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Teaching grammar in the second language Paige Shaw The University of Southern Mississippi

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE Teaching grammar in the second language Introduction Throughout this semester, I have learned that A general theory of second language

acquisition needs to account for language acquisition by learners with a variety of characteristics in a variety of contexts (Lightbown & Spada, 2006,p.33). Second language acquisition is a very complex field and, in many cases, there are no straight forward answers as to the best teaching methods. This is because there are so many different variables that each person can encounter or have when learning or acquiring a second language. Second language acquisition is a broad term that refers to anyone that has already acquired a first language. Under second language acquisition a person can be said to acquire a second language or to learn a second language. Acquisition is said to occur when there is exposure to the second language without conscious attention to form, whereas learning is the exposure with conscious attention to form. Form includes all the grammatical elements of the language. Babies are said to acquire their native language because they have no grammatical input other than hearing other peoples conversations and speech. Some people believe that second languages can be acquired with no focus on grammatical elements and all focus on the meaning. Today, however, linguists understand that this is not the case and that there are other factors involved in second language acquisition. Some of the principle factors in second language acquisition include age factors, motivational factors, personality factors, and environmental factors. Some linguists follow the innatist perspective and believe that age is the most critical factor and after a certain age it will become more and more difficult to acquire or learn a second language. A better school of

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE thought, though, in my opinion, is that people simply need more direction and focus on form as they age. Focus on Form Focus on form combines formal instruction and communicative language use to

facilitate second language learning and acquisition (Hinkel & Fotos, 2002, p.5). This attention to form is motivated primarily by of earlier studies and focuses in which the attention was completely on meaning in situations of immersion and naturalistic acquisition. These previous studies showed that even en these immersion and naturalistic environments, many people still never reached targetlike levels of linguistic development (Doughty & Williams, 2004). This research led to some pedagogical interventions which, in turn, led to two claims. The stronger of these claims states that it is necessary for learners to focus on form in order to reach targetlike second language ability, whereas the weaker claim simply states that this focus can speed up the acquisition process and make it as efficient as possible. Other Focuses Before and even since the notion of focus on form, there have been other ideas and opinions on the correct approaches to second language teaching. The other main influential focuses are focus on meaning and focus on formS. Focus on meaning occurs when the only focus is on the vocabulary and general understanding of the language and there is no instruction whatsoever on the grammatical elements of the language. Focus on formS is the opposite, only focusing on the grammatical elements in the language. Some teachers think focusing on forms should be taboo, whereas other teachers believe that explicit grammar instruction is the way to go (Doughty & Williams,2004). Neither is correct though, because the focus on form

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE perspective has shown proven success in the correct combination of the other focuses (Doughty & Williams, 2004). Teaching Perspectives There are many approaches to teaching focus on form in the classroom, but not all of them are necessarily the most successful. There are many things that teachers need to take into consideration when teaching in an ESL or EFL context. Some of the principal considerations in teaching grammar with an emphasis on focus on form should be noticing, discourse, and learner characteristics. These three areas, though not the only considerations, can greatly impact the success of a focus on form perspective. Noticing

Many teachers consider the awareness of grammatical structures through other input to be important because it raises the consciousness and attention to the forms that are found in a meaning-focused input situation. Older ways of thinking said that just by input and interaction alone a learner would be able to produce sufficient output but more recent studies now suggest that they only set the scene for potential learning (Hinkel & Fotos, 2002, p.6). For this reason, some researchers believe that instructed grammar learning can also be useful in consciousness raising by serving as communicative input in the L2. This is especially pertinent to EFL situations because their communicative exposure to the L2 is usually lacking. There are also two types of knowledge to consider when thinking about the importance of noticing. These two types of knowledge are referred to as explicit knowledge and implicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is thought of as a conscious knowledge about grammatical rules whereas implicit is the ability to use the language unconsciously in communication that is meaning-focused (Hinkel & Fotos, 2002). The argument for noticing is that once a learner is

