EA 125/225
Foreign Language Pedagogy
Akemi Morioka

(from Bill VanPatten. 1992)

The roles of grammar

1. A Monitor or an editor
2. Linguistic consciousness raising
3. A Blocker of interference from first language
4. Advance organizer
5. Supplementing insufficient input and opportunities for social interactions in classroom instructions

What do we know about grammar?
Findings from a standpoint of second language acquisition theory:

1. Learners of a second language tend to pass through certain transitional stages or sequences in acquiring syntax. Explicit grammar instruction, however, does not alter the route of acquisition.

2. Explicit grammar instruction generally results in temporary gains unless the learner is psychologically ready for the instruction.

3. Correcting errors in learner output has negligible effect on the developing system of most language learners.

4. Not all learner output is rule-governed; some consists of routines and prefabricated patterns.

5. For successful language acquisition, learners require access to comprehensible and meaningful input.

Guidelines for grammar instruction

1. Teach only one at a time.

A structured output activity should have learners manipulating only one feature of a paradigm or only one rule. Break up paradigms and rules into smaller bits and pieces.

2. Keep meaning in focus.

Learners should have to attend to each utterance for a message that it contains and they should not be able to successfully complete the activity unless he/she has understood the content of each utterance. Utterances created by learners should contain propositional messages that they want others to understand.

3. Learners must 'do something' with the input.

Learners must check boxes, complete a survey, indicate true-false, provide one word responses, provide an answer from a list of alternatives, offer someone’s name who fits the description, and so on. In other words, learners must be actively involved in processing the input and must show this active involvement by responding to the input in some way.

4. Use both aural and written input.

Given individual differences in acquisition, some learners benefit more aural input while others benefit more from written input. A judicious combination of oral and written structures input provides for the widest net possible.

5. Move from sentences to connected discourse.

Early activities in a sequence should focus on isolated sentences. Connected discourse should appear later in the sequence. By starting with sentences, learners have a better opportunity to perceive and process the grammatical item that is in focus. Connected discourse should not be avoided, but in terms of grammar acquisition, it should come later in a lesson rather than at the beginning.

6. Keep the psychological processing mechanisms in mind.

This guideline serves to ensure that learners focal attention during processing is directed toward the relevant grammatical items and not elsewhere in the sentence.