Grammar in Writing
Topics of discussion concerning the notion of grammar, such as its importance in teaching and learning of English as foreign language (EFL), have traditionally occupied theoretical linguists as well as people who teach foreign language. They have given rise to fiery polemics and considerable unsteadiness in the importance grammar affords to written communication.
In recent years, after an interval of three decades or so during which the function of grammar in school-based EFL teaching and learning has been made seem unimportant if not actively opposed, arguments in support of the need for explicit and coherent grammar teaching and the fact that EFL students should be taught that it is an aid to shaping effective and appropriate messages can increasingly be heard. In this paper, the role of grammar in EFL learning, the usefulness and advantages of explicit grammar instruction in written communication, and grammar as a tool that increases accuracy and fluency in EFL students will be discussed.
Grammar is an Essential Part of Written Communication In an important research paper on grammar, Henry Widdowson suggests (1988, p. 151) that grammar “frees us from a dependency on context and the limitations of a purely lexical categorization of reality”. This means that grammar allows EFL students to generate an unlimited number of sentences with a limited set of linguistic resources and to talk about everything in existence beyond here and now. In much the same way, in his written work on grammar, Rob Batstone states (1994, p.
4) that it is through grammar that EFL students can modify words methodically “to enhance and sharpen the expression of meaning” and that, without grammar, English would be disorderly and confused. EFL students use grammar when they modify words and when they relate them to one another to transform into words widely applicable concepts, such as (Grauberg 1997, p. 69): • tense, for example, present, future, past signaled by verb inflection • aspect, for example, temporality (such as progressive) signaled by verb inflection
• mood, for example, declarative, interrogative, imperative or subjunctive expressed by verb inflection • hypothetical distance, for example, imagination communicated through ‘if clauses’ • the relationship between sender and receiver, realized, for example, through word order, cases and prepositions • social proximity or distance, for example, directness versus indirectness expressed by choice of formal or informal modes of address • psychological proximity or distance, expressed, for example, through use of direct or indirect speech, or
• point of view, expressed, for example, through lexical phrases. By that means, the ‘rules’ of grammar facilitate written communication: “grammar is a device for indicating the most common and recurrent aspects of meaning which it would be tedious and inefficient to incorporate into separate lexical items” (Widdowson 1988, p. 151). In other words, grammar allows EFL students to keep the vocabulary able to be managed that is needed to communicate effectively and accurately about both simple and complex subjects.
As an essential part of written communication, grammar also allows EFL students to make relationships of words within sentences or across sentences, for example by referring back to the entity known by means of pronouns etc. (Ellis 1994, pp. 65-7). Grammar, thus, also has “discoursal and pragmatic dimensions” (Little 1994, p. 102), this means, it allows EFL students to structure longer written sentences, engage in linguistic exchanges in dialogs and act socio-culturally appropriately in many complex situations.
The reason and EFL students should be taught that grammar is an aid to shaping effective and appropriate messages is that it provides some general and systematic instructions on the structure and the grammatical arrangement of words. Even though EFL acquisition research has shown that the processes for the native and foreign language learning are similar in many respects, the brain functions of EFL students with regard to language processing may be very different from those of students who acquire their native language. Richard-Amato (1996, p.
27) presented research on the similarities and differences between learning a native and foreign language. The author claimed that both native English speakers and speakers with a different native language “construct language from prior conceptual knowledge and develop language in predictable stages” (p. 28). Both groups of students use cognitive strategies that include overgeneralization or production simplification. Both groups have benefits from modified input such as the caretaker utterance, specifically mother conversation for native English learners and teacher talk for learners with a different native language.
Richard-Amato also noted that many immigrant EFL students do not have problems communicating with others in the society, but they are not able to shape effective and appropriate messages in their written communication as required. Obviously, the survival skills in English are far from enough for EFL students. Making a career in the future requires cognitive and linguistic knowledge to constantly make better fluency and accuracy in written communication. Grammar is evidently the very appropriate and useful tool for achieving such an important goal. Communicative Competence
The reason for which EFL students acquire English is for communication. To shape effective and appropriate messages, EFL students will have to have certain degree of competence. With respect to the nature of the communicative competence, researchers and educators have been discussing and researching this topic for the past few decades. For example, Chomsky (1986) put forward for consideration “competence” and “performance,” which refer to a speaker-hearer’s received knowledge of the grammatical rules of a language and what an idea speaker actually expresses using that language.
Chomsky also called them as the “I-language” (internalized language) and the “E-language” (externalized language) (Chomsky 1986, p. 34). Grammar is an essential element making up the communicative competence theory. Without grammar the theory may not be a logical system. The communicative competence theory suggests to language teachers that language learning for the purposes of communication should include grammar. It should be noted that other elements must also be considered equally to achieve the ultimate purpose of effective written communication.