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE aware of a structure or feature, they can pay more attention and recognize it in the subsequent input they receive. This is also the reason that discourse is equally important in the second or foreign language classroom. Discourse Because of the emphasis linguists place currently on communication and consciousness awareness in the L2 teaching and learning environments, as well as the need to address diverse types of learners in these settings, research has also been carried out on discourse itself. Linguists and other experts began to collect data from discourse analysis in order to investigate the contextual uses of language structures and the way native speakers express meaning. These

studies have allowed great insight into discourse based approaches to grammar instruction. They have also proven the importance of being exposed to authentic spoken and written discourse. When authentic discourse is used in the classroom, students can start to notice how language contexts affect grammar and meaning and how speakers vary their linguistic structures depending on the sociolinguistic features of interaction (Hinkel &Fotos, 2002, p.9). This is an aspect that, at first glance, a native speaker may not recognize about their language, but research has shown that in some cases, it is difficult to determine which word or phrase is more appropriate in a given context. This is because we manipulate meanings through word and tense choices and so decontextualized, contrived examples of discourse from a textbook may not teach the students how to actually communicate in a naturalistic environment. A student who learns totally from meaning based instruction or totally through focus on formS will not understand these minute differences in the language use. For this reason discourse analysis shows that there are, in fact, beneficial effects of teaching grammar through authentic discourse.

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE Learner Characteristics Another determining factor on how to approach the second language classroom is the difference of each learner in the classroom. For example young teenagers will have different cognitive abilities, motivation and needs than older learners. The students will also have

different personality traits, thought processes and aptitude areas. Some students will be better at the communicative aspects of language and others will be better at the grammatical aspects. All these characteristics are heavily intertwined with each other and have a great effect on how the learner perceives the language. Though this does not necessarily mean that one characteristic is better, it does mean that understanding the differences in personalities can be helpful for teachers in understanding how to address each students specific struggles. This also means that each student may not be at exactly the same linguistic level as the next and so because of what linguists now believe about the ZPD and the importance of timing, there should also not be a linear focus on each grammatical element of the language (Doughty & Williams, 2004). This is important to understand because this could mean that some of these learners are more psycholinguistically ready to learn certain elements of the language than others. It is important that these diverse learners receive the input that they need so that that input can turn into intake. Aptitude, Personality, Motivation Students individual personality traits have a large impact on second language learning in general. Studies have shown that a number of different personalities and variables can be more linguistically inclined, though there has not been one specific personality that is said to be better at learning languages. There are, however, certain tendencies that language learners exhibit, and having the aptitude and motivation is usually the first step.


The students aptitude for languages is probably the most crucial factor for their potential success. A number of personality characteristics have been proposed as likely to affect second language learning, but it has not been easy to demonstrate their effects in empirical studies (Lightbown & Spada, 2006,p.60).Though it is still a highly controversial issue whether certain people have a language aptitude, it is certainly true that there is a broad spectrum and combination of characteristics that would make for a combined aptitude for language, as is there a combination that would make language learning extremely difficult (Brown, 2007). Learning style is another influential factor. The learning style and the personality are often considered interchangeable because they so often overlap. There are several differences that a teacher should be able to recognize about his or her students in order to implement the best teaching strategies possible. The principle factors are whether the student is introverted or extroverted, field-dependent or -independent thinker, and whether they are tolerant or intolerant of ambiguity. Though not always the case, generally extroverted, field-dependent, and ambiguity tolerance make for good language learning characteristics; however, introverted and field-independent thinkers can succeed as well, they just use a slightly different approach to learning the language (Brown, 2007). Generally speaking, the former makes for a better communicative, task-oriented learner and the latter is better at analyzing the elements and organizing them in a logical manner. Age and Critical Period Depending on the situation, people of all ages could potentially be in a second or foreign language learning environment and the relationship between age and success in second language acquisition is hardly less complex or controversial (Lightbown & Spada, 2006, p.67). According to some, there is a critical period for language learning after which a person will

