Tri Mulyani, widyaiswara LPMP Jawa Tengah.Abstract, Tri Mulyani 2012. Is Teaching Grammar Still necessary In EFL Learners? There are many problems existing in teaching grammar Mastering grammar is the foundation in the proficiency of a language. Grammar teaching is also an essential part of language teaching. However, with the communicative approach was introduced into Indonesian, many foreign language teachers gradually make little of grammar teaching. This paper specifically explores the status of grammar in language learning, the characteristics of foreign language learning, theoretical basis of communicative teaching approach, and the practical effect of ignoring grammar teaching to reposition grammar teaching for a comprehensive understanding of the necessity of teaching grammar.
Keywords: Grammar teaching, necessary, Communicative approach
In the old days people believed that grammar was central to learning language. When we learn a foreign language, it means we learn about the grammar rules, and the success of learning a language was measured with the mastering of the rules of grammar. In other words, the emphasis of teaching grammar was on form rather than function.
In recent years, the emphasis has shifted away from teaching grammar.
Teachers have concentrated on how people learn languages, and grammar becomes less important. It is claimed language is for communication. This way of teaching English is called communicative approach when the focus is on function rather than on form.
There are problems existing in grammar teaching in Indonesia now.
First of all, the goals of Communicative language teaching cannot be realized in the classroom. The goal is to enable students to communicate in the target language (Diane, 2000a). But in real classroom teaching, the goal becomes to help students get high marks.
Second, after the rise of CLT, grammar teaching was ignored by some linguists. Some instructors maintained that it was not necessary to teach grammar. So many teachers abandon teaching grammar. As a result, the students have made rapid progress in speaking and listening more than before, but their written English still lacks accuracy.
Third, the current textbook is not appropriate. In any language teaching-learning situation, success depends on giving proper consideration to both human elements, and also to the non-human elements such as the textbook, the syllabus … (Marinne, 1979b). With the invention of New Curriculum Standard, most textbooks have been changed to meet the need of CLT. They focus on communicative ability, while in real classroom teaching, grammar still is the focus.
Lastly, students hold negative attitudes towards grammar learning. Many students feel grammar teaching has little effect on students’ practical ability to use English, especially in listening and speaking. They think the presentation and explanation of grammar rules in class are dull and less motivated. Because of the lack of correct grammar, many students inside and outside the class can’t express accurate sentences. In oral and written expressions, Indonesia-based English often appears. For example, many high school students still say “I think it won’t rain today”; “he is work hard”. In the English foundation stage, grammar’s weakness directly affects students’ grades and further higher education. After they go to high schools or universities, many students do not understand sentence structure and use of language difference. Some mistakes of translation and writing make teachers confused.
What then is the current situation? Do students regard grammar as something they only need to review before their exams, so they can get higher marks?
Grammar as a set of rules for choosing words and putting words together to make sense, plays a significant role in language teaching. Without grammar, language does not exist. Also, it is difficult for students to speak English well without learning English grammar. So, in the formal education, it is inevitable for teachers who teach foreign languages to teach grammar. However, with the development of the history of language teaching, the position of English grammar in language teaching has always been disputed. As “communicative approach” was introduced to Indonesian nowadays, educational reformers in Indonesian tend to emphasize the students’ communicative ability to use the actual language. Some teachers simply think that is to weaken the teaching of grammar, without attention to grammar. Some teachers tend to neglect grammar teaching which is regarded as naturally “dull” or “old-fashioned”. Some are even going to extremes by avoiding talking about grammar under the supposition that grammar teaching does no good to students’ communicative competence.
Therefore, grammar teaching is in a state of crisis. Now it is essential and imperative to arouse foreign language teachers’ attention to grammar. From the following different theoretical and practical arguments, our foreign language teachers will have a new understanding of grammar’s place in language teaching and learning.
Linguists argue that grammar is the most important part in a language system. A complete language system cannot be constituted without grammar. Thus, we can imagine that grammar is just like a frame of a house. Without this framework, good materials and building blocks can not constitute a solid house. Many linguists also have incisive exposition on the importance of grammar. Bastone (1994) asserts that “language without grammar would be chaotic; countless words without the indispensable guidelines for how they can be ordered and modified” (p. 35). Chomsky (1965) explains that grammar can be thought of as a theory of a language. Thus, for foreign language teachers, grammar is an indispensible part in language teaching.
The standard of mastering a language embodies the importance of grammar teaching. It is often said in the real life that to master a foreign language is the need for social development. So, what should we learn to master a foreign language? On this issue, different people have different answers. Some people say that to understand a language is to understand its grammar and vocabulary well. Some say that it is to understand its grammar, vocabulary, and also to know how to use this language to do what we need. According to Liu (1999), to understand a language is to know grammar, vocabulary, text structure and rules of use in the culture, which jointly decide how to use decent language on specific occasions. Famous linguist Woods (1988) also addresses that when we say someone understands a language, we mean the person has obtained the ability to produce the target language that can be accepted in grammar. Although people have different viewpoints on the standard of mastering a language, there is a commonality, that is, to master a language must master its grammar.
