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Modern Grammar Teaching: Reflection Notes

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 4615 words Published: 16th May 2017

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During reading curriculum for this paper I have learned a lot about grammar and speaking as tools for communication, and my own expectations towards teaching. The theories I have looked at have their strengths and weaknesses, so I have dragged out the parts that I consider important from each one. I found out that there is not one “best” approach. However, it can bring us closer to understanding how Communicative Language Teaching works.

The aim of this paper is to deepen my understanding of teaching and adapting this approach to use as foundation in my future teaching practice. My goal is that through examination of different views and theories I can adapt a suitable approach to teaching. This will help me to improve the quality in my future teaching practices.

Working with the Curriculum was the most challenging in my teaching practice. Planning a lesson can get one to be creative and come up with different ideas. I have gained a lot of experience by observing and teaching. Although teaching practice was difficult at times, I tried to do my best. I and my tutors had frequently guidance. They were open to my ideas and this helped to progress in my teaching. I have learned that it is important not to imitate teaching styles and be critical, but choose the teaching style that suits me most.

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I am aware that as a teacher I meet many challenges both in the subject and didactics area. These situations have to be assessed one by one and there is no answer. What I believe is that if I focus on being a plain (clear?) grown-up and keep a kind of distance towards students and be inaccessible at the same time, I can become an inspiring teacher, at least I hope to become.

It is necessary for a teacher that students learn from him/her. One of the objectives of the English as a school subject is that language is both a tool and a way of gaining knowledge and personal insight. Students have to be aware of language learning, communication and understand culture, society and literature. These objectives are the core of the English subject and I hope that I am the right person to be a mediator for this.


There is an enormous demand for English teaching nowadays due to the expanding need for communication skills in English language. Millions of people aspire to good communication skills in English language. Teaching at school, exchange studies, travel, media, internet, newspapers are only a few of the many opportunities to acquire English. There is a huge need for quality language teaching and teaching materials/resources. Fluency and accuracy in English is indispensable not only for academics but also for employees. In order to succeed, one needs good language skills, therefore a successful teaching method is constantly required. To “express himself/herself in writing and orally with some precision, fluency and coherence” and “use basic grammatical and text structures of English orally and in writing” are two of the Competence Aims in the English Subject Curriculum (http://www.udir.no). These competence aims give a freedom in choice of teaching methods.

The research questions of this paper are:

Is Communicative Language Teaching an approach that improves English teaching?

Do we need grammar in language teaching?

In order to answer these questions I will first introduce the approach of Communicative Language Teaching. Also will I discuss the difference between fluency and accuracy, acquisition and learning, inductive and deductive grammar teaching. For this purpose I chose to discuss different views of several theorists on communicative teaching: Richards&Rodgers, David Nunan, C.J. Brumfit, Stephen Krashen, David Newby and R. Ellis.


Many Norwegian students experience a type of English learning that does not encourage them to see English as a communication tool. Unfortunately, the study of English language is focused mostly on passing exams. Because of this, learners assume there is a connection between good results and proficiency. This is true, to some extent, but strong focus on scores and grades can distort the goals of language learners. Students invest often a lot of time in study efforts, like drills that do not build their language competence. They focus more and more on getting good examination scores, instead of building proficiency. These students will come to see language learning as an exercise favouring accuracy. English seen as a communication tool makes the language study more captivating. Students who experience as early as possible English as communication, talk face-to-face with someone from a foreign country, read books published in English, watch movies, develop the ability to interact with a totally new world.