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE never reach native-like competency. This is, however, another issue that has been debated for several years now. The argument against this critical period theory is that there is simply a sensitive period when brain lateralization occurs after which a person needs more explicit

explanation to learn the language. This is not to say, though, that children learn better. There are several positives and negatives on both sides of the spectrum. On the one hand, cognitive maturity and metalinguistic awareness allow older learners to solve problems and engage in discussions about language. On the other hand, some researchers have suggested that the use of these cognitive skills- so valuable for many kinds of tasks- can actually interfere with language acquisition (Lightbown & Spada, 2006, pp.30-31). Regardless, second languages can still be learned at any age as long as there is motivation and at least some guided instruction. Acquisition Process Since there is such a variety of ages and personalities, it is good to have a variety of form-focused activities. It is important not to study grammatical forms in a linear way, following from grammar point to grammar point, because in this way the students will not be able to unconsciously analyze the aspects of the language as they occur naturally in conversation (Hinkel & Fotos, 2002). With that being said, there is a sort of loose order that learners of a second language generally go through. Pienemanns teachability hypothesis says that learners go through developmental stages in which they can effectively be taught certain grammatical concepts which would seem to mean that it is a good concept to focus on one form at a time (Doughty & Williams, 2004). However, with so many learner differences and stages of development, it is better to do as Krashen says and cast a wide net in order to be sure that everyone benefits as much as possible (Doughty & Williams, 2004). In this way cycling of old grammatical points

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE can be implemented so as to allow the slower language learners to pick up on points that they were previously not psycholinguistically ready for and to allow the faster ones to store the information deeper in their long term memory. Learner Conditions Different learning environments also play a large role in teaching approaches. For example, an ESL student who is in the target language environment will have a more immediate need to communicate in real situations whereas an EFL student will have very limited access to the input of the target language. EFL learners are usually younger and in classroom contexts. These students have a more passive role in the learning environment and less real

communication time. Classroom learners not only spend less time in contact with the language, they also tend to be exposed to a far smaller range of discourse types In many foreign language classes, teachers switch to their students first language for discipline or classroom management, thus depriving learners of opportunities to experience uses of the language in real communication (Lightbown & Spada, 2006,p.32). ESL learners, though not always, are generally older and have contact with the target language on a much more frequent and consistent basis. Older learners are often forced to speak- to meet the requirements of a classroom or to carry out everyday tasks such as shopping, medical visits, or job interviews (Lightbown & Spada, 2006, p.32). In both contexts, however, students need to be able to notice and recognize grammatical features, especially when it is pertinent to the meaning of the expressed idea. For this reason, structure-based interactive tasks are very important in deciding on teaching methods for a foreign language versus second language setting. In an EFL setting, the teaching is generally geared more towards test taking because they are still in their native language environment, and



generally the goal is to pass a proficiency test in order to go to an English speaking country or to make a good grade in school. In an ESL context, there is a broader variety of students and motivations, and the focus is generally more communicative because the students have a more immediate need to successfully communicate in the environment. Conclusion To sum up what has been an otherwise long and complex explanation, the primary goal in any language teaching context is successful communication. There should be a nonlinear focus on form that is not separate from communication in order to facilitate and maximize the second language acquisition process. This means teaching with authentic discourse and materials and then focusing on the grammatical elements that arise is the goal. There are many elements to take into consideration and ways to implement this form, but the most important concept to remember is that variation is always prevalent and is therefore the key to successful instruction and acquisition.

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE References Brown, H.D. (2007). Principles of language learning and teaching. Fifth edition. New York: Pearson Education Inc. Celce-Murcia, M. & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL teachers course. (2nd edition). Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers. Doughty, C. & Williams, J. (Eds.). (2004). Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. New York: Cambridge University Press. Hinkel, E., & Fotos, S. (2002). New perspectives on grammar teaching in second language classrooms. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Publishers.


Lightbown, P.M., & Spada, N. (2011). How languages are learned. Third edition. New York: Oxford University Press. Shrum, J.L., & Glisan, E.W. (2010). Teachers handbook: Contextualized language instruction. Fourth edition. Boston, MA: Heinle, Cengage Learning.

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE Supplementary Activities To provide examples of a focus on form approach to a current ESL textbook, I created eight activities to supplement one section of an intermediate level vocabulary book. This vocabulary book is not divided into chapters so I could not just improve one chapter. It is instead comprised of 100 two-paged units and divided into content sections only at the very


beginning of the book. I therefore chose one of the content sections entitled Parts of Speech so that I could incorporate contextualized materials into the six grammar points that are introduced. The activities have all been contextualized to deal with food so the teacher can incorporate the grammar points into the food vocabulary. Each activity also relates to the next as well as introducing another grammar point at times and, therefore, can be implemented together or separately.

