules and discourse rules govern the relationship among sentences. Without the structure that organizes our communicative attempts, our language would simply be chaotic, so grammar is a component of communicative and organizational competence [2, p. 363-375]. Grammar tells us how to construct a sentence (word order, verb and noun system, phrases, clauses, etc.), and discourse rules tell us how to string those sentences together. So, no one doubts about importance of grammar studying in an ELL framework. While studying English as the second/foreign language it is important to have a teacher who can explain peculiarities and cases of using grammar points, especially if they do not exist in the native language.

I did a classroom survey and asked 20 students the following questions: What is difficult for you in English? Why is it difficult for you? The students listed the following areas of difficulty: prepositions, articles, phrasal verbs, tenses, word order, modal verbs, to be, indirect speech, if-clauses and the –ing forms.

Here are the students’ answers to the second question:

1) Prepositions should be memorized. There are only several of them that are translated in same way as in Russian. Most cases of using prepositions have to be learnt by heart.

2) Articles do not exist in Russian. There are lots of cases when you don’t know which rule refers to the case you have with using an article.

3) Phrasal verbs express completeness of an action that is different from Russian. The Russian language is a language where we use lots of prefixes and endings to show completeness of an action. In English, however, the completeness is often expressed through phrasal verbs with prepositions after them, for example: eat (кушать) – eat up (скушать)

4) Tenses differ from Russian. It is necessary to understand the situation you have to use every tense. In Russian there are 3 tenses: Present, Past and Future. In English there are Simple, Continuous and Progressive in Present, Past and Future and some more mixed tenses.

5) The word order is fixed in English. You have to follow an established order; otherwise, you may not be understood. In English, for each kind of sentences you have its own word order: for questions, negatives and for statements. In Russian word order can fluctuate. It is not important where you put words in all kinds of sentences.

6) Modal verbs should be memorized to express necessary degree of politeness. In Russian you can use the word “можно” or “могу” and add “please” and it is already a polite request.

7) The word “To be” should be understood. The verb “to be” is the basic and important phenomenon, which should be understood and memorized. It is easy to live without using but minding this verb in Russian. There are three forms of this verb in the Present, two in the Past and one in the Future Tense, and sometimes it is used as bare infinitive “be”.

8) Changing a sentence into indirect speech you have to keep in mind: sequence of tenses and changing verbs and words.

9) If-clauses should be understood and memorized. There is a tendency to use the if-clauses the same way as in Russian, but there are 3 conditionals and there are rules you have to remember: real or not real and past or present.

10) When should a verb be followed by an infinitive and when by a gerund? These difficulties seem more complex in the textbooks where they are explained.

The fact that students make so many mistakes and have difficulties with language structure can be explained by a whole range of factors. First, the English and Russian languages are different in their structure, the first being analytic and the second being synthetic. Second, teachers gave long lectures on how to use various language forms, listing all the rules and exceptions. Overwhelmed by so much information, students could not remember everything at once, even if they did multiple exercises and learned rules by heart. Next, sentences in the exercises the students did and examples were not linked. It was not always clear what case follows which rule. Finally, in the students’ textbooks examples sometimes are ambiguous and not understandable, so you can’t trust the given example, doing an exercise.

Looking at the list of difficulties, one cannot underestimate the role of an English teacher in making grammar instruction understandable. Grammatical explanations place a strong emphasis. Detailed explanations about all parts of a form were not even given in native language classes, for example: auxiliary verb, intransitive verbs, direct object, complex object, etc. It is difficult to keep in mind the information with all cases and exceptions, because practicing any theme a student isn’t sure about using rules the proper way.

The following extract from a book by a well-known expert in English methodology uncovers what it takes to teach grammar well [9].

