Teacher, Y U NO TEACH GRAMMAR?

I considered myself lucky (though some would say I am crazy) to be given the chance to teach English language to several groups of foreign students at a local university. Not because I get to know students from different countries, but it allows me to cope with diverse challenges in English language teaching. The students that I have taught thus far, are mainly with low proficiency level since their country of origin does not have proper English language education due to several political and social issues. Some are keen learners, some are simply lost (perhaps due to cultural shock). Yet, I tried my very best to ensure they can at least communicate sufficiently in English.

In was not long ago, one student came to me during the first week of class and asked this question “Teacher, why you no teach grammar?”. It’s pretty hard for me to justify my teaching methodology to her, so I answered “Well, you are learning it every second in my classes“. Not convinced, she showed me a thick book on English grammar and asked me to check the exercises that she did after class. I checked for her but told her that it’s good to do exercises but there is limited room for improvement if she does not practise those “rules” in context. She was still a bit pessimistic since in her country, everything needs to be memorised and the learning environment is rigid.

However, after spending several weeks with me, she noted improvements in her use of the language, particularly in speaking and writing. The same with other students. To me, while it is possible to highlight the sets of English grammar rules (e.g. the difference between adjectives and adverbs), it is always good to embed them according to skills and context. In teaching the students how to write a specific academic genre, for instance, students are explicitly told to focus on certain sets of language features salient in that genre. This is better than forcing them to do pages and pages of grammar exercises without knowing its proper use in context. The same with vocabulary. Highlighting list of words commonly used for a context helps students to practise them properly. Of course, it can always be mixed-and-matched with other activities in the classroom in order to engage the learners.

A lot of patience is needed when teaching beginning learners, particularly when the motivation to learn is low and they come from diverse countries. I am deeply humbled by some of their comments upon completing the intensive course with me, not their “thank you” or compliments, but the way they convert their thoughts into comprehensible English sentences when talking to me by the end of the course. Some may not be sufficiently ready for undergraduate studies but they have improved from perhaps a level of Primary 3 English to Form 3. They just need more time and hard work.

“Y U NO Teach Grammar” or not, U Cannot Give Up on Them!

Well, I think many of you out there may have similar experience, and I would love to hear your stories too.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Jason says:

    Agree with you Kee Man. Grammar should be taught in context, though meaningful drills on some important grammatical items can be useful.

  2. Joseph says:

    “Why you no teach grammer [sic]?” is a common query from foreign language speakers. They cannot be faulted for such an innocent query as that was the way they had been tauught (and learned!) language in their home countries. Had it ever occured to them that despite learning grammar for many years, they were still unable to be proficient in the language, although they may be able to write flawlessly? (I’m reminded of my Japanese students’almost error free writing!)How would learning grammar now make any significant difference is beyond anyone’s imgination!

    I believe that the task of any language teacher is to facilitate their learning by getting them to unlearn, relearn, and then learn first of all, to be brave enough to use the language in speaking and writing. Then, comes the more important task – Why learn English? It definitely is not for purposes of socialisation unless one lives in an English Speaking country! Why buy stamps, groceries, or speak to your friends in English when you can communicate in a flash in your native tongue? Imagine turning around to your classmate in class to borrow a pen and using English when it is speedier to do it in your native tongue or for that matter, making plans in class for after hours!

    Policy makers and teachers and need to consider seriously the role and purpose of learning English. If English is for Academic Purposes, then do not expect them to socialise in that language. Expect them to use English for oral academic presentations and academic writing. Likewise if English is meant for Business/Professional Purposes. Make such expectations clear so both teacher and students can come to a point of agreement and create a learning environment that can facilitate such conditions…

  3. Kee Man says:

    Thank you for your comment Joe. Yeah, as usual, the “reality vs. ideal” issue comes in…I personally don’t force students to socialise in English. But it’s always good to give them a solid purpose to use the language i.e. writing academic texts in English. I guess, it’s good enough if they can do so.

  4. Joseph says:

    Agreed! We language teachers are not gods to perform miracles hahahahahha. Honestly, learning a language is tough and I personally feel that immersion is one effective approach. That’s how I learned English when I was overseas; lived with British host family. I wonder how these international students cope in a non English speaking environment!
    I like your article. Keep up the good work

  5. fxfrog says:

    Absolutely agreed with you. Grammar should be carefully use and taught in any form when comes to education and English teaching. Many people good i talking but bad in writing a proper English.

  6. biosanjaya says:

    Agree with you Kee Man. Grammar should be taught in context, though meaningful drills on some important grammatical items can be useful.

  7. Zaman says:

    Dear Teslian, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiu

    I HAVE BEEN TEACHING ENGLISH FOR MORE THAN 10 YEARS, BUT I PERSONALLY AWARE THAT MY ENGLISH WRITING IS NOT GOOD. I DO HAVE THE PROBLEM SINCE MY TESL STUDIES A FEW YEARS AGO.ANYONE,,,,HOW TO OVERCOME THIS….AND WHAT ARE THE WAYS……………PLEASE.

  8. Simon Reyes says:

    can learn grammar from internet what??

  9. dzuandiey says:

    still can’t catch up with grammar…LOL…

  10. fredd says:

    learning grammar is really challenging

  11. friv.com says:

    Thank for sharing!Great! Always so interesting to visit your site!

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