An Old Rule Applied Anew COMPLETE


Abstract. Overviewing the most influential and fundamental authors in the field of Applied Linguistics and language teaching, current dilemmas, online discussions and practical recommendations for the teaching of grammar, this paper calls for the tested academic principles and, on pointing one single real problem, proposes a specimen course in contemporary English grammar, functional, descriptive and with a practical bias. The author claims that any inherited principle in the teaching of grammar is good if it is effective and works in the cultural context of the students; she highlights the role of repetition by the lecturer as a helpful rule in helping the students to memorise illustrative examples of spoken grammar, which ultimately count as minimum texts on which the students knowledge of grammar rests. Key words: plausibility vs authenticity in teaching a living language, selection of illustrative examples, the criterion of frequency and consistency across a wide range of users, the spoken grammar vs the written grammar, patterns and flexibility in syntax, the role of the word in syntax, formality and informality of verbal features; repetition as a helpful rule.

An Outline

I. Introduction

II.Modern dilemmas in the treatment of grammar and the making of a classroom course.

  1. Problem adults: “Is good grammar still important?” and other online discussions.
  2. Problem adults: flirtation with the idea of global English.
  3. Resolutions in both directions respecting quality in language education.
  4. The presenter’s dedication to quality principles.
  5. Background references elevating dedication to quality in the teaching of grammar ( Widdowson, 1991; Yule, 2009; Thornbury, 2014, 2014a).

6. The presenter’s highlights in Scott Thornbury’s 7 Ways.

  1. A functional grammar of English and principles in its teaching (Carter, McCarthy, 2007;

McCarthy, 2013; Thornbury, 2014).

  1. A descriptive course of English grammar for university students:

a) practical questions extracted from The Cambridge Grammar of English,

b) a course of lectures in three parts,

c) the theoretical component (grammar as meaning, units and the hierarchy of units,

standard grammar and its functional variation, the role of the word in syntax, etc)

d) the practical component: making a descriptive course of grammar useful,

e) the principles applied: the recurrence of the terms and the teacher’s accuracy,

frequency in selecting illustrative examples, repetition in the use of illustrative examples, and practice through exercises,

f) results achieved.

  1. Assessing the presenter’s success with the descriptive course of English Grammar:

a) What I have taught,

b) What they have learnt,

c) What I have learnt.

III. Conclusion

I. To explain the seemingly minor point contained in the title of this paper, it is necessary to take a look at the developments in the field. This article focuses on only one aspect of teaching grammar but everything that has happened to and in this subject in the twentieth century to the present is of relevance.

II. 1. Although artificially created, the question of whether it is necessary to teach grammar[1] has held the attention of many teachers in an online discussion for several months. The leading participants in the discussion online concluded that it is unreasonable to deny the relevance of grammar in language learning. Simultaneously, all the participants showed awareness of the fact that grammar differs in spoken and written English, as do the goals and aspirations of the learners[2]. This knowledge has been and can be used to advantage in teaching.

[[1] Cf.: Online discussions on Linkedin, ELT Professionals Around The World: “Can a language be taught without teaching any grammar?” “Is good Grammar still important?” <… - March-May, 2013; “Is good grammar still important?” “Is correct usage of grammar really important in speaking English Language?””How much do you need to study grammar for global communication in English?”<>, February-July, 2013, and others. The second discussion was initiated with reference to the article, “Is good grammar still important?” written by Charlie Higson and Quentin Letts and published in The Observer, Sunday 12 May 2013. The necessity of grammar, in this article, was argued with reference to asocial and educational success of schoolchildren, to intellectual rigour, readership and even to economic competitiveness. Not without irony toward liberal attitudes, the authors concluded that “grammar is more important than citizenship classes or sex ed” and that if children “lose sight of grammar, they will never want to buy your (i.e.Charlie Higson’s- MLD) books, and that would be a pity.”

[2] Cf. some striking arguments from the discussions online. Discussion, “Can a language be taught without teaching any grammar?” (Emphasis here et passim – MLD) Some people off line, corrected the question at once on hearing it. They said, you should ask, “Can a language be learned without teaching any grammar?” Yet the discussion went on with only one remark of this kind. Cf.: “… You don’t need to teach grammar, you just need to know how it works and use it to help others learn a language to communicate. Of course, some people still think the world is flat.” By Vicente Morales, EL Corporate Trainer, Mexico, 29 April 2013.

“Is that a fact? Do you know about the shape of the world from your own calculations? Probably someone told you, right? Were you curious as to their explanation, or did you just take their word for it?” By Nelson Bank, Director at National Unity in Language, EL Paso, Texas Area, 29 April 2013.

“To acknowledge that “grammar has a place in the description of language systems and in their learning does not imply that one is an opponent of new ideas that are helpful in a classroom. However, to assert that grammar has no place in language learning is unwise and unfounded in both theory and practice.” By Stephen Thomas, Education Consultant and Advisor, Laos, 30 April 2013.