It also provides English language teachers with some useful ideas regarding the purpose and goal of grammar instruction. Grammar Instruction: Research and Suggestions Dispute exists among linguists about whether grammar instruction is necessary or effective for improving written communication of EFL students. Over the past several decades, language researchers have consistently debated the practice of teaching grammar and punctuation rules in English courses. The basic argument is that even when a grammatical feature has been covered and practiced, EFL students may not use it accurately in their own writing” (Frodesen & Holten, 2003, p.
142). However, it also has been argued that EFL students do not have the same “felt sense” of correctness nor intuitive understanding of the grammatical rules of English, and, therefore, formal instruction may be more important for them (Frodesen & Holten, 2003). Furthermore, EFL researchers have increasingly proved by presenting reasons that, particularly for adult EFL learners, focus on grammar is not only beneficial but essential (Doughty & Williams, 1998; Ellis, 2002, pp. 223–236).
In addition, some empirical evidence indicates a positive role for supplemental grammar instruction in EFL students writing instruction, which can work together with error correction to assist the progress of increased accuracy over time (Ferris, 2003, pp. 377–403). In conclusion, taking into account both new research findings and the peculiar differences in native and foreign writers’ literacy development, it is clear that EFL writing instructors have a role to play in making EFL students aware of language form.
Systematic grammar instruction can cause overall improvement in shaping effective and appropriate messages and help EFL students retrieve the grammar rules that they have in memory and use their knowledge about the language appropriately (Frodesen & Holten, 2003, p. 144). Noticing and Consciousness Raising Many teachers and researchers consider grammar instruction as “consciousness raising” (Schmidt, 1993; Sharwood Smith, 1993; Skehan, 1998). They argue that awareness of a particular feature is developed in EFL students by grammar instruction even if the learners cannot use the feature immediately.
Such awareness is generated not only by grammar instruction on specific forms but may also result from “input enhancement, ” that is, operations performed on meaning-focused input in such a way that the target features become distinctive to EFL students (Sharwood Smith, 1993). Fotos and Ellis (1991) state that instructed grammar learning of EFL grammar can also serve as communicative contribution, based on which EFL students can learn grammar rules. Noticing and consciousness raising is regarded as increasingly important for the EFL case, in which communicative exposure to English is usually failing.
Researchers also argue that knowledge of grammatical structures developed through grammar instruction can make these structures more relevant and able to be applied for EFL students and, thus, easier to incorporate through learning. Explicit Grammar Instruction One way of leading EFL students towards shaping effective and appropriate messages is through explicit grammar instruction, i. e. knowledge which EFL students are conscious of but which, nevertheless, can exist in the mind of EFL students in an un-articulated way (Ellis 2002, p. 84). Ellis states (2002, pp.
97-8) that explicit knowledge, got through what has been labeled form-focused instruction or explicit grammar teaching – may help EFL students recognize certain shapes in the input that may otherwise have been failed to notice. Explicit grammar teaching can differ according to a number of factors: 1) the amount of time spent to present the rule can be varied 2) the source of explanation can be changed, for instance, the teacher, students, the course book etc. or 3) the manner of presentation can be modified, for example, oral or written (Ellis 1994, p.
82-3). According to Ellis (1994): Explicit grammar teaching seems to be one useful strategy to improve on the ‘acquisition-poor’ nature inherent in FL classrooms; it is important to remember, nevertheless, that whilst formal instruction results in faster and more successful language learning… it often fails to teach learners specific linguistic features…formal instruction contributes primarily to explicit knowledge which can facilitate later development of implicit knowledge…it will often have a delayed rather than an immediate effect (p.
107). In other words, language teachers cannot expect grammar teaching to lead to immediate favorable outcome and they must view formal instruction as a medium- and investment giving results after some period of time. In addition, grammar teaching can be considered to be useful in speeding up the learning process.
Ellis notes that it is important that teachers find the right balance between explicit grammar teaching and use of language for transforming into words personal massage in communicative contexts, because “much of the language learning that takes place in the classroom takes place ‘naturally, as a result of learners processing input to which they are exposed” (Ellis 1994, p. 657). Grammar as a Tool that Improves Accuracy and Fluency As an essential part of the communicative competence defined by many researchers, grammatical or linguistic competence serves as a tool that improves accuracy and fluency in EFL written communication.
Since EFL students cannot always physically achieve accuracy in communication through a natural setting or exposure as native English students do, EFL students should be taught that grammar, as a means of improving speech and shaping effective and appropriate messages in written communication, can be used to compensate for this incompetence. In his research, Larsen-Freeman (1991) argued: We claim that linguistic accuracy is as much a part of communicative competence as being able to get one’s meaning across or to communicate in a socio-linguistically appropriate manner.