The nature of the theory of “communicative approach” determines the need for grammar teaching. When we talk about “communicative competence”, we have to come to “communicative approach”. As Peng (2007) states, from the ancient times to the present, the foreign language teaching theories and approaches have always been in evolution, struggle and development in these two concepts of “language knowledge” and “skills (competence)”; in the history of foreign language teaching approaches, people have experienced “grammar translation approach”, “direct approach” and “audio lingual approach”, and after these teaching approaches, “communicative approach” stems from the late 60s of 20th century. With the development of functional linguistics, “communicative approach” receives teachers and students’ favor. The traditional teaching methods were gradually abandoned because of their limitations. Communicative approach has been adopted for more than 30 years in Indonesian. However, there are some dilemmas in current language teaching: some teachers always stress “communicative competence” and neglect “linguistic competence”. Teachers and students are always in search for fluent oral expression, but reading and written knowledge is very weak. Meanwhile, Students often make errors in oral and written expression and lack basic knowledge of language. Obviously, this is the result of a one-sided understanding of communicative approach, so that foreign language teaching goes to an extreme. Therefore, we should have a comprehensive and all-sided understanding of the following theory of communicative approach.
The concept of “linguistic competence” is put forward by Chomsky (1965) on the basis of denying the language theory of behaviorism and defined as language knowledge system of native speakers’ internalization, including sound, lexicon, syntax, semantics and other rules, and the linguistic competence native speakers have enables them to understand and produce grammatical sentences they have never contacted before. With the development of sociolinguistics, in view of insufficiency of the concept of “linguistic competence”, American sociolinguist Hymes (1972) puts forward the concept of “communicative competence” and argues that “communicative competence” should include “linguistic competence” and “linguistic performance”, i.e. while the language is used, both sides of communication need to know not only whether the structure of communication words is correct or not, but also the feasibility, appropriateness and purpose of the communication words in the particular linguistic context, that is, there are four aspects in the concept of “communicative competence”: sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence, strategic competence and grammatical competence.
As we know, grammar is an important part of linguistic knowledge and competence. Therefore, grammar is obviously also part of communicative competence and also the teaching content of communicative approach.
In other words, we can understand that communicative approach makes linguistic knowledge run through linguistic performance as a teaching purpose. Grammar teaching services linguistic performance. Therefore, we can assert that as an indispensible part of language teaching, grammar teaching should permeate through the whole process of linguistic performance.
Grammar is an effective way to train students’ communicative competence in English language teaching. Grammar and communicative competence should not be in opposition. Without grammar, language, communicative knowledge and competence are just “castles in the air”. With a good knowledge of grammar, students can fully improve their integrated English proficiency and promote the overall levels of their English. Therefore, teachers who teach the foreign language should try to reform the current conditions on neglecting grammar teaching in English education, and strive to explore grammar teaching methods to fully promote students’ English level.
Correctly understanding students’ attitudes towards grammar is a key factor in teaching. With the development of the communicative approach, some teachers think that teaching grammar is old-fashioned and that present English teaching should aim at developing students’ speaking and listening ability. These Indonesia teachers have not captured the real meaning of the communicative approach. CLT does not exclude grammar teaching; instead CLT aims broadly to apply theoretical perspectives of the Communicative Approach by making communicative competence the goal of language teaching and by acknowledging the interdependence of language and communication (Diane, 2000b).
Grammatical rules help students to understand and use the target language better, if they are presented and explained implicitly in certain contexts. That is to say, the students are first presented with the target grammar items in context. Under the instruction of teachers, the students can deduce the grammar usage from the context, and then apply the rules to real situations.
In addition, the teachers should increase and encourage students’ involvement. This could be done, for example, through classroom discussion, speech contests, establishing English corner, form an English club, etc. Common forms of classroom activities like problem-solving activities will encourage students to talk and discuss the problem to find a solution. Discussions and debates can take learners one step further. They can provoke spontaneous fluent language use by learners when they exchange opinions. Role-play can be process-oriented group or pair technique, which is effective for practicing doing things in the target language. All these suggested activities provide an appropriate platform for the students to communicate in English. In such an environment, students may have low anxiety, good self-confidence and high motivation. In short, the teacher makes his lesson amusing, stimulating and challenging, so that students are fully engaged during the whole lesson. At the same time, we need to bear in mind that discourse learnt by students cannot be separated from comprehension and expression. Students should therefore be encouraged to focus on the whole material rather than on separated forms.
Finally, it should be pointed out that the more real communicative activities are, the better and more effective the classes will be. We have to consider how we can make formal instruction help students use the language correctly and appropriately.
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Engineering and Commerce College of South-Central University for Nationalities
Hongshan District, Wuhan, Hubei Province430065, China
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