“Just because something is “modern” doesn’t mean it’s good; just because something is “old” doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad. As professionals, we should steer well clear of anybody who preaches in this dogmatic fundamentalist fashion, but always try to objectively analyse the pros and cons of any approach and never dismiss ideas wholesale on the basis of whatever the latest fashion is.” By Amanda Wood, Self-Employed English Trainer and Tutor, Stuttgrat Area, Germany | Education Management, 30 April 2013.

“I’ve read a lot of comments in these discussions where people say grammar is not important, spelling is not important, methodology is not important? I wonder whether such ideas are simply not an indication of lack of qualifications in EFL/ESL teaching. By Mokhtar Aftat, EFL/ESL Instructor/Curriculum Writer, Saudi Arabia, 29 March 2013.

And earlier: “… the question is not whether grammar should be taught; it is how it should be taught.”(emphasis MLD). By Mokhtar Aftat, EFL/ESL Instructor / Curriculum Writer, Saudi Arabia, 28 March 2013.

“Those who blame the book for everything do so because they do not have the right qualifications to teach EFL in a modern effective way. They don’t understand the approach a textbook follows and what EFL teaching should be about. So, the easy way out of this complex task inflicted on them is teach grammar, even if it is in a semantic vacuum. There are many teachers who teach that way and design their tests on grammar being the focus of evaluation.” By Mohtar Aftat, 29 March 2013.

A few highlights from the discussion, “Is good grammar still important?”

“But they (Prescriptivists) wont go away. …a much more pertinent question is how English is changing through native speakers losing control of their language and how that might and should impact on the teaching of grammar now and in the future.” By Ian Brown, 23 May 2013.

“Briefly saying, grammar instruction … should embody form, meaning and use, of course, in a contextualized manner so that a learner can acquire grammatical competence in addition to sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence and strategic competence contributing to developing and enhancing his/her communicative competence.” By Dr. M.Maniruzzaman, Professor, Department of English, Jahongimagar University, Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 24 May 2013.

“… If we don’t teach good grammar, then we must be teaching something rather less than good grammar. The role of English in the world today is, of course, without precedent, and no doubt that will give rise to numerous challenges for both teachers and students…” By Ian Brown, 24 May 2013.

“/…/ In my teaching, I do emphasise the use of Standard English as much as possible, mainly because I teach a lot of students towards TOEFL. …I also teach it out of conviction that it is the variety of English that can help in any communication situation. So, in this sense, it makes sense to opt for Standard English. /…/ By Mokhtar Aftat, EFL/ESL Instructor / Curriculum Writer, Saudi Arabia, 25 May 2013.

Grammar is the thing that makes us understandable to the hearer or the reader. Without it, we would be subjected to interpretation which would most likely oppose what we have to say. Can you imagine giving a presentation, using such horrible grammar that our whole idea is turned around, and made to look as if we had said something opposite of what we meant? This is what bad grammar does. By Claudia Barlow, Independent Writing & Editing Professional, Greater Los Angeles Area, 1 June 2013.

“I think it is probably useful for the teacher to use ‘good’ grammar – i.e. avoid using the casual forms we might use in our private conversations, just so that students get a consistent model – but we might, of course, choose to explicitly flag up and teach deviant but socially acceptable forms. /…/ . By Jenifer Spencer, Freelance Consultant, Edinburgh, UK, 5 June 2013.

We have already lost control of the language, people. First the Americans bent it and played with it, now all Asia is at it. I am hopeful that it will survive as a language, as it lends itself more than any inflected language to universal use… and I hope it will not lose its great beauty.” By Bridget Maguire, Lecturer at South-West College, Belfast, UK, 1 July 2013.

Don’t worry – we Americans have taken the baton. It’s time for our predecessor to take a break. We have it in very good hands, and well, well under control.” By Nelson Bank, Director at National Unity in Language, El Paso, Texas Area, 2 July 2013.

“HK has Chinglish, Singapore has Singlish, Philippines has Taglish, and so on. That appears to be the direction in which we are heading. At least there will be some common words and lots of scope for ESL teachers to clear up the confusion.” By Angus proctor, Independent Environmental Consultant at Freelance Environmental Consultant Region XI, Davao, Philippines, 2 July 2013.

“I teach grammar as met, and asked for, up to Inter Level and thereafter, I find it necessary to answer a lot more questions, as the difficulties in speaking good English kick in from this level on up, I believe. As an uninflected language (almost), we don’t need much grammar at the start, but as we advance and need to be more precise, and interesting, (and cultivated) we need to understand WHY we say what we do? Am I making sense? “

By Bridger Maguire, Lecturer at South-West College, Belfast, UK, 3 July 2013.