Thus, a more satisfactory characterization of teaching grammar, harmonious with the above assumptions, is that teaching grammar means enabling language students to use linguistic forms accurately, meaningfully and appropriately (p. 280). When EFL students exchange thoughts by speech, a teacher can detect the foreign accent and a few grammar mistakes that are considered characteristic of EFL student. For some EFL students, the foreign accent may be made better with time; for others, it will not change for the rest of their lives.
While accent cannot be improved in most of the cases for EFL students, EFL learners should be taught that grammar can be utilized to improve or correct some imperfect written English. For instance, some young emigrants first came to the United States at the beginning of adolescence. They had received the U. S. education, but had never been given systematic grammar instruction. After they have graduated from high school, foreign learners had achieved the oral English skills almost similar to that of native English speakers.
However, their written communication presented many inflexible forms. For example, they used the inflected verb forms after modal auxiliaries, tense inconsistencies, and misuse of irregular past participle forms of verbs (Gao, 1999). Use of explicit grammar instruction in this case can make significant changes. Grammar will enable EFL learners to avoid using the incorrect word forms or tenses helping EFL learners consciously construct their speech using grammar rules.
Grammar can help EFL students improve upon shaping effective and appropriate messages to achieve accuracy in their language communication. Recommendations Throughout the debate about whether or not grammar is an essential part of written communication, teachers should remember that EFL learners do not learn everything they are taught; neither will they ultimately only know what they were taught: [They] are able to use their own internal learning mechanism to discover many of the complex rules and relationships which underlie the language they wish to learn (Lightbown and Spada 1993, p.
116). Exposure to new and known language, opportunities allowing learners to notice and restructure the FL and compare it to their own tentative understanding of the TL through the expression of meaning, seems particularly important. The teaching of grammar should support and not hinder the learner’s natural rule-discovery procedure (Mohammed 1997, p. 50). Grammar develops in the long term as a function of extensive exposure to, imitation and adaptation of the richest possible variety of language forms.
The process can certainly be supported and indeed accelerated through conscious focusing on isolated grammatical forms allied to regular, targeted practice and reinforcement, but it is only through freer, more creative and more contextualized activity that knowledge of grammatical forms can be transformed into habitual productive skills (Klapper 1997, p. 24). The use of a variety of approaches to the teaching of grammar to EFL students appears to be most effective. By way of a summary, then, the following can be recommended: • New grammatical structures are not acquired momentary and not in a linear manner.
Teachers should have realistic expectations about what explicit grammar teaching can achieve in the short and medium term. Therefore, EFL students need to be taught to recycle and transfer linguistic features across topics. • Both explicit and implicit knowledge are of great significance in the EFL learning process and both need to be utilized ‘actively’ by EFL students. Explicit grammar used in teaching by itself is not sufficient. There needs to be sufficient opportunity in the foreign language classroom for learners to use the foreign language and produce foreign language utterances.
Also, exposure to the foreign language is vitally important for EFL students to acquire implicit knowledge. • It is important that language teachers create sufficient opportunity for EFL students to ‘notice the gap’ between foreign language features and their own language production. Explicit grammar instruction can help in this process. • Explicit grammar instruction can stimulate progress in foreign language classrooms and improve the natural acquisition process but needs to go simultaneously with foreign language use to communicate personal meaning.
• Knowledge of grammar rules is extremely beneficial but needs to be learnt together with the language itself. The ability to practice grammar in real examples is of great importance. • Whether or not and what kind of grammar teaching is most appropriate is determined also by learner differences and peculiarities. • So that it is possible to make foreign language input more accessible, the role of the teacher in selecting, structuring and determining the direction is crucial in making particular language features more salient, that is, potentially more learnable.
• EFL students should not be overwhelmed with information, but on the contrary knowledge of grammar rules should be built up gradually. • EFL students should use a variety of methods in shaping effective and appropriate messages. Conclusion Because a language makes use of a large number of grammatical systems in any written communication, it is only learning and use of grammar that effectively enables EFL students to write at the appropriate level. Therefore, grammar is an essential part of written communication and plays a very important role in language learning for EFL students.
It provides students with rules and general direction that assist the progress of better understanding of the structures of the target language. Since EFL students do not learn a new language the way native English children acquire their first, they can make full use of their already possessed knowledge. These include the EFL students ‘ worldly information, development, and analytical power to understand how a foreign language works by using the easily available rules in grammar. The main reason for which EFL students learn language is to be able to exchange thoughts and ideas by speech and writing in the target language.
Grammatical competence is an essential element of the communicative ability. Explicit grammar instruction can encourage the development of the linguistic skills and improve EFL students’ fluency and accuracy so they can use English effectively to bring themselves to a further stage of development in the U. S. society. Therefore, EFL students should be taught that they need to grasp certain grammar rules in guiding themselves to understand the regularities of written communication.
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