Fluency vs. accuracy

The process of Language Teaching has changed significantly in the last years. Earlier views of language (for example the Grammar Teaching Method) had grammatical competence in the centre. Language was seen as a set of norms and structures. The learner had a passive role, and grammar books included mostly drills, gapped sentences and sentences for transformation. (Newby,1998:184). Acoording to Brumfit`s theory (Brumfit,1980), learners need freedom to use the newly developed skills. Not allowing this would inhibit those abilities which are necessary for the most effective response to the predicted needs. Emphasis on fluency is new method in foreign language teaching. Brumfit (1980) shows that the use of fluency is the basis for a language curriculum, rather than accuracy. Accurate construction of the target language has always been a basis in traditional syllabuses. Brumfit is uncertain about its beneficial effects. Accuracy as basis in language teaching neglects adaptability and the ability to improvise, and written forms will tend to dominate spoken forms. Are learners more responsive to fluency? Brumfit(1980) points at the naive learner who achieves more progress on an oral basis of fluent and inaccurate language than a careful and accurate language. A communicative language teaching begins with communication. Brumfit points at the importance of Communicational exercises that need to match the stages in learner progress. According to Richards&Rodgers(2006), Communicative Language Teaching is an approach that aims to communicative competence in language teaching. This approach aspires to develop procedures for language teaching that supports the connection between language and communication. David Nunan (1988) in his Learner-Centred Curriculum studies the concept of language proficiency. The Communicative Approach originates from the theory of language as communication. Nunan mentions Chomsky’s distinction between competence and performance (Nunan, 1988:32). Competence refers to mastery of the principles governing language behaviour, that is the knowledge of grammar rules, and performance refers to the manifestation of these rules in actual language usage. Competence simply means “knowledge of the language system”( Hymes,1971:13) Hymes (1971)develops this theory further and comes to the conclusion that “if a speaker were to produce grammatical sentences without regard to the situation in which they were being used, he would be considered deranged”( Hymes,1971:14). Brumfit(1980) agrees with this and observes that beside knowledge of grammar one has to learn to use appropriately the language in living situations. Teachers cannot operate with a view of language simply as a descriptive system to be handed over to the learner; language is a means of interaction, self-definition, aesthetic creation and clarification (Brumfit,1980:116). In communicative language teaching errors are necessary for the learner in order to get a response on the learning situation. This way teaching strategies become more sensitive to the abilities and different individual needs (Brumfit,1980:115). Failures operate as a diagnosis for the teacher, and motivation for students. Language is used in a process of thinking, discovering, classifying and manipulating. This process does not take place through language alone, so it demands our active use (Brumfit,1980:120). The aim of language learners is contact, not assimilation. Fluency practice helps the learner to use his limited amount of language for as wide a range of purposes possible; only accurate speech will communicate effectively. The main goal, according to Krashen(1981), is aid in performance. For this reason language teachers should put learners into situations where they have to grope and paraphrase. According to Brumfit(1980), adjusting to other speakers, must be a central feature of communicative methodology.

Acquisition vs. Learning

Stephen Krashen (1981) calls Communicative Language Teaching an ideal approach. His Second Language Acquisition Theory contains 5 hypotheses. In the Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis, Krashen(1981) points to the existence of two separate processes that happen in language learning: acquisition and learning. According to Krashen (1981), language acquisition is more central than learning in second language performance( Krashen,1981:101). Language acquisition (intake) is a subconscious process similar to the way a child`s language learning. “Caretaker speech” is an efficient method to encourage language acquisition. (“caretaker speech”= all input that is understood). Intake hypothesis develops the idea that one can acquire competence in a SL without ever producing it; delaying speech when active listening is provided causes no delay. Krashen (1981) mentions a report on the American Indians who do not speak a language until they have learned it well (Krashen 1981:108). The result of this hypothesis is the “silent period” the students are given to while acquiring a new language. Krashen(1981) doesn`t agree with theories that say that language is grammar, restrict vocabulary and focus on syntax. He means that in order to encourage syntax acquisition, one has to emphasize vocabulary: even knowing the words is enough to guess the content and syntax. One needs comprehension in order to acquire syntax (intuitions). Language learning (input), on the other hand, refers to the “conscious learning of a second language, knowing the rules of thumb and the structure of the target language. Krashen(1981) says that there is no need to provide any conscious learning in “acquisition”, because grammar rules describe only fragments of natural language. He gives example of performers who know the rule, but still cannot use it after many years, and performers who have acquired large amount of language without learning it consciously. (p.114). Krashen(1981) concludes that grammar study by itself is meaningless; successful second language acquisition need both grammar and “immersion”. Acquisition may happen in intake-rich environments. Mechanical drill fail as optimal intake – primary focus is on the form of the language. These might motivate students but is not enough (Krashen,1981). Communication is stimulated by more efficient exercises, such as “meaningful”, “communicative” drills. Foreign student peer group and helping foreign students get to know each other are also beneficial for intake.