“/…/ My theory of grammar is that teaching a minimum is best, then answering any questions, or if a persistent non-standard expression keeps coming up, take it apart grammatically, and assemble it logically in more standard grammar.”

By Nelson Bank, Director at National Unity in Language, El Paso, Texas Area, 4 July 2013.]

I have quoted very selectively here omitting remarks and comments, such as: how little of grammar is required in spoken English, how often students communicate internationally rather than with the native speakers and therefore can make do with their own dialect, how routinely boring grammar may be and how it can repulse the desire to learn, etc., etc. My quotations indicate the intellectually sound and professionally informed opinions which are in line with my argument in this paper.

It is significant that native speakers of English, who participated in the discussions reviewed above, expressed their concern with the state of English in the world today. The concern mentioned here with reference to the highlighted quotations above is important – imperfect speakers who multiply by thousands in the world daily do pollute the English language. A logical and motivated move should therefore be to focus on language education with the view to improving its quality. However, discussions of the existence of global or international English and its recognition in teaching had caught attention. But the idea of the relevance of global rather than genuine Anglo-Saxon English to today’s school has fared the way the topic of the importance of grammar did. It calmed down in the end. It is interesting that the criticism of the intentions to model foreign learners’ English on the speech of native speakers and of the adoption of RP in teaching received a very expressive rebuff. It is necessary to quote it verbatim:

Linkedin EFL – English as a Foreign Language

Discussion: Will Received Pronunciation be replaced with Estuary English at 2050?

Netty WeijenbergZZP EFL teacher and tutor Top Contributor 28 December 2013

Nowadays Estuary English is far more common in younger people, with parents who have RP. So the decline in RP is likely to continue and be replaced with Estuary. …

MARTIN CALLAHAN Top Contributor Private Tutor of English as a Foreign Language, UK

29 December 2013

No. I disagree. “Estuary English” (a media invention for Cockney accents found further east in places like Essex) will not replace RP by 2050 or any other date. It is certainly NOT “far more common in younger people”, as you assert. RP as such is not actually the standard form found in southern England, in the sense that many foreigners imagine, ie. like the accents they’ve heard on old BBC broadcasts from the 50s-70s. What you might call RP nowadays is less “posh” but certainly pleasant to hear and correct in form. As long as there are some people who speak well, this will continue to be passed along from generation to generation. So-called “Estuary English” is not even a current term – I haven’t heard it for at least ten years personally, and I have lived in London all my life. If anything, I have noticed that more people are speaking better than was the case in the recent past. Not that rotten pronunciation and grammar don’t still exist – of course they do. However, while it will always be trendy for teenagers to speak “badly” to fit in with their pals, they often grow out of this, especially if their parents are well educated, when it comes to seeking employment! I’m sure most people “brush up” their accents, consciously or unconsciously, while sitting in the interview chair. So no, RP will not be replaced by “Estuary English” which is itself but a media-driven trend. I can assure you that my four year old son speaks beautifully and has had many compliments about this. Looking around his classmates, leaving aside those for whom English isn’t a first language, there are many who speak very well indeed and this does not inspire any worry that RP is on the way out at all. And no, he doesn’t go to a posh private school, but a normal state primary school. It seems many parents do still pride themselves in good speech and are determined and are able to pass this on to their children.”

2. Flirtation with the idea of global English has been probably discussed more widely in conferences, schools and associations than on the Internet. It arose from the development of English not only in its many varieties in the world but also from the fact that the standard of English has deteriorated in schools while students were said to be able to communicate successfully in their own kind of English. This kind of English had been known as broken or ungrammatical English up to the end of the twentieth century and the message had been that it had to be improved. In the circumstances of politically correct behaviour, ‘broken English’ no longer required to be improved and the ideal of ‘global English’ has been fostered by numbers of teachers. The argument is this: the spread of English in the world has produced countless varieties of English typical of the countries in which it is learned as a foreign language. Participants of discussions online mention such names as ‘Chinglish’, ‘Spanglish’, ‘Indian English’, ‘Jamaican English’, ‘Malaysian English’ and other varieties, for which the general term is “localized or indigenized varieties of English”. The worst point in the movement toward ‘global English’ in teaching was that some teachers claimed that their students were not likely to meet and communicate with native speakers. Their needs therefore may be limited to the version of English that they could muster and they may be left to their own devices. The best experienced educators who had given it a thought have recommended the teaching of the standard closest to the local country without forsaking the concept of Standard English (cf.: Harmer, 2006, 1-11; Dziubalska-Kolaczyk, et. al., 2006; Tsehelska, 2006; Trudgill, 2008; Farrell and Martin, 2009; Spaventa, 2011). British and some foreign educators have also recommended the choice of the best described variety and orientation toward the needs of the students.

