Grammar Learning: the Scope for a Paradigm Shift

Three decades ago, on a summer vacation, I had my first encounter with GRAMMAR. My dad got this ‘wonderful idea’ of teaching me grammar for enhancing my English language skills. With a very limited proficiency in English (English in its text book incarnation came to my world only in class 4) I was least ready to fight my battle. Dad, with his neat and beautiful hand writing, wrote “climb- climbed – climbed----- play- played- played…” There was a five-line gap between each set and I was asked to copy and write them in those five lines. Well, obviously I didn’t like the ordeal and just ignored the whole exercise. I ran out to play and never bothered to open that note book, the whole day. By evening, I had completely forgotten about it and when dad came back home and asked me to show the book, it was too late to complete it. That evening still is one of the worst evenings of my life. That’s the day I started to develop a distaste for grammar. Poor my dad! He stopped any attempt to teach me English on that day itself. He must have realised that any forceful teaching could only lead to developing hatred towards that language. Thus, I said bye-bye to my dad’s English grammar lessons forever.

Review of a grammar exercise from Gem’s English Grammar - 7

The situation got worse in the school. English was either taught with lots of translation or by following rote method. Meaningless pattern practice and drills made grammar a nightmare for me. I started to hate those classes and bunked as many as I can.

Never to this date, I dared to learn the L2 grammar rules; and whatever functional grammar I posses is internalised through acquisition – through involuntary internalisation and practice in meaningful language contexts. This personal experience gave me the confidence to believe the famous Krashen statement “Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill." When Krashen observed that ‘the best methods for L2 acquisition is to provide 'comprehensible input' in low anxiety situations’. The stress level associated with my grammar classes naturally affected my learner readiness. It is safe to assume here that if the learning can happen in an interesting manner where the concept/ content can be delivered as messages ‘that students really want to hear’. (Krashen, 1987). Krashen further clarifies that “these methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are 'ready', recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production” (Krashen, 1987).

Any grammar textbook that could induce an intrinsic spirit in the learner to explore it, can therefore be considered as a successful device to impart L2 grammar acquisition.

The following exercise is an excellent example with regard to this.

With the help of the visual support, the learners are engaged in a cognitive meaning making activity. The contextual support provided in terms of verbal clues, visual support (facial expressions and body language), time indicators (first, second and third pictures) and element of gaming adds charm to this exercise. While engaged in solving this ‘visual-verbal puzzle’ the students are not bothered about the ‘grammar’ involved in it.

The title of the exercise gives a clear indication that the exercise focuses on sentences (types of sentences to be precise- declarative/ Interrogative/imperative/ exclamatory/). However, an explicit reference to this specific grammar item is not felt in this exercise. The cognitive exploration to bring in connections in a language context, makes this an interesting game/ activity. The pair work model assures the psychological well being of the students while engaged in a second language acquisition activity. ‘Low anxiety level’ mentioned by Krashen is assured in this activity. Pair work will ensure peer learning and co-creation of knowledge and experience. The social skills (co-operation, co-ordination etc.) of the students are given due importance in this activity.

This personal experience gave me the confidence to believe the famous Krashen statement “Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill."

Post this activity, the concrete grammar rules are stated (for reference) and 7 small (group/ pair) different type of exercises are given to ensure mastery over the grammatical item. These activities vary from making sentences to identifying sentence types, changing the sentence types, making sentences with visual support, match the right pairs, adding the question tags to one listening and speaking activity each with focus on different types of sentences. The lesson closes with a ‘Grammar game’ that can be played even in a 50 students’ class. Again common errors and extra/ additional information are clearly mentioned in special boxes. Thus, the learner gets a comprehensive and all inclusive learning experience while attempting this grammar lesson.

Women empowerment is a key indicator of social development and a close look at the dialogue between the boy and the girl will reveal the amount of conscious effort put behind producing such a language piece that ensures gender equality and equity. It is the ‘girl’ who is leading the way and giving courage to the boy to face the tough situation. Such an action from a ‘girl’ will make an intense impact in the general Indian male chauvinistic social psyche. In India, where generally women are considered as followers or less privileged beings, here is a girl, who is leading a boy!

Inculcating scientific awareness, enhancing life-skills and survival skills (eg: finding the route with the help of a compass) are all salient features of this exercise. Thus, a single grammar exercise becomes a rich language learning tool that fosters socio-emotional skills, cognitive-linguistic skills and life skills. Learning has to be cross-curricular and should support the learners to thrive in ‘real-life’, proclaims NCF (2005). The above exercise is an excellent example that goes in tune with the NCF guidelines in this context.

Had I been given such a grammar book, I would have never hated my grammar classes!

- Krashen, Stephen D. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Prentice-Hall International, 1987.
- Krashen, Stephen D. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Prentice-Hall International, 1988.
- Hazel, Victoria. Gem’s English Grammar-7. Blake Education and Ratnasagar P. Ltd. 2018


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