Recent Research in Teaching Grammar

November 14, 2008

How important is grammatical knowledge? How can we balance grammatical accuracy with communicative fluency? Can grammar even be taught? These questions have been debated for as long as language has been taught. Two recent articles provide new insight on the role of grammar in language classrooms.

Grammar Can be Taught (without hurting fluency)
Research conducted by Mochizuki and Ortega (2008) revealed that teaching grammar to students results in more accurate speaking in communicative tasks. Furthermore, the students who studied grammar performed as well as the control group in measures of fluency. This groundbreaking study offers hard evidence that studying grammar will help students improve their English significantly.

Grammar Should be Taught
It is not enough to know that grammar can be taught. The question remains whether it should be taught. Shiotsu and Weir (2007) conducted a series of experiments to see how much of reading comprehension could be explained by vocabulary knowledge vs. grammatical knowledge. They found that grammatical knowledge is more important than vocabulary size, and they extrabpolated their findings to understanding English in general.

What This Means for You and Your Students
These two studies show that a well-rounded curriculum must have a grammar component. This is critical both for students ability to understand English and for their ability to use the language.

Mochizuki, N. & Ortega, L. (2008) Balancing communication and grammar in beginning-level foreign language classrooms: A study of guided planning and relativization. Language Teaching Research. 12 (1) 11-37.

Shiotsu, T. & Weir, C. (2007) The relative significance of syntactic knowledge and vocabulary breadth in the prediction of reading comprehension test performance. Language Testing. 24 (1) 99-128.

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Teaching Grammar: an occasional series

September 25, 2008

This will be the first post in a series that will run periodically for (likely) quite some time to come. Every time that I think the “Grammar Question” has finally been laid to rest, it flairs up again at some conference or on some forum. I’ve decided to wade in, and will devote several posts over the next couple of months exploring this. This introductory post lays out the question and sets the stage for further posts in which I will explore the issues involved.

The simplified version of the Grammar Question is: Should grammar be taught in the ESL/EFL classroom?

Behind this simple question, however, is a whole host of assumptions about ESL students’ language goals, best practices in English language teaching, the nature of adult language acquisition, and what it means to “teach grammar” anyway. Many of the arguments about whether to teach grammar stem from people’s tacit assumptions about the question. Each ESL teacher assumes that the other is coming from the same point of view and background, when often that is not the case.

The challenge over the next several posts in this series will be to lay out my assumptions as clearly as possible and also to cite as much relevant research as possible. I will place one rule on any comments added to this series. Any time you want to use the phrase “research shows”, you must cite the specific studies you are basing your statement on.

Welcome to “Teaching Grammar”, I hope everyone will enjoy the series.