3. Without a thorough review of the opinions of all the participants in the discussions mentioned above, the conclusion may be that these discussions were resolved while highlighting the essential in grammar (respecting grammar as the original foundation of the language, minding the role of grammar in the organisation of speech for the success of communication, indicating the teachers’ knowledge of the most recent treatment of the disputable questions in grammar, such as differences in more or less perfect structure as an index of formality or informality, and other questions relevant to teaching practice).

I appreciated the sound argument of the best informed participants’ in the online discussions, most of them being native speakers of English, and have quoted those whose opinion was in line with the best motivated authors’ opinion and mine. The questions that led the online discussions were quite a few. Yet, on analyzing them, I have found only one problem which merits attention of the academic community involved in the teaching of English as a foreign language. It is the question of how grammar, which develops skills and analytical thought about language (Yule) that induces learning and equips the learner with resources for any and all contexts of the use of language (Yule, Widdowson, Thornbury), should be taught rather than whether it should be taught, minding that the teacher’s competence matters in the teaching process.

4. I have tended to vote for Standard English or General American, but not ‘mid-Atlantic’, because the quality of language knowledge in the end matters to me as it does too many other cultured educators. What matters in this discussion is that the concept of language is forsaken and the argument is set around the needs of this and that and anybody, especially when the mode and level of communication is not questioned. As is known, language is a system of signs culturally bound to the speaking community or “a system of communication by sound, operating through the organs of speech and hearing (and eyes), among members of a given community, and using vocal symbols possessing arbitrary, (idiomatic), and conventional meanings” (after Mario Pei in Glossary of Linguistic Terminology, Columbia University Press, 1969, 141). Natural human languages are products of the culture(s) of speaking communities and their systems are structured so that they

cannot be laid out in pure logical propositions and simple straight meaning items. If the cultural background of the language is ignored, what is being taught is no longer the language. It is only some kind of concoction like a cocktail or Esperanto. As the proponents of ‘global English’ ignore this basic feature of language as a cultural phenomenon, they propose and practice the teaching of something else than the genuine English language. This point alone is sufficient to disregard ‘problem adults’ lost in their own incompetence, and consequently, to dismiss the noise around ‘global English’.

My personal opinion has never been for basing language teaching on rickety principles for the simple reason that foreigners’ language tends to be imperfect in grammar and pronunciation of its own. There is no need therefore to encourage its downturn. On the contrary, only motivated dedication to Standard English can help in learning English as a foreign language. But the boisterous moves toward global English had made me look around and see if I have overlooked some change of attitudes of educated native speakers toward their own English. On having read Martin Callahan’s opinion of RP quoted above, I could do no less than set my mind at rest and thank him devotedly.

5. Nor have I missed a moment to note publications of the leading Anglo-American authors and to resort to them in teaching. To answer the question why the teacher has to commit himself to the teaching of grammar, my references have not been very numerous, but very reliable. They included Henry G.Widdowson (1991), George Yule (2009) and Scott Thornbury (2014, 2014a).

Henry G .Widdowson not only defined grammar as the name of “the knowledge of how words are adapted and arranged to form sentences” (1991, 82) and argued that grammar is not just a collection of sentence patterns signifying nonsense, something for the learner’s brain to puzzle over” (p.81). He explained the functional significance of grammar. He argued that grammar is crucial in combining the conceptual and lexical meaning of the words with “those features of the situation or existing knowledge that need to be engaged to realize meaning”. (p.82) He called this combination “indexical meaning” and said that grammar comes in “when more precision is needed to identify the contextual features which are to be related to the conceptual meaning of the words to achieve indexical meaning”. (p.83). Henry G.Widdowson argued that grammar is not “the wasteful drudgery of learning it in school”. Grammar is not a constraining imposition but a liberating force: “it frees us from a dependency on context and the limitations of a pure lexical categorization of reality.” “Grammar is a guarantee of individual conceptual freedom.” (p.86)

Henry G.Widdowson further noted that a concern for the inconsistency of grammar “with the principles of communicative language teaching” is “based on an impoverished concept of the nature of grammar” (p.78), which he defied by the explanation I have quoted above. Theory, for him, provides an orientation how “different descriptions might be adapted for classroom use” (p.77).

I can add that Widdowson’s theoretical stance is in line with the functional theory of language, and this makes it all the more meaningful.

Henry G.Widdowson’s concept encompassed sentence production and “syntactically combined sequences of words” stored in the mind “as performed unitary items which have formulaic character” (p.p. 82, 91). As is known, these units have been later popularised as “formulaic” or “chunk language” and, since their unannounced use in teaching in the 1960s-1970s, received a new life in the 1990s and on. But Widdowson explained how expressions practiced “in the contrived context of the classroom”(p.81) relate to normal communication: “the basic criterion for normality is not actual occurrence but contextual plausibility. And this is something which computer analysis of a corpus cannot of course determine” (p.80). The principle of contextual plausibility further allows “legitimacy to expressions which arise in the contrived contexts of classroom” (p.81). It activates the process of learning and “sets its own conditions of normality”[3]. (p.81).

