Grammar Teaching in ESL/EFL: What matters is not to teach or not to teach it, but how to

Parlindungan Pardede

Universitas Kristen Indonesia

Grammar should be viewed as a resource, taught integratively with language skills learning, and is aimed to develop students’ communicative competence.

“I never teach grammatical rules. Asking the pupils to watch videos or see pictures, let them pronounce new words and singing aloud together are major learning activities in my English class,” an Elementary English as a foreign language (EFL) teacher in Jakarta said. Quite similar to her, an EFL teacher in a senior high school claimed grammar is not necessary. “The goal is to enable the students to communicate in English and comprehend English texts. I know many of their expressions are ungrammatical. But I think it will improve when they learn more”, he said. Another teacher who also teaches in a senior high school said grammar instruction takes a large portion in her classrooms. When I was learning English, grammar teaching helped a lot. It will help my students, too”. Many of my colleagues also do the same,” she added. 

Grammar teaching has long been one of the most controversial areas in the teaching of English as a second language (ESL) or foreign language (EFL). In the literature, three different groups concerning grammar teaching emerged. The first group backs Krashens‘ input hypotheses, recognized as “anti-grammarians” as they disbelieve grammar instruction role in language learning. This group argues that grammar is not needed because what learners need to improve both their fluency and accuracy is comprehensible input. The second group, “pro-grammarians”, assert that formal grammar teaching should not be abandoned because it significantly helps learners to achieve second or foreign language accuracy and speeds. The third group mediates these pro-grammarians and anti-grammarians by claiming that the inclusion or exclusion of grammar instruction depends on the variables involved in the ESL/EFL teaching. If the class aims to develop learners’ receptive skills, the register learned is informal, and the learner’s goal is for survival, grammar is not necessary. But If the class aims to develop learners’ productive skills, the register learned is formal, and the learner’s goal is for professional needs, grammar is highly necessary. 

As views of grammar vary, the pendulum of grammar teaching in ESL/EFL has been swinging between the dichotomy of inductive and deductive approaches, and ESL/EFL teachers tend to use the approach they experienced while learning English. Pahissa and Tragant (2009) reported how three experienced English non-native teachers in Spain treated grammar differently. The first taught grammar, including terminologies, explicitly. She even used translation to teach grammar. She believed grammar teaching and translation helped her when learning English. The second minimized grammar, never used terminology but employed translation. When he learned English, he also experienced the same approach and found translation a useful strategy. The third teacher, despite his preference for the communicative approach which requires less grammar, his lack of confidence in vocabulary, and in the command of the target language made him teach grammar more than he actually wanted to. 

Should grammar be taught in ESL/EFL classroom? To answer this question, we need to understand what we mean by grammar. …

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