Grammar is always an intriguing and contradictory
topic. It is adored by some and hated by others.
For many years it was the sole basis of every
language course. Then waves of anti-grammar radicalism
tried to bann it from classrooms, if on one hand
it convinced some teachers whose results were
not very pleasing with older methods, on the
other hand for many other teachers abandoning
grammar was similar to loosing safe ground, and
they never stopped teaching it. Even when mostly
disliked, grammar never lost its place in discussions
about ELT methodology. Unfortunatelly SLA research
was hardly ever listened to in this discussion.
This paper tries to help breakind the deadlock
in grammar discussion by making a review of recent
works in Second Language Acquisition that tries
to find an answer for the frequent questions asked
in the ESL practice: is it really useful to teach
grammar? If teaching grammar, what language to
teach,when to teach it and how to teach it?
the frequent questions about grammar teaching
is whether there is a universal order of acquisition,
unchangeable and independent from students’ personal
characteristics. Several were the studies that
dealt with this. Brown (1973) found an unchangeable
order in child L1 acquisition of English. He analysed
how three children learned fourteen morphemes and
found the same order for all of them.
Krashen, though not the first to claim the existence
of an order of second language acquisition, made
very striking suggestions for methodological changes
derived from this discovery.
1970’s together with Dulay and Burt,
he carried out a number of studies known as the ‘morpheme
studies’ “to investigate the order
of acquisition of grammatical functors such as
articles and inflectional features such as plural –s” (Ellis,
1994) in search of an invariant order of acquistion.
They found out that grammar rules were acquired
in the same order, independent of the learners’ L1.
The order of acquisition was also independent of
the order in which grammar rules were taught. He
highlighted that the rules which are easiest to
state are not necessarily the first ones to be
he defended that the only way to acquire language
was through ‘comprehensible input’,
that is, through exposition to meaningful comprehensible
language. This strengthened ‘communicative
The ‘Natural Approach’ proposed by
Terrell (1977) based on Krashen’s findings
meant to teach the second language naturally according
to the way young children learn their first language.
If children learnt the complicated system of rules
which is language without grammar lessons even
before they develop any other abstract cognitive
ability, adults should also be able to learn their
L2 naturally. They were very proud to say that
their method was the first to have an underlying
theory of second language aquisition. Other methods
were rather based on theories of language. They
rejected approaches where grammar was the central
component of language. They claimed that teaching
should consist of comprehensible input rather than
language practice. Since linguistic features at
the appropriate next level of development would
surely be present in any rich enough source of
comprehensible input. Targeting specific grammar
features would be therefore useless, students just
needed to be exposed to language. As communication
was the primary function of language, communicative
abilities should be taught. A long period of attention
and silence were allowed to studens, who would
start speaking only when they felt emotionally
prepared for that.
The Natural Approach was intensely adopted, specially
in the United States and Canada. Most students
became fluent, but there was also a very high rate
of fossilization. This fact raised questions about
grammar teaching again.
many other studies were done in this field and
acquisition order research has provided
evidences that supports Krashen’s hypothesis
that every learner follows the same order of acquisition
for morphological structures, but the conclusions
drawn from this were not the same as Krashen’s.
special interest is Johnston and Pienemann’s
works on the order of acquisition of a Second Language
as well as the Teachability Theory. They also came
out with an order of acquisition, but Pienemann
was able to classify the acquisition in stages
and to explain them in terms of language processing,
avoiding the critics for lack of theoretical reasoning
older theories were accused of. According to Pienemann,
language acquisiton is seen as a dynamic process
of criative construction. This can be explained
as a cognitive process to systematically overcome
processing restrictions. That means, learner language
is a system in continuous change. As learners have
contact with input, they process it for meaning
and form and reelaborate their internal grammar.
This reelaborating is not only continuous but also
predictable, because restrictions to language processing
must be overcome for acquisition to take place.
These restrictions are related to information exchange.
This can be better understood with the chart below.
|Single words or formulae
|Water - Good morning
|Canonical word order
|I like dogs
Neg + V
|‘Yesterday I went to school.’
Where you have been?’
Do she see him?’
Is you go to school?’
I no like books.’
|‘Has he seen you?’
|Inversion in wh-questions
|‘Why did he sell that car?’
Where has he gone?’
|| ‘I wonder whether he had lunch yesterday.’