[[3] And further: “The crucial point is that such expressions should be warranted by conceptual and communicative purposes recognized as having point in classroom activity. These purposes do not, however, have to correspond with those which are correct or ‘authentic’ uses of language in the world at large.” (Widdowson, 1991, 81) “Grammar is clearly central to the working of language. But it is equally clear that its nature cannot be accounted for by demonstrating its rules by a random use of any lexical items that come to mind.” (p.81) “The dictionary shows how efficiency in the formulation of meaning can be achieved by synthesis, the grammar shows how it can be achieved by analysis.” (p.87)]

In Henry G.Widdowson’s view, grammar equips the learner with an intelligently conceived tool and analytical device in language use and leaves him to employ it in accord with the requirements of the context and resources of his linguistic memory potential on his personal decision. This is very much what it is ‘to be able to do’, but ‘to say something’, the learner has to be familiar, in accord with M.A.K.Halliday’s concepts, with cultural and politeness constraints no less than with the restricting potentialities of language.

George Yule (2009) has argued for the necessity of grammar while pointing out the limited effectiveness of communicative language teaching. This approach in language teaching alludes to learning “implicitly”, “as in natural first language acquisition” (2009, p.1). It achieves varying degrees of success depending on how successfully “an immersion-like experience” is implemented and how well students’ ”interaction in English” in the classroom is organized (p.1). In most cases, students develop “good comprehension skills and can use their growing language with speed and confidence” (p.1).

It becomes problematic, though, and difficulties arise “when these students attempt to use the language in those situations such as formal speaking, writing, examinations, etc., where more attention is given to the details of what they are saying or writing” (p.1). The issue is that “the natural process of first language acquisition does not readily happen for most second language learners” (p.1). George Yule, therefore, distinguishes “message-focused and form-focused learning” (p.2) and relates the success of the latter to the explicit teaching of grammar.

Form-focused learning raises “students’ awareness of specific linguistic forms” by paying conscious attention “to those forms in speech and writing.” It helps them notice “the difference between the incorrect versions they have been using and the correct versions they’re going to start using>” It makes them notice “the gap between the incorrect and correct forms” as crucial and revising the underlying second language system” or their own interlanguage. (p.2)

George Yule further analyses developmental sequences (p.3ff) in students’ language, which stretch from faulty ‘What that?’ or ‘What is you think?’ to the correct question through several stages. He also notes how this process can be facilitated and how the Oxford Practice Grammar series aid in this process of learning. At the basic level, this Grammar alerts the students’ awareness to form-meaning relationships when a word is chosen and is to be used in simple sentences (Yule, 2009, 5, 7).

He draws attention to the fact that “the simple availability of comprehensible input won’t lead to accuracy in production” (p.5). Salient features in the input should be brought to the students’ attention. Thus George Yule emphasises intelligent awareness of language in learning its grammar and the uses of these analytical skills.

He further explains the significance of positive and negative evidence in learning grammar (p.6). While learning and consciously perceiving correct forms (positive evidence) students “develop a stronger sense of what ‘feels correct’”, which empowers them as speakers. Students’ awareness of incorrect forms (negative evidence) helps them “develop a better sense of what ‘doesn’t sound right’.” The students’ familiarity with incorrect forms begins at intermediate and advanced levels for obvious reasons. In both cases, the issue leads to learning and developing a kind of linguistic instinct for English as a foreign language.

George Yule’s conclusion is that ‘form-focused learning’ provides linguistic knowledge and increases the students’ self-monitoring ability, which has a function when “they try to use English beyond the learning context” (p.8).

Scott Thornbury (2014) defines grammar as “the way language is organized and patterned – particularly at the level of the sentence – in order to make meaning” (p.1). While echoing the background concept of language in learning it in the way similar to that of Henry G. Widdowson and George Yule, Scott Thornbury explains the uses of grammar in a more concise way. The starting point of the argument for him is the telegraphic and ungrammatical way of speaking, “especially when misunderstandings result”, which soon disappoints foreign learners. This author assumes that grammar reduces ambiguity well enough but “grammar also has a social function” (p.1). This function is obvious in how accurate the speakers are in differentiating the Nominative and the Accusative of the first person pronoun (as in, He is taller than I/me), quantity words (e.g. fewer and less), third person singular ending and other delicate options in the system of English. These aspects of grammar matter to the learners “who aspire to be members of an educated, native speaker-like discourse community” (p.1), is Scott Thornbury’s argument. Obviously, they do not for the devotees to global English.

Like nothing else, grammar indicates the measure of language proficiency, which this author calls its psychometric function (p.1). Having outlined his concept of grammar so briefly, Scott Thornbury finds sense in keeping the learning of grammar in balance with the learning of vocabulary and thinks that the former should not “eat into the time available” for the latter (2014, p.1).