Communicative grammar. Inductive vs. deductive grammar teaching

According to Newby(1998), many language classes in Europe focus mostly on teaching grammar, reduced to a form of mathematics and had little to do with the communication of ideas. Teachers use large portions of class time explaining rules, analyzing the grammar in sentences and drilling. Newby(1998) means that traditional grammar has to be analyzed again and replace some elements with a more communication -based theory of grammar. He believes that there is more than one view that provides all the answers. Newby(1981) discusses the difference between traditional, deductive grammar and modern, inductive grammar. While deductive grammar focuses on the presentation of language, on rules and testing of grammar, inductive grammar concentrates on the ability of choosing meaningful grammar in real contexts. Nevertheless, inductive grammar is not weak on grammar. Newby(1998) mentions that it includes additional categories which offer the learner ways to communicate through grammar in actual situations. In the early stages of learning the learner learns to feel grammar and sees how it works. Language theorist Ellis R.(2002) claims that acquisition begins with awareness. Testing at an early stage of language learning may inhibit learning, and learners end up confusing testing and teaching. Only after gaining confidence may the learner use activities in order to integrate knowledge into other areas of their competence. Grammar is the final stage of the process, when communication happens in a context. Ellis(2002), claims that grammar shouldn`t be directed at learners but at those who already have sufficient lexis. Teachers should focus on difficult grammatical structures.

But are there any disadvantages using this modern teaching process? Newby answers this with his view that modern grammar requires rethinking grammatical categories and re-orienting towards meaning. Teaching grammar can have a beneficial effect (Ellis) as long as it is directed on those who have sufficient vocabulary knowledge. Newby (1998) concludes that one has to be open to, but also critical of, all methodological approaches.


This study has provided the opportunity to learn more about grammar in the light of Communicative Language Teaching. I have shown that theories have a wide specter, with some of the theories for, others against grammar teaching. My opinion is that both focusing on grammar accuracy and meaningful communication is equally important. It is teacher`s responsibility to choose the right task, considering the students` background. I do not affirm that Communicative Language Teaching is the best approach of teaching English. But understanding its methods can be used as a significant source of ideas.

Literature list

Brumfit, C.: Problems and principles in English teaching, 1980, Oxford : Pergamon Press

Ellis, R. :Understanding Second Language Acquisition, 1991,Oxford: Oxford University Press (Compendium)

Hymes, D.H.: On communicative competence, 1971, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

Krashen, S.D: Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning, 1981, Pergamon Press. (Compendium)

Newby, David: Theory and practice communicative grammar, 1998, Ablex Publishing Corporation. (Compendium)

Nunan, D.: The Learner-Centred Curriculum : a Study in Second Language Teaching, 1988, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press

Richards, Jack C. and Rodgers, Theodore S: Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, 2006, Cambridge University Press.

http://www.udir.no/Artikler/_Lareplaner/_english/Common-core-subjects-in-primary-and-secondary-education/ 15.03.10



The Curriculum has 5 basic skills that are integrated in the competence objectives. In addition, the English subject has been structured into 3 main areas of competence aims: language learning, communication and culture, society and literature. These subject areas supplement each other and must be considered together. One of the five basic skills of the curriculum is being able to express oneself orally.

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This paper discusses the skill of “being able to express oneself in writing and orally” in the light of Communicative language teaching, by drawing in experience from my teaching practice in a Lower Secondary School (I decided not to go deeper into the theory of Communicative Language Teaching as I already did this in my previous paper). Finally, I will introduce strategies to improve speaking so as to make English teaching more effective.

