By Laura Sanabria - English Teaching and Translation Major student
When people think about grammar, they probably picture a full whiteboard written with formulas, rules, and patterns explaining ways to create a sentence in English. This is a common scenario that some students imagine when they hear the word grammar. Nevertheless, teaching grammar requires commitment and patience since learners are, for the first time, exploring a new world in terms of language. Through time, several experts have provided strategies and methods that help people understand the principles and methods of teaching grammar, for later reach the common goal: using it effectively to communicate. Regarding this, teachers might encounter some general conceptions about what grammar is. For some students, this could be tedious; other people might say that grammar is confusing. However, teachers need to convince their learners that it is a fruitful adventure that boosts their communicative ability in the 21st century. For this reason, understanding the generalities of teaching grammar and its relevance for 21st-century communication might let teachers be better prepared to face the new teaching challenges in our classrooms.
The first challenge is to let students know what grammar is and what it implies. In this way, grammar is “a system of rules governing the conventional arrangement and relationship of words in a sentence” (Brown, 2007, p. 420). Based on this, students might think that for learning grammar, they need a textbook with all rules descriptions to know how to communicate. In this way, Hamad Al-khresheh & Orak (2021) mentioned that “[some] language teachers … believe that the best way to teach grammar is by teaching it incidentally, which involves focusing on the form, others believe in teaching grammatical rules explicitly along with a strong focus on its form” (p. 4). Therefore, it is important to be aware that there is not a golden rule to teach grammar; this process could be flexible and versatile which promotes an active and significant learning process in the students.
Students' aims are not only to learn a language, but also to be instructed to face the current conditions companies are looking for. Adapting grammar activities to prepare our students for the workforce could represent a challenge for teachers. When teaching grammar, it is important to contextualize our instruction to those scenarios students might face while helping them to develop those 21st-century skills to communicate effectively. In other words, “[they can develop] an awareness of and proficiency in critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration and communication, creativity and imagination, citizenship, digital literacy, student leadership, and personal development” (British Council, 2021). That means students can be exposed to the language in a way that boosts their personal and professional skills by doing connections and logical analysis when applying those grammatical structures to real scenarios where they go beyond just transmitting a message.
On the contrary, teachers might encounter some resistance to use grammar for a communication purpose since a big group of students tends to memorize all rules explicitly from a specific topic because of the methods used in past experiences. Some people used to work with the Grammar Translation Method “[which] placed a strong emphasis on grammatical explanations (in the mother tongue) and on the terminology necessary to carry out those explanations” (Brown, 2007, p. 424). Many students might feel comfortable with this way of learning that lets them add labels to the language. However, the real purpose to communicate effectively is lost, seeing that people need to be able not only to recognize the characteristics of tenses or expressions but also to apply them properly in spoken activities.
In conclusion, teaching grammar goes beyond instructing students when to use simple past or the difference between gerunds and infinitives. It is a process that promotes in the students a critical view of the different contexts they might encounter and how to communicate effectively while analyzing critically the circumstances they are involved with.