Give grammar in a small amount. Grammar point should be given in a small amount with lots of exercises for the point. Sentences should be linked. Otherwise, it is not clear what rule is suitable here. Give brief and simple explanations. Explanations should be brief and simple, as simple as possible, but not too simple. The problem is that students soon come across examples that contradict what you have taught them. Obviously, the explanation also has to be comprehensible, which may provide problems for lower levels or younger learners. If you cannot come up with a suitably comprehensible explanation, maybe the structure in question is not suitable for the level you are teaching.

Be correct. Be careful because there are many incorrect explanations in TEFL books. A good example is the distinction usually made between some and any, which goes something like:

Use some+plural countable/uncountable noun in affirmative sentences.

Use any+plural countable/uncountable noun in negative sentences and questions.

Higher-level books may go on to add that you use some in questions if you expect an affirmative answer, or in invitations, or various other situations. An explanation based on the difference in meaning between some and any might eliminate many of these problems. Such an explanation might be along the lines of:

any+noun refers to an indeterminate subset of the collection of nouns referred to.

some+noun refers to a particular subset of the collection of nouns referred to [1, p. 117-122].

This explanation is not particularly clear here, but can be made so by being presented in an adequate context. It does have the advantage of being a reasonable approximation to what the difference between some and any actually is. This can be a problem of inexperienced teachers. And it is very important to give correct information to save students from mistakes and misunderstanding.

Be general. The explanation should be at the most general level possible. For example, we often teach that ‘will’ is not used in if-clauses. However, this is just a consequence of the fact that we don’t use ‘will’ (for future reference) in subordinate clauses. By teaching the latter, possibly in the context of a lesson on conditionals, you are giving the student information, which is much more widely applicable. The end result is that the student has a lot less to learn. You also avoid giving the (false) impression that English is a language that is full of exceptions and ad hoc rules [4, p. 245-255].

Be consistent. An explanation shouldn’t contradict itself, or any other explanations the student might have been given. Of course, if the student has previously been given an inadequate explanation (such as some/any referred to above) then you are going to have to contradict what they have learnt. Teach a rule and then exceptions. Explain first that present perfect is never used with adverbs of finished time, before also point out that ‘just’ is not an adverb of finished time. Don’t give too many exceptions at once.

Be complete with rules: each of the following explanations for the present perfect, taken from different textbooks, is more ‘complete’ than the one preceding it:

The present perfect is used to describe experiences.

The present perfect is used with adverbs of unfinished time.

The present perfect is used for actions which can still happen, or can happen again.

How well do they explain:

I’ve been to Paris.

I have had cornflakes for breakfast today.

The teacher hasn’t arrived yet. I’ve done my homework.

The first three examples can be explained by the third explanation given above; the first two explanations fall down at the second and third examples. The third explanation can cover all three examples and so can be considered complete in the sense that it explains all similar situations without any need for ‘special pleading’. The fourth example, however, cannot be explained by any of the above explanations, and requires treatment as a separate situation or ‘use’ of the present perfect [3].

Be exhaustive. At lower levels it’s fairly normal to leave out some of the more subtle details; at advanced levels this is not really an option: if you do not give the students the information you can’t assume anyone else will. For example:

It’s years since I went to Scotland.

It’s years since I’ve been to Scotland.

The first form would be included in most explanations (since + point in time), the second requires a bit more effort. If you compare the following examples, however:

It’s years since I left school.

INCORRECT It’s years since I’ve left school.

It becomes clear that the present perfect can be used after since only if the action can still happen - I can go to Scotland again, but I can’t leave school again. This is the kind of explanation which, despite being simple, is omitted by most TEFL books.

Another example:

INCORRECT The car was too fast for me to follow it.

The car went too fast for me to follow it.

Why cannot ‘it’ be included in the first? Because here fast is an adjective and complement of the subject. In the second sentence fast is an adverb, and as it doesn’t describe the subject we need to include an object for ‘follow’. This is another explanation which is conspicuous by its absence from most TEFL books.

A slightly different problem is that with some structures, such as inversions, there are a lot of different cases to cover - it’s difficult to be completely exhaustive.