Activity1- Recipe from Home Rationale: This activity can be used to introduce count and noncount nouns. It will also help students apply previously learned vocabulary and grammar points to daily life situations. The students will be instructed to search for a recipe and bring it to class. They will get into groups in class and share their recipes in with their peers. The objective is to get the students to group words together based on meaning and to broaden their vocabulary and basic conversational skills. The students will then discuss which ingredients they prefer and they will create a new recipe together, writing down their favorite 4 ingredients on a card (these can be used in following activity). They will then present the new recipe to the class and a follow up activity can be to use the recipes that they initially brought to test their understanding.

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE Teacher instructions: Assign for the students to find and bring a recipe in the target language to class. Have the students get into groups of three or four to discuss and explain their recipes


and the processes required to make the dish and to then each choose their 4 favorite ingredients from the combined lists. Based on these lists, have the students invent a new recipe including the favorite ingredients from the list and have them present it to the class. Now draw their attention to the differences in some of the nouns. Explaination of countable and uncountable nouns can then be explained using the recipes that the students brought to class and the students can then practice recognizing them in the recipes they brought. Student instructions: Bring recipe to class. Get into groups of three or four and discuss your recipe with the group. Now choose your favorite four ingredients and write them down. Work with your group to create a new recipe using these ingredients. Present your inventions to the class.



Activity 2- Pass the Card Rationale: This activity is meant to practice count and noncount nouns as well as food-related vocabulary. It can be used as a review of grammatical structures a warm up to facilitate participation in the classroom. It is mainly meant for fun but is also a good way to make the students think on their feet. Teacher instructions: Depending on the size of your classroom, make enough cards for each student to have four (if previous activity was done, you can use those cards). Each card should have either a countable or uncountable noun written on it. Have the students form a circle, shuffle the cards and give each student four. Tell the students not to look at the cards until everyone has theirs. Begin the game by counting to three, and on the beat after three, everyone discards one of their cards and passes it to the right The goal is to get either all count nouns or all noncount nouns. The first person to get all four cards alike should slap their cards in the middle and say done (or whatever clever word you can think of). Everyone else throws their hands down and and the last person to get their hands down is out. The last person to put their hands down is out. This cycle continues until only one person is left. To make the game more complicated have the count and noncount nouns separated to be sure that they are even and then put a symbol on half of each set, then the students will not only have to get four of the same kind of noun but all either with or without a symbol. Student instructions: Gather in a circle. You will be given four cards. The goal of the game is to get all of the same kind of card (count or noncount). Then when the instructor counts to three, you will discard your least wanted card and pass it to the right. The cycle goes on until someone

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE gets a match, in which case that person will throw their cards down, and the last person to put their hands down is out. This will continue until only one person is remaining.


Activity 3- Telephone call Rationale: This activity will assist in communicative strategies for talking on the telephone.This activity is meant to be a review on the verb structures verb+ing and infinitive. It is supposed that this structure has been previously introduced with an example such as an audiorecording of a telephone conversation. This activity has been contextualized into dealing with inviting a friend to a restaurant to help build real life skills as well as familiarize students with the grammar point. Teacher instructions: Review verb structure with students. Have the students pick a partner to practice with. Tell the students to have a conversation implementing the verb forms. Student instructions: Pick a partner and pretend to have a telephone conversation utilizing the structures that were studied in class. Ex: Student1: Hi! Are you having a good day? Student 2: Hello! Yes but I want to go to the mall.. Student 1: Well, maybe we can go eat and then enjoy spending some money at the mall

Activity 4- Comic strip Rationale: This activity incorporates authentic text from a newspaper or online source and allows the students to be creative with the language. This activity is principally focusing on utilizing verb patterns through a task-based communicative activity. The students will have to



practice narration and utilization of the vocabulary from the food context as well as interpret the meanings of the images and incorporate them into their explanation. Teacher instructions: Hand out the comic strip. Divide students into four groups. Allow them to discuss the images and create a narration of the comic strip. Then have each table narrate a different image. Student instructions: Get into groups and narrate what is happening in the comic strip. When called on, narrate your part of the strip aloud.

