How to Teach Grammar? The Landscape of Explicit and Implicit Grammar Teaching

Seminar Paper, 2020

15 Pages, Grade: 1,5



1 Introduction

2 What to teach?
2.1 Official guidelines
2.2 Correct and/or Appropriate
2.2.1 Lingua Franca
2.2.2 Spoken Grammar
2.3 Varieties of English

3 Explicit and Implicit Grammar Teaching
3.1 Implicit Grammar Teaching

4 Explicit Language Teaching

5 Comparison of Explicit and Implicit Language teaching

6 Conclusion

7 Literature

1 Introduction

Historically, teaching grammar has been a controversial and contested field of study; hence, philosophies and teaching methods have changed significantly over the past centuries. In 200 B. C., the first accounts of schoolboys being taught grammatical forms and correct, socially acceptable usage were given. Throughout Alexandrian times, explicit grammar teaching and studying were held in high regard as grammarians longed to decipher ancient scripts to learn about the secrets of the past, as well as to establish universal grammars to impose order on language (Weaver, 1996, p. 3). In medieval times, teaching languages was modelled on the established methods of teaching classical Latin and ancient Greek, which consisted of learning grammatical rules and applying them by translating written texts. Since ancient Greek and classical Latin were both dead languages by then, the teaching method did not emphasise speaking, let alone communicating in the target language. Nevertheless, the so-called classical method (CM) has continued to be utilized for centuries to come (Ur, 2011, p. 507). In nineteenth-century Prussia, the CM was adapted and became known as the Grammar-Translation-Method (GTM). The GTM was still based on learning grammatical rules and then applying them by translating sentences between the native language and the target language. As this approach was rather ill-suited for younger learners, new methods had to be developed to maximise the efficiency of language teaching (Chang, 2010, p. 13). In the mid-twentieth century, grammar was still viewed as a crucial component of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching; thus, the methods were influenced by linguistic theories such as structuralism in the 1930s or transformational grammar in the early 1950s. One famous by-product of structuralist grammar theories paired with behaviourism was the audio-lingual method, which was based on rigid pattern drills. However diverse the teaching methods have been in the last decades, the primary goal was proficiency in the grammatical systems of the respective target languages (Ur, 2011, p. 507). Nevertheless, due to ongoing globalization, the desired language competencies for learners have shifted. As a result, translation exercises and abstract grammatical drills have slowly given way to more communicative tasks; the rise of the very popular communicative approach in the 1970s exemplifies this trend. The communicative approach emphasizes spoken interaction, the study of authentic texts in the target language, and promotes language use in, as well as outside the classroom (Ur, 2011, p. 507).

Contemporary discussions on grammar teaching revolve around the concepts of implicit, and explicit instructions. Explicit grammar teaching views languages as a set of rules and building blocks, such as vocabulary, sentence structures, and pronunciation. Therefore, learners must approach a language step by step and in an orderly manner to, one day, be able to communicate effectively. Implicit grammar teaching focuses on language as a tool for communication and, accordingly, encourages and supports students to use the target language for this purpose from the start, however unintelligibly it may be in the beginning (Ur, 2011, p. 511).

Another widely discussed aspect of EFL grammar teaching evolves around non-standard English varieties, such as Indian English, North American English, and Australian English. EFL learners with no variety-specific knowledge are likely to experience language comprehension difficulties. Therefore, there is a debate over including nonstandard grammar – i.e. spoken grammar, local grammar varieties – in EFL classrooms to tackle this ongoing trend (Davydova, et al, 2015, p. 81).

The present paper rests on the hypothesis that nonstandard English grammar should be part of grammar teaching in EFL classrooms as they are beneficial for students’ language comprehension. Furthermore, explicit grammar instructions may only be useful for mastering specific target structures; however, languages and their underlying grammar systems may only be acquired implicitly, not by learning grammar rules. This paper aims to answer the questions, to which English grammar varieties are students exposed to, and to which extent they should be addressed in the classroom. Moreover, it aims to shed light on how useful explicit grammar teaching is, compared to implicit methods.