George Yule’s conception of grammar is not only in line with that of Henry G.Widdowson’s. It elaborates on more specific aspects of the gain in learning the grammar of a language. Neither questions the need of grammar. Scott Thornbury does not spare his attention to the false problem, either. Like the former authors, he also finds the relationship of grammar and vocabulary pivotal in the expression of meaning. Grammar is learned in practice rather than in analysis for all of these authors. And, conversely, the papers of these authors show that the soundest academic treatment of grammar has escaped the notice of many participants in online discussions turning some of these discussions into noise.

I appreciated the sound argument of the best informed participants’ in the online discussions, most of them being native speakers of English, and have quoted those whose opinion was in line with the best motivated authors’ opinion and mine. The questions that led the online discussions were quite a few. Yet, on analyzing them, I have found only one problem which merits attention of the academic community involved in the teaching of English as a foreign language. It is the question of how grammar, which develops skills and analytical thought about language (Yule) that induces learning and equips the learner with resources for any and all contexts of the use of language (Yule, Widdowson, Thornbury), should be taught rather than whether it should be taught, minding that the teacher’s competence matters in the teaching process.

6. The teaching of grammar has been through a century of changes and developments. As another work of Scott Thornbury (2014a), 7 Ways of Looking at Grammar, indicates, seven major concepts have influenced the teaching of grammar: 1) grammar as rules, which may be seen as a heritage of classical grammar, 2) prescriptive/descriptive grammar, 3) Charles Fries and structuralism, 4) transformational grammar of Noam Chomsky, 5) the functional grammar of M.A.K.Halliday, 6) grammar as collocation and 7) grammar as an emergent phenomenon.

Without going into particulars of these approaches, while I have been familiar and even lived through some of them, I shall stop at each to mention for what I have referred to them as inherent knowledge:

1) I found Grammar as rules relevant in my teaching. Moreover, Michael McCarthy (2012) and Scott Thornbury (2014) emphasise that patterns have to be chosen by frequency and consistency “across a wide range of users, as well as selectively in teaching. Without attempting to prove it, I find the proximity of grammar as rules, (to which the ancients subscribe), and of grammar as patterns, (which is acknowledged by all) a proposition rather than a syllogism requiring to be proven. To identify the frequent patterns is like finding the rules, which reminds of the old dicta and is inline with the recent opinions on the selection of patterns. Moreover, dedicated and relatively conventional, (because they represent a culture in which politeness is inherent), rather than wholly digital, my students appreciate and learn readily the essential knowledge of the concrete aspects of grammar. I have been vaguely guided by the rule grammar and even prescribed some (e.g. the more reduced the structure, the more informal English is), as I gave summaries of my lectures based on the Cambridge Grammar of English (2007) to my students. This was well perceived.

2) My course being descriptive, I have instructed my students in the differences between descriptive and prescriptive grammar, and I have used the modern interpretation of these concepts guided by The Oxford Guide to English Usage (Weiner, 1983). It reads: “The emphasis on the recommendations is on the degree of acceptability in standard English of a particular use, rather than on a dogmatic distinction of right and wrong. Much that is sometimes condemned as ‘bad English’ is better regarded as appropriate in informal contexts but inappropriate in formal ones. The appropriateness of usage to context is indicated by the fairly rough categories ‘formal’ and ‘informal’, ‘standard’, ‘regional’, and ‘non-standard’, ‘jocular’, and so on. Some of the ways in which American usage differs from British are pointed out” (Weiner, 1983, x). It is notable that this principle and these categories feature in The Cambridge Grammar of English (Carter, McCarthy, 2007), and this Grammar has been my reference source in teaching. While explaining the difference between ‘preposition + conjunction’ and the sentence end preposition (To whom did you write? Who did you write to?) I followed Carter and McCarthy and taught my students that ‘to whom’ is for formal English and ‘who … to’ is for informal.

3) My course being a course of lectures, I could not exploit Charles Fries’s practice. But when reviewing units in spoken English in one lecture, I highlighted unstructured units – unfinished and broken utterances, clausal blends, crowded clauses, subordinate clauses functioning as independent units, etc) and units of identifiable structure. These included the patterns of ellipsis in spoken English, headers and tails, question tags, typical patterns of different types of spoken questions (echo, follow-up, twp-step questions, preface questions and pre-questions) and a few other structural units. I also singled out fixed major units of meaning, such as response tokens, vocatives, formulas and stereotypical units (It’s very kind of you. That’s a very good idea. That would be lovely, if you don’t mind, etc). Thus I could give an overview of units functioning in spoken English in a summary of two pages long of one of my lectures to my students. I hope I have instructed them not only in typical units functioning in spoken English but also indicated a direction into which they should look while orientating themselves when they listen to native speakers and when they pick spoken phraseology for themselves.

