I am very interested in learning about teaching grammar, since grammar is one of the most important components of language together with its sound system and vocabulary.
Knowledge of the structure of a language makes it possible to aud, speak and write. Additionally, to be able to comprehend oral speech and to express one’s own ideas correctly we must know the grammatical structure of the target language. We may know all the words in a sentence and fail to understand the meaning, if we do not know how these words are connected. While in teaching vocabulary the main problem is to fix the words in students’ memory, the main problem in teaching grammar is to teach how to change the forms of words and how to combine them in sentences.
Over many centuries foreign language teacher
s have alternated between focusing on teaching grammar and analyzing language in order to learn it and encouraging students’ using language in order to acquire it. This distinction was observable in the shift from the analytic grammar-translation approach to the use-oriented direct method. Analyzing structures and applying rules were common practices of the grammar-translation approach and at present they lost their popularity. We have witnessed the rise in popularity of more communicative approaches which emphasize language use over rules of language usage. In fact, three language teaching methods or approaches, Community Language Learning, Suggestopedia and the Communicative approach, devote a significant amount of classroom time to promoting communication among students. We used to believe that if students learned the form, communication would somehow take care of itself. Now, however, we seemed to believe that if students somehow learn to communicate, mastery of the form will take care of itself. Perhaps, to maintain balance we must come to a broader understanding of what it means to teach grammar, as teaching grammar means enabling language students to use linguistic forms accurately, meaningfully and appropriately.
There is no doubt that the main difficulty in learning a foreign language is the necessity to switch off from the grammar structure of the mother tongue to the grammar structure of the target language, as each language has its own way of combining words and changing forms of words. For example, while teaching english
to Russian-speaking students I have noticed that they often change the word-order in english
sentences and consequently make bad mistakes. This happens because in english
the word order in the sentence is more important than in Russian. The word order in the sentence John gave Bob a ball shows what was given by whom and to whom. If we change the order of words and say Bob gave John a ball, the meaning of the sentence will be different. In Russian the meaning of the sentence will be the same, even if we change the order of words.
Another great difficulty for Russian-speaking students is the system of tense forms in the english
language. A Russian-speaking pupil is puzzled why he/she must say “I have done this today” and “I did it yesterday”. In both sentences the actions are completed and the student doesn’t connect the actions with the words today and yesterday.
But the greatest difficulty for Russian-speaking students is the use of the article, as it is quite a new phenomenon for them. Thus, very often students make mistakes in the use of the article or omit using it at all. That’s why I believe Russian-speaking students must learn the article, pronouns and other structural and form words first. For example: This is a pen. The pen is red. This is my pen and that is his pen, etc.
Summing up what has been said I can conclude that it is impossible to speak, aud, read and write appropriately without knowing grammar; therefore, it is quite important for an esl teacher
to devote a sufficient amount of classroom time to teaching this language component.