Grammar. You already know which side of the fence you’re on, don’t you? It seems to me that world language teachers either LOVE it or HATE it. That it is crucial to student success or it’s not necessary at all.
Well, I’m not part of either of those camps. Call me Switzerland, but I can’t take sides here. To me, grammar is like money. On its own it’s neither good nor bad. What we as teachers do with it is what makes it good or bad.
Why teach grammar in a world language classroom?
Accuracy. That’s it. It’s not because it’s fun and hopefully it’s not just to pass a grammar test. Sometimes (not always) understanding the patterns in grammar helps us improve accuracy.
When is accuracy important?
Later. I know that sounds vague, but it is different for everyone. When a baby speaks his first words are we worried about pronunciation? When a toddler ask a question do adults roll their eyes at incorrect agreement? No. When Kara tries to order our meal in Korean, do I care if she’s perfect? Nope. Everyone is just happy to see them communicating and they are trying to understand the message. When a student begins communicating, errors are to be expected. It’s a natural part of the process. We as teachers need to be excited to see them communicating and focusing on their message.
Imagine if we expected initial accuracy in other types of performances. It’s your first piano lesson and your teacher plays you a song. Now you have to repeat it. Perfectly. Then do the same thing tomorrow. Oh, and there is a recital at the end of the week.
Your coach shows you how to shoot a 3 pointer. Now it’s your turn. Good luck. If you miss, you don’t make the team. No pressure!
Now you might get lucky, but it’s unlikely you will be able to do anything flawlessly the first time around. A good teacher wouldn’t expect perfection. They would give a little advice and encourage you to try again.
Later, accuracy is more important (as students approach ADVANCED proficiency). I don’t want any adult speaking like a toddler. I don’t want years of piano lessons to end in chopsticks. As a language student’s proficiency grows, so should their accuracy. This doesn’t happen overnight. Every time I hear a teacher tell me about a unit on “past tense” it makes me wonder if my students are the only ones who need more time to master that. Am I alone here?
Why not push accuracy?
Accuracy is deceiving. Novice mid students can be 100% accurate by spitting out memorized 3 word sentences. Is that better than a student who created original, complex sentences with a few different errors? No. It’s different. When we as teachers make accuracy the focus, we are really encouraging them to play it safe and avoid risks. Instead of accuracy, promote growth. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being better.
So what’s grammar’s role in a proficiency classroom?
Too much grammar… not enough… We need to find the sweet spot in the middle that’s just right for our students.
In our next few posts we will share some thoughts on the following:
How much grammar should we teach?
When do we teach certain concepts?
How do we meet the needs all our different students?
How do we incorporate grammar in context?
What about you?
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to grammar in the classroom?
Grammar & Proficiency Series