Last night I was studying some comments on the above mentioned topic. The following is the reflection of my thought based on my professional experience with ESL:

Is ‘Grammar’ essential to learn English as a second language?

English is considered to be ‘lingua franca’ because of its widespread influence on ‘global economy’. Our learners have sufficient level of motivation to learn English. Consequently, they are trying to learn English and apply it wherever needed to keep pace with the rest of the world. But our learners are reluctant when it is the question of learning ‘English Grammar’. This tendency is misinterpreted with a school of thought of linguists where they believe ‘Grammar is an obstacle to acquiring English’. According to them, English even as a second language can be acquired without learning ‘Grammar’. By this they mean that a teacher must teach and facilitate a learner to prefer the use of grammatical rules to the memorizing grammatical rules.

The reality is that we can bring a learner’s fluency of English first and then go for his/her accuracy. There comes the necessity of learning ‘Grammar’. Before we come to a conclusion about learning grammar to learn English, let us examine the following facts:

Based on the present context the definition of ‘English Grammar’ by is very encouraging: “English grammar is a description of the usages of the English language by good speakers and writers of the present day.” This definition has a universal validity. It always emphasizes the demand of the present time. It is flexible and it welcomes any new, valid and standard use of English. For examples: the use of tenses is no more confined to twelve categories or the use of powerful verb-words etc. Thus we can limit or standardize the use of English grammar but we can not eliminate its use totally, especially-for the people who use it as their second language.

Technically, acquiring any language is an unconscious process and does not require serious or formal study of grammar. On the other hand, learning a language is a process to learn a language after the age of unconsciousness (childhood). A child can acquire his/her mother tongue in early age without the knowledge of grammar. He relies on the sources around him or her to acquire the language. These sources can be her parents, nanny, toys with sounds, senior playmates and televisions. When a child learns to talk, she speaks in broken sentences because there is no grammar to link the words together. As she grows older, schools teach her grammar. With the passage of time grammar allows her to develop the ability to use the language correctly.

English in is our second language and therefore we should use the term ‘learning English’ instead of ‘acquiring English’. It requires serious/formal grammar study of the English language we plan to learn. Generally there are three views of the learning process for English: learning by heart, learning by forming habits through drilling and repetition, and learning rules naturally through attempts to communicate. All these are valid views of the ways in which language skills can be developed. The third one is proved to be the most powerful, if used with proper techniques and methods. Habit formation undoubtedly has a role to play but if our aim is to develop the skill to communicate in unpredicted circumstances then we have to provide our learners with the opportunity to learn the underlying rules of the language. ‘Learning the rules’ of a language means that a learner is able to apply the rules. It is simply to understand and use the language correctly. It does not at all mean knowing how to explain the rules or talking about the language. All native speakers of English ‘know’ the difference between the present perfect and past tenses, in the sense that they use them correctly, but very few would be able to explain the difference; by contrast, some learners of English can explain the differences between the two tenses (they ‘know’ the rule) but they cannot use the tenses correctly. In fact, applying the rule is the key to effective language learning; and in the case of our first language this is entirely subconscious process. It may be that in learning a second language too the best way to learn rules is subconsciously, by reading and listening to language we understand and by attempting to communicate in the language, rather than by consciously ‘learning grammar’.

So it goes without saying that ‘Grammar’ is essential for learning English’. Then why on earth our learners are reluctant to study and learn ‘English Grammar’, why our learners are are interested more in only learning English without knowing, studying or applying ‘Grammar’! These questions lead to many answers but the focus here is on the ‘selecting methods and techniques’ to make the learning effective and useful.

Teaching English grammar can be a fun if a teacher wants to make it funny and comfortable for her learners. She should draw attention of the learners to the use of the rules by using interactive and participatory methods such as using funny, quiz type worksheets etc. The use of example is very important. She must always use something new to introduce any pattern of English sentence. For example, we have a very common tendency to use “He goes to school everyday” to introduce ‘3rd personal singular number’ to the learners. Why not a name from the class, which involves an active participation of the learners! We must take real life examples in the class so that the learners can get enough food for thoughts to apply those rules and examples discussed in the classroom later in her real life situation. Level of motivation of the learners to study grammar depends on the presentation skills of the grammar topic by the teacher or trainer. It is all about how she uses and applies her innovative, interactive and participatory tools of teaching grammar irrespective of all levels of the learner group (beginner to advanced). There should also be a balanced use of inductive and deductive approach to teaching English grammar.