Be productive. No matter how good an explanation is, it’s not much use if it leaves the student asking ‘why would I want to say that?’ The passive is a good example; it’s fairly easy to explain the syntax, but unless you give examples of where it is usually used, students aren’t likely to use it very much. In general, explanations along the lines of ‘this structure emphasizes...’ are not very useful for helping students to decide when to use a structure. ‘The present perfect continuous emphasizes the activity...’ is a typical example. How does this help us to choose between:

I’ve chopped the onions.

I’ve been chopping onions.

Not very much. When to use one form or the other becomes much clearer if you explain that each sentence refers to a different type of result, so:

I’ve chopped the onions. (They’re ready to fry.)

I’ve been chopping onions. (That’s why I’m crying.)

With this information, students can choose the form to use depending on the message that they actually want to get across.

Enable discrimination. The explanation should enable students to discriminate between when to use one structure and when to use another. For example, you should teach students the difference between If only and I wish. If you don’t, how can they choose which to use in a given situation? The obvious problem here is that it can be very difficult to explain subtle differences between forms - assuming you can work out the difference. Examples:

I wish you hadn’t done that.

If only you hadn’t done that.

The first sentence regrets the effect your action had on the speaker, the second expresses regret for the effect it had in general. The second, unlike the first, can be used to express sympathy.

I wish I had studied harder.

If only I had studied harder.

In the second sentence here the negative effects of my not studying are being felt now or ‘immediately’. The first sentence might be referring to a negative effect at some time in the past.

I wish he didn’t go on so much.

I wish he wouldn’t go on so much.

The first sentence expresses regret about a fact that the speaker doesn’t like. In the second the speaker also shows that he would like the situation to change. A full understanding of how we use will and would are required to analyze the second sentence, although it usually include in sections on wish/If only.

Be ‘memorizable’. Students have to memorize lots of information and if your explanation is good and vivid it will be in students head. Charts or other visuals can be presented depicting grammatical relationships.

Pay attention to the age and literacy of students. Their educational background is another thing to pay attention to. Young students are eager to memorize speech patterns easily; they don’t need rules with terms and big charts. Adults absorb information consciously; they need to understand the process of forming a pattern. Then they easily memorize and use a formula in their speech [6].

Be creative. The myth that grammar is boring exists because of the impression that grammar can only be taught through repetition and other rote drills. Teaching grammar does not mean asking students to repeat models in a mindless way, and it does not mean memorizing rules. Such activities can be boring and do not necessarily teach grammar. This does not mean there is no place for drills, but drills should be used in a meaningful and purposeful way. For example, to practice past-tense yes/no sentences in English, the teacher may ask her students to close their eyes while she changes five things about herself. She takes off one shoe, takes off her watch, puts on her glasses, puts on her sweater, and takes off her ring. This kind of activity can be fun and, more importantly, engages changes she has made. Students may ask, “Did you take off a shoe?” or “Did you put on a sweater?” Students are then asked to pose questions to figure out a way that requires them to think and not just provide mechanical responses. Teaching grammar in a way that engages students may require creativity, but the teaching need not and should not be boring [12].

There is one more question how to put this formula in the adults’ consciousness. Grammar can be presented inductively and deductively. The inductive approach is when a learner discovers and generalizes various language forms by himself and then practices them. The deductive approach is when a teacher explains rules, and then students practice various instances of language to which the rule applies. These two approaches are often contrasted with each other when questions about grammar teaching arise. In most contexts, an inductive approach is more appropriate because it is more in keeping with natural acquisitions - rules are absorbed subconsciously with little or no conscious focus. It conforms more easily to the concept of interlanguage development in which learners progress, on variable timetables, through stages of rule acquisition. It allows students to get a communicative “feel” for some aspect of language before possibly being overwhelmed by grammatical explanations. It builds more intrinsic motivation by allowing students to discover rules rather than being told them.

