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Natural Grammar: Comparing different methods of Grammar Teaching
In the history of grammar teaching several methods have been used. A traditional way is the direct teaching of grammar rules. Although this was once seen as the only way, another method was developed focusing on the natural learning process, which can be seen in a first language, applied to a second language. Several methods have been used focusing on one of the aspects or combining both aspects of grammar teaching. Research has been done to prove the positive affects of various programs. The discussion about teaching methods in grammar continued for several years but one can see a general conclusion. Focusing solely on rules or natural acquirement without teaching will not lead to the best results in grammar learning but a combination of both aspects based on an individual approach has proved most successful.
In the traditional way of explicit grammar teaching students learn the rules of grammar and how they should apply those rules on sentences. However, this method lacks the practice in conversational style. The method is focused on theory behind grammar but it does not apply the rules in practice. Explicit grammar teaching has been proved to be successful but in that case the students were used to the method furthermore they were tested on paper which gave them some time to think and apply the rules. These results do show that explicit teaching of rules has a positive affect though it is limited because only small mistakes can be corrected and it will be harder for students to apply the rules in a conversation (Krashen). The system of grammatical rules is so extended that it will be impossible for a student to consciously know all the rules and to apply them together in a sentence. In a study by Krashen (2003) it was shown that non-traditional teaching methods gave better results in the improvement of grammatical accuracy than the traditional methods based on the teaching of explicit rules. With the explicit grammar teaching the student learns to apply rules but without practice in conversations the effect is limited.
The non traditional method that proved to be more successful by Krashen focussed on the natural acquirement of grammar. That grammar can only be acquired naturally is also the first myth in an article by Larsen-Freeman. Several non-native speakers of English will be unable to apply grammatical rules correctly even though they have lived in an English speaking country for a long period. Researches by Larsen-Freeman and Long (1991) and by Piennemann both showed the positive affects of explicit grammar teaching. An improvement was achieved in two weeks instead of the expected months. Nevertheless, implicit teaching will cause an increase in subconscious knowledge – which is necesarry for grammatical accuracy. Often there will still be gaps in grammatical proficiency of an advanced learner. In that case explicit grammar teaching can be used to clearify how the rules are applied in different situations to make the learner aware of the rules. These rules help the learner to fill the gaps. A teaching method based on natural acquirement in which no rules are explained will not lead to complete grammatical accuracy.
Both methods mentioned above have positive affects but are still limited. A combination of both methods appears to lead to better results. In the program of form-on-focus this combination is realized. Different methods have been developed to fit in several situation. Some methods focus more on explicit learning and other on implicit learning with different ways of teaching. In the ‘input method’ for example the students are given a text in which one form is used several times to make the student aware. This is an implicit method. A more explicit method is the “conscious-raising task’ in which students have to determine rules from given sentences. These different approaches help to make the method more based on an individual situation. When a student has very little literacy and is unable to discover many forms in a first language the teaching method should be more focussed on implicit learning and only small and simple forms can be taught in a more explicit way. However, when the student is an academic learner a more explicit explanation of the rules in grammar will be more suitable. Teachers with large classes will not be able to make the method individual for each student so in some situations this method is impossible to apply. This is one downside of the method in combination with the needed ability to recognice form, “Instructors should consider learners’ developmental readiness when deciding whether a focus-on-form approach is appropriate in a given context” (Rodriguez p2). Nevertheless, the success of the method is proven in several researches. for example by Ellis, Basturkmen and Loewen (2001) and again by Loewen (2002 and 2005). The combination of explicit and implicit grammar teaching, applied in focus-on-form has proved to be a successful way to improve grammatical accuracy.
To conclude, all methods of grammar teaching have downsides. Explicit grammar teaching has only a limited function. Natural acquirement of grammar is not enough and explicit teaching is needed to make the grammatical accuracy complete. A combination of both in focus-on-form is successful but the best results are achieved when an individual approach is used which is not always possible. The research done on grammar teaching shows the best results for a combined method. So, although both explicit and implicit grammar teaching can lead to an improvement of grammatical accuracy, both methods have proven to be less successful than an individual teaching method in which both elements are combined.
(Source: EMBED project, © University of Groningen)