Learning is very interesting as well as fast when it is facilitated in a cheerful environment. Learner can learn from what is present in the environment, even if their attention is not directed to it such as rules of using tenses, use of articles etc. can be displayed on and around the classroom wall. This learning is called ‘peripheral learning’. If learners trust and respect the teachers/trainers authority, they will accept and retain information better. So the teacher must have the in-depth knowledge of the topic to deliver the information impromptu instead of looking at the hand notes while delivering the topic. The trainer/teacher can desuggest students’ fear and confusion with proper enthusiasm and positive environment. Errors must be corrected gently, not in a direct, confrontational manner. Learning English grammar can be fun through role play activity. The whole gamut of this approach and methodology can be widely used for effective English teaching for all four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing). Here the teacher is the ‘leader’ to make things happen. She needs patience to go along with these things. Remember ‘Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet.’


Expert & freelance Teacher & Trainer (ELT)
chowdhurymoinThe use of examples is very important.
I believe this is the crux of the matter.

This is such a good article. I am a native speaker from Canada and now I live in rio de Janeiro and work as an English teacher. When I first started teaching I thought that being a native speaker would be enough. However, I was flat out wrong.

Of course we learn grammar in school but teaching English to a foreigner can be a difficult task. As has been mentioned in the article we know very well how to use present perfect and simple past, it's obvious for us but when you have to stop and think about when and how to use it to teach to another person is difficult. What seems obvious for us doesn't seem obvious at all for a person who speaks another language.

When I first started teaching I taught at a school that focused on grammar and drill exercises. So if the student was learning the present perfect he/she would make many fill-in-the gaps exercises regarding present perfect, like for example: She___________a new car (to buy). Then they'd come with She has bought a new car. Thus they'd be able to create very good texts with a few grammar mistakes. On the other hand they'd not get fluency, they' d be good writers but not good speakers.

Nowadays I work at a school that teaches English using the communication approach method. Wer don't focus much on grammar, we only teach basic grammar, our focus is on making the student speak. It's really great to see how they start speaking in such a short time. However, they make lots of mistakes as we don't focus on grammar and drills and repetition exercises.

I've realized that as the student becomes fluent really fast without knowing grammar, it gets very hard to make the student speak correctly. It seems that they internalize the mistakes and they don't even realize them. I can mention one of my students who is really fluent, has a good vocabulary but lacks lots of gramar and so she comes up with sentences such as

I working yesterday.
My mom work a lot.

and many others. So I try to correct her using self-correction but never realizes the mistake and she also makes many mistakes when writing.

So, I've concluded that grammar is essential when learning a second language. You cannot teach the student how to speak and then try correcting the mistakes because that won't work.