The main goal of this paper is to show the importance of using the target language in the classroom having a starting point in Communicative Language theories.


Use of target language in the class

Pupils should be given the opportunity to speak English as much as possible during English lessons. For most of pupils, the classroom is the only place during their school years where they will have the chance to speak English.

One of the five basic skills of the curriculum is being able to express oneself orally. English Subject curriculum says that “being able to express oneself in writing and orally” in English is a key part of developing English linguistic competence and is a common thread throughout the competence objectives at all levels. These skills are important tools in working on understanding and using English in increasingly varied and demanding contexts across cultures and subject fields. Having oral skills means being able to both listen and speak” (http://www.udir.no).

In my teaching practice I noticed that an average Norwegian pupil speaks English too little or not at all during their three years in Lower Secondary. What is the reason that pupils speak as little as they do, though Curriculum stresses the importance of speaking?

One of the reasons is that English teachers focus mostly on accuracy, memorizing dialogues and learning to perform them fluently. This approach is successful and teaches pupils vocabulary and grammar but gives little practice in expressing own ideas in English. Could this be the reason why whenever pupils try to say anything else that differs from the memorized sentence, they have to strive for a long time to put easy sentences together? Language theorist David Newby (1998) describes language “as a means of communicating messages between human beings in actual contexts” (Newby,1998:184 ). His view is that in real life language is used to exchange meaningful messages in actual contexts and this should be reflected in classroom ( Newby,1998: 185).

Another theorist, Krashen (1981), claims that simple free conversation and mechanical drills are not efficient because communication is not stimulated. He considers “meaningful”, “communicative” drills and exercises as being highly effective. Unfortunately, drills are very common in language teaching, while genuine speaking is neglected. This might explain why some of the students` ability to speak is far behind their knowledge of grammar or vocabulary (Krashen,1981: 103).

Experiencing communication in my teaching practice

I started my teaching practice by 2 weeks of observation of an 8th grade class with 23 pupils. When I started observation, the 8th class was at the end of a project with my tutor. The aim of this project was to design a poster about a tourist attraction in London or about homeless people. They were allowed to use media sources (magazines, newspapers, Internet, books), encouraging authentic language in real context. Time frame was approximately 9 hours at school. Pupils worked with a partner, which encouraged relationships and gave opportunity to work together. The pupils were supposed to read and understand the plan presented in the learner`s book about designing a poster. The teacher went through the task reading loudly and explaining step by step, instead of giving the pupils the opportunity to find out for themselves. What I have noticed was that all instruction was made in Norwegian, not in the target language. I was surprised by this, because I do not see the reason having English at school if you do not practice it. If teachers do not have the courage to speak fluent English, they cannot expect that students will do it. Listening and speaking exposure is essential in order to communicate effectively. It is also important in writing activities, because all skills are necessary and skills are inter-related and build upon each other. Professor Diane Freeman(2000) points out to the significance of using the target language “not only during communicative activities, but also for explaining the activities to the student or in assigning homework” (Freeman,2000:132). The tutor explained to me that she used Norwegian in order to make things easier and as a teacher she has to adapt teaching to the students. I believe that low expectations discourage students. English was little used during class. Students mostly used target language when reading or giving answers to tasks from the learner`s book. My opinion is that it is OK to use native language for beginners, but I believe there are other ways to encourage pupils to speak English, for example by praising and by giving them time to express themselves. After I have started teaching I noticed that even the best students are nervous about using the target language. I believe that speaking is an individual process. One has to concentrate on many things at the same time: vocabulary knowledge, word choice, grammar, pronunciation etc. But producing spoken language is indispensable in learning a language. My opinion is that if once students experience a minimum of success in conversation, they will be motivated to learn to express their ideas in English with fluency. As I have mentioned in my previous paper, language theorist Stephen Krashen (1981) claims that “fluency work is necessary to enable the performer to achieve acquisition” while accuracy in language teaching neglects adaptability and the ability to improvise (Krashen,1981:128). Theorist Christopher Brumfit (1980) indicates that fluency practice helps the student to use his limited amount of language for as wide a range of purposes possible and teachers have to allow the students to learn from their own abilities.


