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Grammar-Based Learning: The Importance of Form rather than Use

Fecha: 30 Mar 16     Autor: Andrés Martínez González     Nivel: Primaria

Teaching grammar is an essential part of school education and/or adult learning. Without good grammar, spoken or written words lose much of their meaning and most of their value. Structure and sentence order are a very important thing to get right, and teachers should take extra care to teach proper grammar to all their students. Unfortunately, grammar is frequently seen as a difficult and boring subject and one popular method of teaching is to just repeat the correct grammar for a certain situation over and over until it is memorised and able to be repeated, like a parrot. This is dull for both teachers and students, and often only results in the students being able to repeat what they have learned, rather than resulting in a complete understanding that can be applied to all situations.

As its name implies, Grammar-Based Learning uses grammar as the foundation, the base and the starting point, for the development of all language skills in English— speaking, listening, writing, and reading. Grammar-Based Learning provides information about English grammar accompanied by many and varied practice opportunities.

The role of the grammatical syllabus in EFL settings is very important since it is perhaps the best channel through which grammar instruction can take shape. According to Nunan (1988), grammar instruction has been defined as one which consists of a list of grammatical items selected and graded in terms of simplicity and complexity. The structures are generally presented one by one, in contrasting pairs, for example, simple present versus simple past or singular nouns versus plural nouns. Language is broken down into smaller units (e.g., grammatical items plus a word list) and then taught piece by piece.

Formal grammar instruction works by developing explicit knowledge of grammatical features (Ellis, 1993, 2003). Explicit knowledge gained through grammar instruction helps learners in three ways. First, it helps them monitor their utterances before and after they are produced. As Ellis observed, monitoring interacts with acquisition, resulting in learners acquiring their own output. Second, it helps learners notice certain features in the input: “For example, if learners know that plural nouns have an –s, they are more likely to add the –s on the ends of nouns they hear or read in input and also more likely to associate the –s morpheme with the meaning more than one” (Ellis, 1993:98). Third, explicit knowledge helps learners notice the gaps in their output: “If learners know about a particular feature they are better equipped to detect the difference between what they themselves are saying and how the feature is used in the input they are exposed to” (Ellis, 1993:149). For example, if they know that verbs like enjoy, avoid, deny, etc. are followed by the gerund, they are more likely to notice the difference between the presence of this feature in the input and its absence in their output. Therefore, becoming aware of this gap is likely to result in the production of more accurate utterances in their subsequent performance.

Nowadays, in this competitive world people need to demonstrate their command of English in many areas, from academic to business settings. There are many certifications around for many different purposes. Students start being certified in the level of English at a very early age. Certification such as TOEFL Primary and TOEFL Junior, Starters, Movers, Flyers, KET, PET, are some of the instruments used by schools to verify non-native students’ level of English.

There are lots of books and apps that help students to be prepared for such goals. Some books like Pathway to Grammar helps students review and practice the grammar and vocabulary needed for a variety of these aforementioned tests. Apps like Pathway to Certification helps students practice skills for those tests.

Grammar-Based Teaching seeks to create awareness and understanding of English structures, that is, awareness of the form, meaning, and use of structures. Understanding how a structure works helps many students formulate how to say what they mean and helps lead to successful communication experiences, the building blocks of second/foreign-language acquisition.

The use of cognates is highly recommended. Grammar-Based Teaching assumes that students naturally use their cognitive skills in pursuing second-language acquisition. Many students find it helpful to understand how English works.

What about inductive and deductive grammar? Well, inductive and deductive approaches intermingle. Students are encouraged to figure grammar patterns out for themselves, and are also given explicit information about grammar. Both approaches are helpful for students.

In conclusion, all education depends on a foundation of good grammar. If students cannot understand grammar, they will struggle to read, write or speak clearly in any other area of education, from Math and Science to History or Geography. Good language is the base on which all other education has to stand. Teachers can use a variety of ways to make their grammar lessons memorable and enjoyable for students. Students who enjoy their lessons will pay closer attention, and you will then have an easier time while teaching. This is why great lessons are important for everyone involved, and why you should take the time to ensure you are teaching grammar in the best and most engaging way for the skill level and requirements of your individual students.

Acerca del Autor:

Andrés Martínez González has been involved in ELT for 23 years teaching from elementary level to college students to adults from companies in Monterrey. He is certified as an expert translator before the Supreme Court of Justice of Nuevo Leon. He is currently a full-time Academic Consultant for Richmond Publishing.


AZAR, BETTY. A Description of Grammar-Based Teaching. Teachers Helping Teachers.

BALEGHIZADEH, S. 2010. The structural syllabus: The golden-egg-laying goose that should not be killed. TESL Reporter 43(1):15-30.

ELLIS, R. 1993. The structural syllabus and second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly 27:91-113. doi: 10.2307/3586953

NUNAN, D. 1988. Syllabus design. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

NUNAN, D. 2001. Teaching grammar in context. In Candlin, C & N Mercer (Eds.). English language teaching in its social context. London, UK: Routledge. 191-199.


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