I think for beginners they should have about 80% of grammar activities such as filling the gaps, drills and repition activities and 20% of discourse-related activities. Then when we move to intermidiary we could have half/half and for advenced students focus on their spoken production.
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History of English Language-Funny or reality?
In the beginning, there was an island off the coast of Europe. It had no name, for the natives had no language, only a collection of grunts and gestures that roughly translated to Hey!Gimme!, and Pardon me, but would you happen to have any woad? Then the Romans invaded it and called it Britain, because the natives were blue, nasty, brutish [British] and short. This was the start of the importance of u (and its mispronunciation) to the language. After building some roads, killing off some of the nasty little blue people and wailing up the rest, the Romans left, taking the language instruction manual with them.
The British were bored so they invited the barbarians to come over (under Hengist) and Horsa round a bit. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes brought slightly more refined vocal noises. All of the vocal sounds of this primitive language were onomatopoeic, being derived from the sounds of battle. Consonants were derived from the sounds of weapons striking a foe. Sss and th for example are the sounds of a draw cut, k is the sound of a solidly landed axe blow, b, d, are the sounds of a head dropping onto rock and sod respectively, and gl is the sound of a body splashing into a bog. Vowels (which were either gargles in the back of the throat or sharp exhalations) were derived from the sounds the foe himself made when struck. The barbarians had so much fun that they decided to stay for post-revel. The British, finding that they had lost future use of the site, moved into the hills to the west and called themselves Welsh. The Irish, having heard about language from Patrick, came over to investigate. When they saw the shiny vowels, they pried them loose and took them home. They then raided Wales and stole both their cattle and their vowels, so the poor Welsh had to make do with sheep and consonants. (Old Ap Ivor hadde a farm, LYLYW! And on that farm he hadde somme gees. With a dd dd here and dd dd there.)
To prevent future raids, the Welsh started calling themselves Cymry and gave even longer names to their villages. They figured if no one could pronounce the name of their people or the names of their towns, then no one would visit them. (The success of the tactic is demonstrated still today. How many travel agents have you heard suggest a visit to scenic Llyddumlmunnyddthllywddu). Meanwhile, the Irish brought all the shiny new vowels home to Erin. But of course they didn't know that there was once an instruction manual for them, so they scattered the vowels throughout the language purely as ornaments. Most of the new vowels were not pronounced, and those that were pronounced differently depending on which kind of consonant they were either preceding or following. The Danes came over and saw the pretty vowels bedecking all the Irish words. Ooooh! they said. They raided Ireland and brought the vowels back home with them. But the Vikings couldn't keep track of all the Irish rules so they simply pronounced all the vowels oouuoo.
In the meantime, the French had invaded Britain, which was populated by descendants of the Germanic Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. After a generation or two, the people were speaking German with a French accent and calling it English. Then the Danes invaded again, crying Oouuoo! Oouuoo! burning abbeys, and trading with the townspeople. The Britons that the Romans hadn't killed intermarried with visiting Irish and became Scots. Against the advice of their travel agents, they decided to visit Wales. (The Scots couldn't read the signposts that said, This way to LLyddyllwwyddymmllwylldd, but they could smell sheep a league away.) The Scots took the sheep home with them and made some of them into haggis. What they made with the others we won't say, but Scots are known to this day for having hairy legs. The former Welsh, being totally bereft, moved down out of the hills and into London. Because they were the only people in the Island who played flutes instead of bagpipes, they were called Tooters. This made them very popular. In short orders, Henry Tooter got elected King and begin popularizing ornate, unflattering clothing. Soon, everybody was wearing ornate, unflattering clothing, playing the flute, speaking German with French accent, pronouncing all their vowels oouuoo (which was fairly easy given the French accent), and making lots of money in the wool trade. Because they were rich, people smiled more (remember, at this time, Beowulf and Canterbury Tales were the only tabloids, and gave generally favourable reviews even to Danes). And since it is next to impossible to keep your vowels in the back of your throat (even if you do speak German with a French accent) while smiling and saying oouuoo (try it, you'll see what I mean), the Great Vowel Shift came about and transformed the English Language. The very richest had their vowels shifted right out in front of their teeth. They settled in Manchester and later in Boston. There were a few poor souls who, cut off from the economic prosperity of the wool trade, continued to swallow their vowels. They wandered the countryside in misery and despair until they came to the docks of London, where their dialect devolved into the incomprehensible language known as Cockney. Later, it was taken overseas and further brutalized by merging it with Dutch and Italian to create Brooklynese. That's what happened, you can check for yourself. But I advise you to just take our word for it.
Compiled by: Moinuddin Chowdhury

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ur comments r really wow.you must be a good teacher.God bless u for ur words .jawaria from Pakistan nov,2011
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<<<The whole gamut of this approach and methodology can be widely used for effective English teaching for all four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing). Here the teacher is the ‘leader’ to make things happen. She needs patience to go along with these things. Remember ‘Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet.’>>>

Thank you for sharing this article. English is also my second language. Your post is absolutely fasinating and hit it on the nail.

Through my years of English learning, I had indeed shared the same experiences like everyone else who wanted to learn the language. The process was tremendouly hard as I was in my teens when I started but very rewarding when I got there. Thought, from learning the alphabets, the basic sentence structure to developing a second natural with English, the journey for me was a contant struggle. But with strong will to suceed, I disciplined myself into a 3 hours audio-visual bombardment every day watching BBC programs and listening to the news cast. Gradually, I almost could feel my brain being rewired and actually began to think in English, and was able to distinguish the difference between non-natural and natural English. I think most learners possess this ability. That matter is knowing how to discover it and how much sacrifice he is willing to put out. That being said, to command the language proficiently is certainly not a stroll in the park on a Sunday. It requires real passion, time,and perseverance to achieve natural fluency.

There is one point I would like to share which is many ESL learners learning the language from foreign countries may have been taught by non native teachers and thus sometimes developed a type of English seemed substandard to the native speakers. With my own experience, I believe a well implemented continuous audio-visual program working side by side simultaneously with academic learning can definitely make a big difference. If a learner doesn't have the luxury to live in an immersed environment, today, he still can utilize the web and get access to all kinds of tutoring and audio-visual helps which didn't become economically and socially available to on the general public until the 80's.