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.