Activity 5- Favorite/Worst Meal Rationale: This activity is intended to practice writing skills, speaking skills, listening skills and using prepositions of place correctly. This can easily be applied as a direct follow up activity to the comic strip activity. The students will be required to think of their favorite or worst meal ever and describe it in both written and oral communication. They will answer details such as ingredients, location of story, and other participants. Teacher instructions: Tell the students to think of their favorite ore worst meal ever and write a detailed account of the event. Have the students answer questions such as what were the

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE ingredients in the meal, what city were you in, where were you (home, restaurant, etc.). Then have the students present their stories to the class. During each presentation, have the other students write down each prepositional phrase they hear in order to assess their listening comprehension skills. Student instructions: Think of your favorite or worst meal you have ever had and write a


descriptive account of the event. Be sure to answer questions such as what were the ingredients in the meal, what city were you in, where were you (home, restaurant, etc.). After this you will present your story to the class. When it is not your turn, make notes of all of the prepositional phrases that you hear in the other students presentations.

Activity 6- Class survey Rationale: This activity is designed to evoke communication skills by implementing a negotiation of meaning strategy. The questions in the survey will evoke responses that utilize adverbs of degree, therefore allowing students to practice this grammar concept in the context of a survey on food. Teacher instructions: have students ask the questions on the survey to at least three different people. Have the students tally the answers that they get and report them to the class. Student instructions: Ask at least three different people the survey questions and tally the responses. After you are finished report your findings to the class.

Survey Questions: What is your favorite restaurant? How often do you eat out? at your favorite restaurant?

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE How often do you cook at home? What ingredients do you buy at the grocery store? How often do you spend over $50?


Activity 7- Restaurant Review Rationale: This activity incorporates authentic text into the context of the lesson or unit by using comments on the food in a restaurant to analyze the use of ing and ed adjectives as well as extreme adjectives. The students will be required to negotiate for meaning and communicate with their classmates to understand the grammatical context of each adjective and be able to interchange them with a synonym, and thereby amplifying vocabulary in the process. Teacher instructions: Either supply, or have students find reviews on their favorite restaurant to bring to class. Allow your students to work alone or in pairs to analyze the comments. Then have them go back through the reviews and underline any adjectives that they find and replace it with a synonym. Student instructions: Find a review on your favorite restaurant and bring it to class. Read the review either alone or in pairs to be sure you understand the meanings. Now reread the reviews and underline all the adjectives you find. Replace these adjectives with a synonym. K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen

Cajun French Quarter

Member Reviews



I had a cup of their gumbo. It was the richest, fullest, most round, flavorful, deepest flavors in a gumbo that I have ever had. After having that 1 cup, I was culinarily satisfied. Everyone else was happy with their food too. Fantastic food Ate here in 10/11 & had the seafood/egglant pirouge. The flavorless scallops were the size of pencil erasers & shrimp was over cooked. Stopped in a couple years prior to have a cup of gumbo & found the chicken dried out. Found out from a senior staff that they had reheated some chicken from a prior banquet. I mention these meals as this used to be one of my favorite places where I knew the meal would be superb. I don't plan on going back.


Activity 8- Recipe Review Rationale: This activity is meant to suffice as a sort of grand finale of all of the grammar points covered previously. It consists of a recipe with ingredients and instructions to practice count and noncount nouns as well as prepositions. It also consists of an information section which shows examples of sentence structure and a review at the top to incorporate more adjectives. This

TEACHING GRAMMAR IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE exercise will allow contextualized practice of all these grammar points as well as reading and speaking skills. Teacher instructions: Supply the recipe below to each student and have them read it in its entirety. Have students tell you some of the grammar elements that they notice at random and ask if any need further explanation. When everything is clear, have students identify all of the grammar points that they can find, applying a different marking to each grammar point(


Underline, circle, double underline, etc). Call on students afterwards and have them identify the points covered. Then if possible, have students make the dish for the next class and celebrate! Student instructions: Read the given recipe in its entirety. Then tell the teacher any elements you notice from earlier lessons. Now go back through the recipe and identify all of the grammar points that you can find, applying a different marking to each grammar point( Underline, circle, double underline, etc). Tell the class about your findings and then go home and make the dish for the next class!