2 What to teach?

2.1 Official guidelines

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) provides curriculum-, examination-, and syllabus guidelines for educators of the member states. Regarding grammatical competences, the CEFR states that “Grammatical competence is the ability to understand and express meaning by producing and recognising well-formed phrases (as opposed to memorising and reproducing them as fixed formulae).” (Council of Europe, 2011, p. 113). Thereby, putting the focus on communication rather than analysis. The CEFR does not provide more detailed guidelines for grammar teaching.

2.2 Correct and/or Appropriate

2.2.1 Lingua Franca

A widely discussed issue concerning grammar in the EFL classroom is the debate around correctness and appropriateness. When one refers to “correct” grammar, it is usually connected to accurate grammatical usage in terms of academic standards. For example:

She goes to the house of her friend.”

This is the man who stole the car

These two sentences would be considered correct. Not only is the meaning clear and unambiguous, but they are also in line with grammatical rules. In a common communicative setting between two L2 speakers, these sentences may be uttered in a slightly different way:

She go to the house of her friend

This is the man which stole the car

In the first sentence the third person suffix -s is omitted. Thereby, the sentence is clearly in breach of grammatical rules and would be considered to be incorrect. Likewise, the second sentence’s use of relative pronouns – which instead of who – for referring to a person, is not in line with the rules either. However, the meaning of those sentences is conveyed unambiguously and would be understood in a conversation. These, and similar phenomena are a common occurrence in the English as a Lingua Franca context, hence, interactions between EFL speakers of different language backgrounds, where these varieties would be appropriate in spoken discourse (Ur, 2011, p. 508). However, it is not suggested that educators should establish these varieties as acceptable, but the priority of tackling grammatical issues that are crucial to conveying meaning should be higher. For example, the correct usage of reflexive pronouns is crucial for the meaning of a sentence (Newby, 1998, p.9)

He tried to kill him describes an attempted murder.

He tried to kill himself describes an attempted suicide. (Scrivener, 2010, p. 38)

Therefore, taking more time and effort to focus on grammatical issues with meaning-making implications is advisable.

2.2.2 Spoken Grammar

When pupils are presented with authentic English material in or out of the classroom, such as TV-Shows, Videogames, or Youtube Videos, they will come across a wide range of grammatical features that would not be considered correct but are very common and appropriate for informal speech (Ur, 2011, p. 508). A prominent example for grammatical differences in spoken grammar is the use of reported speech. For example, the most common form of speech report is the past simple; however, in spoken English speakers often choose the progressive form, treating a statement as “piece of news” rather than a representation of peoples’ spoken words:

Table 1: Past progressive as spoken grammar choice.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(Carter & McCarthy, 2006, p. 19)

Furthermore, in reported speech the tense usually changes to a past form of the tense of the original speech. This process, the tense backshift, may not occur in spoken discourse, especially when the speaker treats the information as still true, still relevant, or not yet unfulfilled:

Table 2: Spoken grammar in reported speech.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(Carter & McCarthy, 2006, p. 823)

Although these examples are in breach of British English grammar conventions, they are commonly used by native speakers and EFL speakers alike, and will be accepted and understood (Timmis, 2005, p. 118). Other prominent spoken grammar features are:

Table 3: Examples for spoken grammar features (Timmis, 2005, p. 121).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Even though some argue that these features should become part of language teaching, it is important to stress that they are neither appropriate nor correct in more formal contexts in both written and spoken form. Examples for formal texts are reports, research papers, speeches, broadcasts, and presentations. Additionally, some of the features may not be language-specific, but a natural communicative strategy; therefore, they may occur in informal texts of many languages. Hence, teaching non-specific informal features explicitly may not be sufficiently beneficial for the EFL context.


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How to Teach Grammar? The Landscape of Explicit and Implicit Grammar Teaching
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The Landscape of Grammar Teaching Grammar Varieties and Explicit vs Implicit Grammar Teaching, grammar teaching, grammar, explicit grammar, implicit grammar, explicit vs implicit grammar, lingua franca, spoken grammar, varieties of english, appropriate english, explicit or implicit grammar instruction, implicit grammar instruction, focus on grammatical form, explicit or implicit, learning grammar explicitly, learning grammar implicitly, conversational grammar, aueng grammar
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Sven Frueh (Author), 2020, How to Teach Grammar? The Landscape of Explicit and Implicit Grammar Teaching, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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