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How Grammar Influences a Language Acquisition

How Grammar Influences a Language Acquisition | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Teaching a language seems to have its roots precisely in teaching grammar: one of the first learning methodologies in history was grammar-translation. Used to translate Greek into Latin, it was inefficient for speech development, yet it remains one of the most popular teaching methods in education. Unfortunately, even from my own experience as a student, this is the preferred teaching method and it wasn't until recently that a more interactive way of learning was introduced in schools.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Aleksandra Đ.

Reasons to Learn Grammar

We should ask ourselves: Is learning grammar truly necessary for learning a language? We acquire our first language without knowing any grammar whatsoever. And as grammar translation doesn't lead to developing communication skills, should we even attempt to teach it?

The answer is: it's a mixture of both. Yes, we should teach grammar 'formally', and yes, we should try to create an environment that resembles an actual L1 environment. How to achieve this?

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Approaches to Teaching Grammar

1. Deductive approach

Before the final answer, I would like to present two ways of teaching grammar. The first is the deductive way. It means that the teacher presents a grammar rule and then gives the students worksheets and examples for practice. For example, the teacher says: 'We use the present continuous for actions happening at the moment. We form it with the present simple form of the verb 'to be' and the present participle, which is verb + ing'. Then the students do a few examples, usually in the form of gap fills: 'Ben _________ (sing) right now.' This is the most popular approach in schools.

2. Inductive approach

The second way of teaching grammar is the inductive way. Here, the teacher presents the students with a certain situation, then elicits the answer from the students, and finally, once the answer has been elicited and students have given a few examples, and probably worked the rule out themselves, the teacher can write the formal rule (when teaching adults). The inductive way is also in accordance with the ESA methodology. So, to go back to the question: how to achieve teaching grammar formally whilst creating an L1 environment? By using the inductive method.

I will present the way to teach the present continuous tense to two different groups: young learners and adult learners.

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Young Learners

Let us say that you are teaching elementary level students age 10. As the class should start with an engaging stage, the best thing to do is to prepare flashcards with actions to act out. So you can prepare simple actions they already know – cooking, singing, drawing, reading, etc. First, you could mime a few actions and they can guess and then divide them into groups – one group acts out actions, other group guesses, and so on. The study stage begins with elicitation – you put the flashcards on the board and the students tell you what they are. Finally, you can give them a worksheet – it can include a worksheet or a connecting activity and a gap fill exercise for them to select the appropriate verb. For the activate stage, you can play a game called “The Chaotic Classroom” where a group of students acts out a few things while the others say what they’re doing, or you can get them to come up with a story, even come up with a funny dance. The students could even play a drawing game – you could divide the board into a few sections and get the students to stand in rows. They are supposed to draw pictures according to your instructions. So you say “he is running” and they draw someone running, then the next person goes, and so on.

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Adult Learners

There would be no difference in your methodology – you would still use the same ESA methodology and the inductive way of teaching grammar. Only this time activities can be slightly different. Your lesson could focus on actions we can do within a company or at a conference room. It would also start with presenting flashcards and having the adults guess the actions. After writing them on the board, you can give them a picture of a conference room and ask: “What is he doing?” while writing it on the board and underlining ‘ing’. Hopefully, someone would say “He is writing a letter” and you could go on highlighting ‘ing’ and ‘is’ and maybe even the adults could work out the rule by themselves. They should already be familiar with the conjunction of the verb ‘to be’. The study phase could consist of a worksheet using gap fills and putting verbs into the correct form. Finally, in the activate stage, you could show the same picture of a conference room and ask them to describe it or they could even describe the flow of a meeting, e.g. “The chairman is opening the meeting”.

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Potential problems

With younger students, the problems that could arise are mostly L1 into L2 mistakes. The Chinese language doesn’t have conjugation, so students may find it odd that they are supposed to change the verb and will continuously omit the verb ‘to be’. However, drilling and repetition should correct it. Younger learners are especially receptive towards the inductive method and don’t tend to question it too much.

Adult learners, on the other hand, can feel somewhat put off by this particular method precisely because they were so used to the deductive method and grammar-translation when they were students. Reaching a mutual agreement, such as presenting the grammar in a more formal way once you’ve already elicited the answer could be a good compromise.

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Are you ready to teach English abroad?

Every point of grammar could be taught using the inductive way and ESA methodology, you simply need to be creative enough and think of how students can relate the grammar point to real life situation, i.e. how to use what they just learned in real life.

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