The Grammar Lesson

Celce-Murcia, M., & Hilles, S. (1988) in their article Techniques and Resources in Teaching Grammar present the following structure of a grammar lesson. The grammar lesson consists of four parts:

1. Presentation. We introduce grammar structure inductively or deductively. Selection of techniques and resources can be made by the teacher.

2. Focused practice. The learner manipulates the structure. The aim of this part is to learn how to use the form. The teacher should be sure that most of the students are able to use the form without mistakes.

3. Communicative practice. The learner practices the structure being learned. There are some tasks, suggested in this part: information gap, choice, feedback.

4. Teaching feedback and correction. Although it is final step, but it takes place through out the lesson. A teacher’s correction strategy changes according to the phase of the lesson. Teacher feedback engage a student several times to be able that corrected mistake is pointed out [5, p. 8-30].

Grammar is often misunderstood in teaching language sphere; it has been synonymous to teaching a foreign language. Grammar has been given in isolated, unconnected sentences and made it difficult to apply. Language teachers and language learners are often frustrated by the disconnect between knowing the rules of grammar and being able to apply those rules automatically in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. That is why grammar should be taught in communicative connection and should be explained. A research was done with 30 students of non-linguistic groups for finding out difficulties in learning English. The reasons of the difficulties are following: difference in languages; long rules with all exceptions; sentences in the exercises and examples are not linked; unclear and ambiguous examples. This paper recommends to teach grammar by offering small amount of grammar points with lots of exercises; brief and simple explanations; correct explanations; general level explanations; consistent explanations; complete rules; exhaustive information; productive work; discrimination ability; memorizable explanations; suitable for age and literacy explanations and a creative approach.

To teach inductively or deductively is also a question which depends on the students and their needs. Before deciding on an approach, the teacher is recommended to conduct a needs assessment and evaluation of materials at hand to see if they match. To hold a grammar lesson, the teacher can remember the structure:

1. Presentation

2. Focused practice

3. Communicative practice (production)

4. Teacher feedback and correction

Is there a textbook which fulfills the demands written above?

Sample Grammar Lesson on Present Perfect:

Тоm is looking for his key. Не can’t find it.

Hе has lost his key.

‘Не has lost his key’ means that hе lost it а short time ago and hе still hasn’t got it.

This is the preseпt perfect (siтple) tense:

I/we/they/you hаvе (= I’ve etc.)

He/she has (= he’s etc.) lost

We form the present perfect with hаvе/hаs + the past participle. Тhе past participle often ends in -ed (opened, decided) but mаnу important verbs are - irregular (1ost, written, done etc.).

1) When we use the present perfect there is а connection with the present:

I’ve lost mу key. (= I haven’t got it now.)

Jim has gone to Canada. (= Не is in Canada or оn his way there now.)

Оh dear, I’ve forgotten her nаmе. (= I can’t remember it пow.)

Наvе you washed your hair? (= Is it clean пow?)

2) We often use the present perfect to give new information or to аnnоunсе а recent happening:

I’ve lost mу key. Саn уоu help mе look for it?

Do you know about Jim? Не’s gоnе to Canada.

Ow! I’ve burnt myself.

3) Yоu саn usе the present perfect with just (= а short time ago):

‘Would you like something to eat?’

‘No, thanks. I’ve just had lunch.’

Неllo, hаvе уоu just arrived?

Yоu саn use the present perfect with already to say that something has happened sooner than expected:

‘Don’t forget to post the letter, will уоu?’ ‘I’ve already posted it.’

‘When is Тоm going to start his new job?’ ‘Не has already started.’

Practice: I ask students to put the verbs in brackets into the right form:

1. They already (discuss) almost everything on the agenda

2. They (look) over all the building plans.

3. They (discuss) personnel problems.

4. I (wonder) how she keeps her company going. It must cost a lot.

Then I ask them to imagine they аrе writing а letter to а friend and giving news about people they both know. They have to use the words given to make sentences and put the verb into the correct fоrm.

Example: Phil/ find а new job ...Phil has found a new job…

Dear Сhris,

Lots of things have happened since I last wrote to you.

