ESL etc.

Global Issues and Activism in English Language Teaching

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Dellar, H. (2004). Grammar is dead! Long live grammar!! The Language Teacher, 28(7), 29-31.

July 1st, 2007 by Dave · No Comments

Despite the fact that most students studying General English want mainly to speak and listen to English, we still insist on furnishing them with the grammar of the written language.

In short, the notion of a broad, diverse, grammar-dominated syllabus simply does not reflect the reality of the way language is actually used.

A third flaw with the way grammar is handled is the fact that it’s still widely believed that more grammar makes students more fluent, competent users of the language. However, contrary to popular wisdom, very little advanced English consists of what coursebooks often label “advanced grammar.” The production of such convoluted gems as “Were I richer, I would definitely purchase one,” “Never before had I heard such a story”, and “Had I not arrived in time, the kitchen would have caught fire” sadly fail to make learners sound more “advanced”. If they really want to communicate more complicated ideas, what they need instead is different kinds of multi-word phrases. The true mark of an advanced learner is the ability to access under pressure a wide range of such phrases, particularly adverbials – in the not-too-distant future, Going back to what you were saying earlier – and complex, densely-packed noun phrases – the introduction of tighter laws, the continuing decline of educational standards, and so on.

This brings me to the crux of my argument against grammar. The traditional model of language—the clear-cut division of language into grammar (usually tenses) ands vocabulary (usually words)—is invalid. Language does not consist of lexicalised grammar. Rather, it is made up of grammaticalised lexis. A vast proportion of the language used day to day (and especially spoken language) is pre-fabricated blocks. Because we speak in real time, with all the time pressures that involves, we need a mass of expressions to enable us to communicate. We could not function if we were putting language together word by word, using simply our underlying knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. We all have thousands and thousands of expressions in our repertoire—I’d rather not, How should I know?, You’d better not, Rather you than me, It’s not worth the effort—and yet they still play only a marginal role in the majority of language courses.

Retrieved from http://www.jalt-publications.org/tlt/articles/2004/07/dellar on June 28, 2007

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