4) I have ignored transformational grammar and its author but the concepts of input and output related to this trend in grammar have been uppermost in my mind when I was writing Notes of my lectures to be handed out to the students. I myself have been very conscious of these concepts to this day.

5) I am a dedicated follower of M.A.K.Halliday’s functional theory of language and grammar but, unlike Scott Thornbury, I am not discouraged by its complexity. I also make a slightly different use of it than this author. A weak point in the students’ knowledge of English has for years been the concept of grammar as meaning. Halliday’s concept of language and of the system of language puts meaning ahead of any units in language. I begin my Course by showing it to the students how grammar means and keep reminding them of it all along. The hierarchical integrity of units in the system of language guides me to emphasise relationship of grammar and vocabulary and to show a continuous way in language learning to my students: assuming like Henry G.Widdowson, Michael McCarthy and Scott Thornbury that vocabulary may fit into the chosen structural options and provides numbers of choices to satisfy them, I emphasise that the word has to match delicately into a structure, yet is so powerful that it may upset the structure to require its new choice. This is the most difficult point in lexical-structural relations in language. It can be learned only in continuous learning. It is this delicate difficulty that lays out the road for the dedicated students for life in improving their English.

6) I have been less concerned with the explicit application of grammar as collocation because I have integrated it in my initial definitions and in an academic course overall. I missed no moment to show to the students that patterns of verb complementation mean structural relations no less than they mean phrase-like relations; I have also reminded the students on every occasion that a word can overturn a structure the same way that a structure can require a particular word, which is a way of saying that syntax and vcocabulary are interdependent in genuine English language.

7) I was still less concerned explicitly with grammar as an emergent structure in my course of English grammar but I have instructed my students in new words in English and in ways of making them, which is giving them an idea of how the minimal units, which are influential in grammar, appear and function because “the lexicon is simply … the most delicate grammar”, in Michael A.K. Halliday’s terms. I have also noted the emergent new structures, such as: I was like ’No’ and she was like “Yes’…, the use of I mean very much like an introductory rather than an elaborating phrase, etc. thus showing to the students that a living language is a flexible phenomenon which may surprise its user or make fun of him.

7. While treating The Cambridge Grammar of English (Carter, McCarthy, 2007) as a research grammar functional in character, I have attempted to compile a course of lectures for university undergraduates (BA level) and to make it as modern as the source Grammar but also practically useful to the students. I have drawn its principles from other works of these authors, such as recent webinars for the Cambridge English Teacher (McCarthy, 2013), and from the works of Scott Thornbury (2014).

The Cambridge Grammar of English (CGE) (Carter, McCarthy, 2007), which has been my basic source, is not written to guide a lecturer in teaching practice. The material it provides only orientates him toward a description. However, this Grammar also gives an up-to-date description and evaluation of a whole range of items, such as contracted and elliptical forms, substandard units, such as Yeah, novel syntactical structures like I was like… and he was like…, I saw the truck and I was like “no”, Taylor to 0ld Channel 2. (Yahoo, 23 March 2011), such phrases of vagueness as: sort of, kind of, sentences with preposition at the end and preposition-conjunction patterns and others. Some of these and similar items have lived in the memory of less read teachers like prescriptions which they feared. Like The Oxford Guide to English Usage (Weiner, 1983), the CGE classifies these items and units in terms of formality and informality. This is very helpful to the lecturer in explaining their use to the students without being unnecessarily prescriptive.

The CGE is not easily applicable, however. A teacher like me working on a descriptive course of English grammar with a practical bias has to be selective choosing topics and illustrative examples out of the wealth of material in this Grammar.

Speaking in a CET Webinar, Michael McCarthy (2012) explained how written grammar differs from spoken grammar, especially in word order: “word order is much more flexible in spoken English. Written grammar would not permit this”. He reminded that terminology should also differ. For instance, the word class terminology helps only in part in describing spoken grammar where there must be terms like headers, tales, discourse markers, stance markers, response tokens and others rather than such terms as adjective, noun and others.

He also gave further orientation to actively teaching lecturers. In this Webinar, Michael McCarthy explained that, in description, it is required to be sure that some verbal features are consistent “across a wide range of users”. This frequency and the range of spread criterion is the first principle in exploiting the Cambridge Grammar of English for practical purposes. The frequency criterion applies to words no less than to structures. Michael McCarthy’s example was absolutely, which he assessed as a ‘Yes+’ word in present-day English. Commenting on the verb know, he explained how widely spread the parenthetic you know is in modern English and implied that teachers need not fear it. There was also a note on I mean, which he said was used ‘to elaborate on something, and which is useful. (I can only add that I have noticed recently that ‘I mean’ is often used by modern speakers as a filler-word rather than as an elaborating word. For example: ‘…Do you have any news about that?’ ‘Well, I mean, …’ (BBC WS, 21 September 2012) . ‘Are you not interested in entertaining people?’ ‘No, I mean…’ (Michal Husain Meets Eric Khoo // BBC World News TV, 11 August 2012)).

