Teaching Functional Grammar (EN1 Reflection 1)

Reflections on the Introduction: Teaching Grammar by Ivor Timmis, England/Leeds Metropolitan University in Basic Issues in EFL Teaching and Learning

The main points of the text

In the Introduction (p.119) we are told that there is a disagreement within in the field of language teaching about the role of teaching grammar. He then moves on to talk about the different teaching styles:

    The non-interventionist position on grammar teaching (p.120) where grammar teaching has, at best, a peripheral role in language teaching (Krashen). There is a distinction between acquisition (the subconscious process through exposure) and learning (the conscious process through instruction) of language. The argument is that learning does not translate into the store of language available for spontaneous use. There already is a natural order of development in language acquisition, wherein certain grammatical competencies arises, not influenced by instruction.

    The interventionist position on grammar teaching (p.120) where L2 development may not occur implicitly, especially in the case of adults, since L2 learning is two different matters for children and adults.The process of L2 development is much more logical and systematic for adults.

    Proactive grammar teaching(p.121) is a "planned treatment of specific grammatical features and is often associated with the Present-Practice-Produce(PPP) paradigm”. It is an illustrative presentation of the target structure and explanation of the meaning of use. It is a controlled practice, where the learners manipulate the target item in drills or exercises. And/or free practice, where the focus is still on the target form, but have more freedom over what to say. (Proactive approach does not necessarily involve explicit instruction or active practice)

    Reactive grammar teaching(p.122) is Associated with the distinction between "focus on forms"(proactive, planned instruction) and "focus on form"(Dealing with grammar points when they appear as a source of difficulty in a communicative activity). In the context of communicative activities, it works as implicit teaching or brief explanations.

An example of implicit teaching: Learner: "I goed to the cinema yesterday”. Teacher: "Oh, you went to the cinema, did you? What did you see?

In the context of "focus on form", when a problem arises, there is no reason as to why explicit and intensive grammar work, should not be carried out, however.

    Assessing the merits of proactive and reactive teaching(p.123): Studies show that both the reactive and proactive approach has benefits for SLA.

Input-based approaches(p.123) is SLA through exposure to L2. Also seeks to draw learners' attention to the targeted structure(s) to be present in the input material, by highlighting the target structure(s)(Ellis). The argument is that acquisition occurs as a result of processing input. There is a relationship between input(exposure) and intake(what the learner is able to produce as result of the exposure)

Output-based approaches(p.124) has two kinds: One where the output is mainly about practicing a certain target feature and; One where the output is seen as a stimulus to SLA. The output-based approach is based on the view of language acquisition as a skill. Feedback must be explicit and immediate.

Explicit and implicit teaching(p.125): Explicit teaching is critiqued for being mostly beneficial for only learners with analytical learning styles. It is also critiqued by Krashen: "conscious learning cannot become part of the acquired store available for spontaneous production”. According to Gregg(p.126), however, there is no evidence for Krashen's notion. Ellis argues that explicit knowledge can be transformed into implicit knowledge if the learner is ready to learn(natural order of development) The conclusion must be that the two teaching/learnings styles are not mutually exclusive, and can be combined and/or varied.

Learning and teaching context(p.126):

Age: Adults are more likely to benefit from explicit instruction due to systematic, analytical and logical thinking capacities.

Level: Language level and competencies are to be considered if when and how a reactive or proactive approach should be taken.(p.126)

Learner's expectations: Theory that grammar is taught to meet learners' expectations to language learning. —> to satisfy a psychological need.

Learner abilities: Learner abilities in L1 will influence the benefits of an explicit approach.

Beverly Derewianka’s book “A New Grammar Companion” outsets in the functional grammar teaching played out by Michael Halliday in the area of Systemic Functional Linguistics:

  • Language is a dynamic,  complex system of resources for making meaning.
  • Language reflects the culture in which it has evolved. It is not a neutral medium, but expresses certain worldviews, values, beliefs and attitudes.
  • Our language choices change from situation to situation, depending on the social purpose of which language is being used, the subject matter, who is involved, and whether the language is spoken or written.
  • The emphasis in language study is on how people use authentic language in various contexts in real life to achieve their purposes.
  • The particular focus will be on the language needed for successful participation in school contexts.
  • A knowledge of grammar can help us to critically evaluate our own texts and those of others (e.g. identifying point of view; examining how language can be manipulated to achieve certain effects and position the reader in different ways; knowing how language can be used to construct various identities or a particular way of viewing the world).

Students need to learn how to use language for 

  • achieving different social purposes
  • sharing ideas about their experience of the world
  • making connections between these ideas
  • interacting with others
  • constructing coherent texts in both spoken and written modes.