Another aim in the Curriculum is to “express […] orally to obtain help in understanding and being understood and to “understand various oral and written presentations on self-selected topics” (www.udir.no). During my teaching practice I tried to use activities that focused on fluency. I concentrated on achieving of communication instead of focusing on errors. In this way I gave a chance also to those students who felt unsecure about their English level. I recommended students to use language that was not predictable and sought to link language use to context. I achieved these aims by using authentic materials in my teaching, such as real newspaper articles. The students` homework was assigned to require using accessible materials, like articles, television news, anything that could create discussion. The students enjoyed playing roles. Problems occurred when they had to carry out the role play. Many of the students read out loud what they have written instead of improvise. When it went on too long, and performing took too much time, other students had to wait for each other. Even so, this activity both seemed to stimulate and motivate them. My impression is that balancing fluency activities with accuracy is the most difficult task in planning a lesson. Brumfit(1980) says that only accurate speech will communicate effectively, and we need accuracy as well as fluency in order to communicate properly.

“Communicative drills or exercises can be more efficient in producing language acquisition” than mechanical drills, claims Krashen (1981) because “these are activities in which students can really communicate or in which communication can be stimulated” (Krashen,1981:104). In my teaching practice, I tried to combine meaningful practice with communicative practice as often I could. By meaningful practice I refer to activities where students have to make meaningful choices when they perform a practice. One of these kinds of tasks was the one where students had to imagine that they were staying at a hotel in London. The student was supposed to visit some of the attractions and they had to use a map in order to find the way there. They had to work in pairs and had to explain their partner how they have planned their day, by showing on the map how they are going to get there. The students were excited about working in pairs, something they do quite seldom. Their biggest challenge was working together and using the target language, my challenge was making myself understood. I had to explain the task many times, but even so, there were some students that had to get instructions in Norwegian. Nevertheless, they seemed motivated by learning something else besides grammar. But how can a student become a confident English speaker? According to language theorists Richards&Rodgers(2006), teachers have to reconsider their role in teaching. Instead of being a model of correct speech, teachers should facilitate language learning and be more flexible when activities are unsuccessful. My opinion is that it is important to make a check-list on what is important in communicative practice, for example: use of creative, authentic questions and tasks that can be used outside the classroom, use games and guessing to make things interesting, use tasks after the students` age and interests and bond the topic of texts with personalized, background knowledge. All this encourages the students to use English in the classroom.

Most of lower-secondary students are used to watch movies or listen to songs in English. But still, even the best students need to be praised and encouraged to speak it. With a view to improving speaking abilities, giving opportunities to practice and having free conversational activities are very good ideas. To any level of students, using English for real communicative purpose is an ideal way to begin! Students can gather with the teacher in a café and discuss issues in English to break away from the idea that English is only used in class or homework.


In this paper I have discussed the importance of speaking English in the classroom. My opinion is that speaking is the strongest tool for communication. Students need to experience language as communication as early as possible in their learning in order to master English. That is why I, as future teacher of the English language, am aware of the importance of giving students opportunity to speak the target language. Even though accuracy and fluency cannot be totally separated, it is more effective to have achievable goals rather than being perfect. Teacher-student interaction is the best example of authentic communication. And if the teacher knows his/her students well enough, it may provide a lot inspiration.

Literature list

Brumfit, C.: Problems and principles in English teaching, 1980, Oxford : Pergamon Press

Larsen-Freeman, D.: Techniques and principles in language teaching, 2000: Oxford : Oxford University Press

Krashen, S.D: Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning, 1981, Pergamon Press. (Compendium)

Newby, David: Theory and practice communicative grammar, 1998, Ablex Publishing Corporation. (Compendium)

Richards, Jack C. and Rodgers, Theodore S: Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, 2006, Cambridge University Press.

http://www.udir.no/Artikler/_Lareplaner/_english/Common-core-subjects-in-primary-and-secondary-education/ 15.03.10


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