A New Way to Teach Grammar

Larsen-Freeman, D. (1997). Grammar and its teaching: Challenging the myths. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED406829). Retrieved from ERIC database.

Larsen-Freeman (1997) outlined a detailed, yet understandable, rationale for progressively teaching grammar to non-native speakers of English through debunking several deeply rooted myths about grammar as a concept. These myths can be interpreted as the belief that grammar, as an area of knowledge as opposed to a skill, is a prescriptive set of arbitrary and oftentimes meaningless rules which lack pedagogical usefulness and must be acquired naturally. The author believes that these myths deter teachers from implementing effective grammar teaching methods (1-7).

The author holds that aforementioned myths lack validity as grammar is composed of the ever evolving processes of form, meaning, and use (1, 6). Form refers to the basic grammatical structure. Meaning refers to what can be inferred or what is implied from the basic grammatical structure. Use refers to how speakers utilize forms and their implied meanings to convey greater meaning within discourse (personal communication). These processes are not static and change overtime. For example, as a native speaker of English, I would find nothing inappropriate about colloquially using the prescriptively incorrect phrase, “I have been wanting a new computer for some time.” Larsen Freeman (1997) held that such discrepancies between what native speakers say and prescriptive rules exist due to the fact that grammar is generative (5).

Further evidence for the latter can be found in Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman’s (1999) analysis of copula and subject-verb agreement where native speakers were almost equally divided over whether or not to rely on the proximity principle in sentences where the word “neither” was used (e.g., Neither Tim nor John (like/likes) pigeon meat)(67). Apparently, either many native speakers have begun deviating from the proximity principle or the proximity principle, as a prescriptive reference, is too narrow in its explanation of what native speakers are actually saying.

Thus, Larsen-Freeman (1997) holds that viewing grammar as an ever changing process is beneficial because it breaks with the ideology that grammar is merely a set of fixed, uninteresting rules that must be ingrained into learners. This viewpoint gives confidence and flexibility to instructors because it allows them to utilize their intuition, outside resources as well as prescriptive learning resources to implement grammar instructional activities in the classroom. This also breaks with the notion that grammar can only be acquired naturally. Teachers can provide insight for learners to more efficiently utilize grammar accurately beyond their immediate social environment. We can conclude, then, that one of the most important goals of teaching grammar appears to be the focus on form, meaning as a process (2-6).

This article is beneficial for beginning level MA students in the field of TESOL for three reasons: The first is that this article is well written and easy to understand, especially for non-professionals just entering the field. New terminology introduced in this article is often accompanied by simple explanations. The second reason is that this article motivates students to approach grammar in a dynamic way as opposed to being apathetic about teaching grammar. The last reason is that this article encourages teachers of English to be confident when approaching grammar as teachers discourse knowledge is just as valuable as prescriptive grammar textbooks in the classroom.

References

Celce-Murcia, M., and Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The grammar book: An ESL/EFL teacher’s course. Boston: Heinle and Heinle.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (1997). Grammar and its teaching: challenging the myths. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED406829). Retrieved from ERIC database

 

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