1. Charles / go / Brazil. Charles.

2. Jack and Jill/ decide/ to get married

3. Suzanne / have / а bаbу.

4. Monica/ give up/ smoking ..

5. George/ раss / his driving-test

Production: This time Ss have to use just answering the questions using the words given.

Example: Would уоu like something to eat? (nо thank you/I/just/have/dinner)

No thank you. I’ve just had dinner.

1. Have you seen John anywhere? (yes/I/just/ see/him) Yes, …

2. Has Аnn phoned yet? (yes/ she/just/ рhоnе) …

3. Would you like а cigarette? (nо thanks/I/just/ put/ оnе out)…

In this exercise students have to write sentences with already.

Example: Don’t forget to post that letter. I’ve already posted it.

1. Don’t forget to рhоnе Тоm….

2. Why don’t you read the paper? I….

3. Shall I рау the waiter? No, I…

I give Ss the dialogue and ask to them fill in the blanks with CHECK, PACK, HAVE in the present perfect and translate:

Frances: It’s good to hear from уоu. Is everything alright?

Suzuki: Fine. I just ____ in and the rоот is quite nice.

F: I’m sorry we couldn’t get уоu а rоот in уоuг regular hotel, but it had already filled uр bу the time we called.

S: No рroblеm. This one is quite adequate, and I know how difficult it is to get rooms оn short notice.

F: Yes, the notice was awfully short. And you’d been planning а vacation, hadn’t уоu?

S: In fact, we already______ for it. I was disappointed, but ту wife was delighted to cancel. She сате here with те instead.

F: She was happy not to go оn vacation?

S: Yes. She thinks the mountains аге full of dangers, so she’s glad we’re not going there. She’d rather spend her time in а civilized place like Midvale.

F: Well, anyway, I’m glad you’re here. Уоu______ а long day, ог should I say two days, so I’d better let уоu go.

S: What time should I expect to bе at the оffiсе tomorrow?

F: The meeting is scheduled for nine, in the 10th floor conference rооm.

S: And I suppose the agenda is long, so I’ll bе prompt. See уоu then.


1. Bonk, N.A., Levina I.I. (2002). English step by step. 117-122

2. Brown, H. D. (2001). Teaching by principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy, 363-375.

3. Bygate, M., Tonkyn, A., & Williams, E. (Eds.). (1994). Grammar and the language teacher. Hemel Hempstead, England: Prentice Hall.

4. Byrd, P. (1994). Writing grammar textbooks: Theory and practice. System, 22 (2), 245-255.

5. Celce-Murcia, M., & Hilles, S. (1988). Techniques and resources in teaching grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 8-30.

6. Cook, V. (1994). Universal grammar and the learning and teaching of second languages. In T. Odlin (Ed.), Perspectives on pedagogical grammar (pp. 25-48). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

7. Hubbard, P. L. (1994). Non-transformational theories of grammar: Implications for language teaching. In T. Odlin (Ed.), Perspectives on pedagogical grammar (pp. 25-48). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

8. Krashen, S. (1981). Second language acquisition and second language learning. London: Continuum.

9. Larsen-Freeman, D. (1997). Grammar and its teaching: Challenging the myths (ERIC Digest). Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on languages and Linguistics, Center for Applied Linguistics. Retrieved May 14, 2003.

10. Larsen-Freeman, D. (Series Director). (1993; 1997). “Grammar dimensions: Form, meaning, and use. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

11. Internet: Material for this section was drawn from “Grammar in the foreign language classroom: Making principled choices” by Patricia Byrd, in Modules for the Professional Preparation of Teaching Assistants in Foreign Languages (Grace Stovall Burkart, ed.; Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1998).

12. Internet: ED406829 97 Grammar and Its Teaching: Challenging the Myths. ERIC Digest. Author: Larsen-Freeman, Diane

13. Interview with Solveig Taylor

14. Interview with students

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