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The Importance of Teaching English Grammar in Foreign Language Situations Published on January 8, 2017

Ali Mansouri Writer, Researcher, Consultant English Language Teaching (ELT), like the teaching of any living language all over the world, is a science in addition to being an art. Like other sciences, ELT needs to be studied and acquired on scientific principles and established theories and methodologies. It is not an arbitrary activity. Page 1 of 6

This, by necessity, means that English Language teachers need to have academic qualifications and experience in the teaching of the language in order to be eligible to teach English at schools, colleges, universities or any other institution. This applies to both native and non-native speakers of English. English Language teachers need also to have some passion to teach the language and enjoy teaching it as if they were playing the music they love in the classroom! It is generally accepted that there are four language skills: Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing. Learners in foreign language situations need to learn and master the four skills in this order or in another order depending on the objectives and goals of learning for any particular group. For instance, air traffic controllers must possess a very high level of mastery in speaking and listening because these are the most important skills they need to do their job properly and efficiently; so there should be more focus on the two skills: speaking and listening. Grammar and vocabulary are not language skills. They are language components which are essential to the mastery of all the four skills. You cannot use any language skill without using grammar and vocabulary. Grammar is not an end in itself but it is a means to an end—to improve learners’ proficiency in the four language skills. Grammar is the backbone of language and without it, the produced text, whether it is spoken or written, will be classified with many labels: broken, uneducated, incomprehensible or simply not belonging to the English language. This is a very disturbing phenomenon which we can see nowadays very widespread everywhere in the world; particularly on the Internet. It is distorting the English language as an international tool of communication. There are many educational theories and methodologies regarding the acquisition and the learning of English and other foreign languages in First Language situations (L1) and in Foreign Language situations (EFL—English as a Foreign Language) or English as a Second Language situations (L2 / ESL). Native languages can be acquired by the native speakers of the language in a natural environment since childhood. The learner (the native language child) is exposed to an enormous amount of his / her language in natural settings and real-life situations and pick up the language naturally. There is also systematic teaching of the native language in schools and higher language programs when the learners go up on their educational ladder. In language learning theory, we say they have “acquired” their native language though this acquisition differs from Page 2 of 6

one person to another and from one situation to another depending upon the level of education they have reached. We say they have “internalized” the system of the language, including grammar, subconsciously most of the time. When we move to foreign language situations, we find that the learner, a child or an adult, is usually exposed to a very limited amount of the foreign language in the classroom. The classroom time is also very limited and the academic semester is very short. There is a lot of wastage in many countries because of too many holidays and too many “group absences” especially when the students, in some countries, are the ones “who run the show”—they can be absent whenever they want and the teachers, most of them are expatriates in many EFL situations, cannot control them. If any expatriate teacher becomes serious and wants to control students’ absences, he / she should not expect to stay for another semester or another year! Native language children and foreign language learners are not undergoing the same process of language acquisition and learning though one can find a certain degree of overlap between the two processes. But in both processes, grammar is regarded as an essential language component whether it is acquired subconsciously or learned consciously. We cannot do away with it if we want our children and our learners to speak, listen and comprehend, read and write the English language appropriately and to an acceptable level. Any message, in any language, cannot be communicated properly if the grammatical patterns or rules of that language are violated so severely! As I have said, there are many language learning theories and many teaching methodologies for learning and teaching languages and language components. English Language teachers and methodologists, as in any other science or specialization, discuss and argue about numerous issues. They differ and hold different opinions about many issues but there are general agreements and established methodologies including the training of student-teachers in the art and science of teaching in actual practical teaching inside the academic institution (Microteaching) and in schools (Practicum courses). Training the would-be-teachers how to use the language appropriately and how to avoid “broken English” is an important component of this practical training.

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So the teaching of English, or any other language, is a matter of specialization and the teaching of grammar is of paramount importance. I feel really bewildered, and amused, when a colleague who has nothing to do with the ELT specialization comes to me and argues against the importance of teaching grammar or, even worse, when a senior manager or a decision-maker goes even further and cancels the teaching of grammar in an English Language Programme just to reduce the number of books to be bought in the Programme and reduce the number of teaching hours and, ultimately, the number of teachers in the hope of making illegitimate profits and appeasing the investors at the expense of quality education and students’ genuine interests, especially when this senior manager is well-known for his broken English and he cannot produce or understand more than one simple sentence in English. This is really absolute stupidity! There are excellent international teaching materials (books, CDs, exercises, etc.) available on the market for the teaching of English grammar. These are materials beautifully designed and written by native speakers of English. They are based on large natural corpora (collections of real-life texts) in line with rigorous methods of data collection to ensure that learners are presented with real English, as it is actually used. Most of them are accompanied by interactive CD-ROMs and can be used for individual study, for homework, and for formal instruction in class. They are somewhat cheap because they are mass-produced by international publishers reputed for their educational efforts and the high academic standards of the materials they publish. Locallyproduced books and materials should be avoided because they are usually written by incompetent teachers and they teach “broken” English. From my extensive experience in teaching English to learners of different levels in different countries all over the world, international books and materials are worth the cost. They are extremely useful in the teaching and learning of the English language and are highly recommended to anyone who is interested in learning and teaching English for public or private purposes. They are also recommended to some LinkedIn members who sometimes use a rather “weak”, or even “broken”, English in their activities. Sometimes, we simply do not understand what they are after! I personally believe that the teaching of grammar is like the teaching of math regardless of the teaching method followed. If you have not studied math scientifically and acquired it, you cannot teach it to anyone. The same applies to English grammar. English language teachers need to study grammar in the same way physicians study the anatomy of the human body. This is why Page 4 of 6

the learning and teaching of grammar is an essential component of any English Language Training programme and this is why not all ELT teachers are capable of teaching grammar effectively. Even some native speakers of English may find it difficult to teach English grammar if they have not studied it extensively. Any English language teaching programme should produce competent and fluent speakers of English. To speak or write “ungrammatical” or “broken” English, as is the case nowadays with many senior managers in colleges and universities, is a stark indicator that these senior managers have not been taught English properly. They want the same thing happening to their students! There is another important requirement for the teaching of grammar in any English language programme. Students are to be given new (unused) grammar books, which are not expensive anyway, especially when they are bought from international publishers. Giving old (used) grammar books to the students and re-using these books year after year is really useless and a waste of time and money. These “used” books are useless as all exercises and grammar problems are already solved by the other students using the books before them. If you want to save money by giving students old (used) books, do not do it. This is not the way to save money. Try to save money in another way. You may reduce the high salaries of the senior managers in the college or university. There are many senior managers who do not really deserve high salaries! Higher Education

English Language Teaching

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Teaching Grammar

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The importance of teaching english grammar published 8 jan 2017  
The importance of teaching english grammar published 8 jan 2017