Michael McCarthy concluded this Webinar by saying that “the more accurately we describe the spoken grammar, the more useful it will be, the better its teaching will be”. I memorised this conclusion as a reminder that a lecturer has to be very well informed and very disciplined when he compiles a course from the Cambridge Grammar of English and I have tried to be that disciplined, although I was not perfect in my first attempt in the first year of teaching the Course.

In his short paper published online, Scott Thornbury (2014) was very focused in outlining the principal requirements for grammar. He noted that “grammar reduces ambiguity (although it doesn’t reduce it completely – witness the much-quoted I don’t like visiting aunts).” But he mentioned next to it that, “like the particular accent, grammar distinguishes the speaker as part of a social group (or discourse community).” This statement does not require elaboration to students in high culture countries – it disciplines cultured students.

This author further mentioned that little can be learned by rule in modern English grammar. There are no rules for some phenomena in grammar, as for example, for the present perfect. That is why the best way to learn the use of this tense is through exposure. Another warning next to this one was the following: ‘pattern grammar’ can hardly be learned by the rule, “because there are so many word combinations.” It is “probably best picked up through exploring texts.” I have actually relearned the fact that lexical variation makes learning difficult to the students. I was trying to keep to as many patterns as I could even in describing the spoken grammar, but I also made it a rule to myself to use the best selected examples sparingly and to repeat them in all possible contexts available to me. I thus reduced the boredom of drills but helped my students to memorise examples which are actually an aspect of exposure. I have also resorted to the exploration of texts as much as my Course of lectured allowed because I have had a lot of successful practice with texts and because of this piece of advice by Scott Thornbury. I outlined the occurrence of patterns in texts the way this author advised.

One stern warning from Scott Thornbury has been to beware of giving grammar the lion’s share in comparison with vocabulary. I did not, as my course did not, in fact, allow it. I have noticed only that lexical variation in grammar makes grammar difficult to students, and have not yet found a way to overcome this difficulty completely. This author also noted that ‘reactive teaching’, which rests on the teacher’s reaction to individual student’s errors permitting him to “develop on his individual developmental trajectory”, is more effective than ‘proactive teaching’. This approach means pre-teaching to forewarn students of possible errors. As my teaching was minimal in a course of lectures, I could not explore any of these two approaches. As my Course has extended to include exercise classes, I could resort successfully to reactive teaching with the group’s and my own participation. Finally, I can wholly support Scott Thornbury’s observation that students can learn grammar but little if “there are not frequent opportunities for putting it to practical use”. My resort to the rule of repetition was my first attempt to help the students learn, and exercise classes was a fair aid in their learning. However, I have continually resorted to this rule as the spoken grammar of English is too flexible to be learned without much focus and effort, and still less without exposure backing the lectures.

8a-b. In compiling a descriptive course of English grammar with a practical bias, I first extracted the useful topics from the Cambridge Grammar of English. Then gradually (perhaps in three successful years of teaching), I organized and polished this Course in three sets of lectures giving a Course in three parts: Part 1: An Overview of Units Current in Spoken English, of the Word and the Phrase (10 lectures). Part 2: The English sentence (10 lectures). Part 3: Interpersonality in English. Functional features of Written and Spoken English (5 lectures). Although the third part is shorter not because it is easier, I have had to instruct very briefly on these aspects of grammar because the curriculum does not foresee more time for it. But exercise classes in Part 1 and Part 2 have been so helpful that the instruction in Part 3 could be comprehensive.

8c. The theoretical component in my Course of English grammar has been drawn from functional linguistics. The first point I make at my first lectures is that grammar is meaning. I make the students realise it while exploring short poems and then I remind them of it throughout the course. I have observed the interdependence of verbal units (beginning from the word and finishing with the sentence) and their hierarchy more like a principle to me rather than as an explicit principle in teaching. I have also emphasized the role of the word in syntax by showing it to the students that a word can upset a pattern no less frequently that it can belong to a pattern, and so the word has to be minded both in the spoken and in the written grammar. But I have also warned my students that I cannot teach them this power of the word. The only way to master it is through the development of the sense (or feel) for the language, which comes best from wide reading and exploration of texts.

8d. The practical component of my course appeared as I tried to make this course useful to the students. In doing this I shunned no rules and principles known in the history of grammar teaching whether recommended and praised or criticized and despised. So I found the grammar of rules guiding me in the selection of patterns, pattern grammar in overviewing units current in spoken English and the rule of repetition, prescribed to myself, in the course wholly.

8e. The principles I applied in my Course were not many. As the Course was a descriptive course of English grammar, I have made it a point to observe the recurrence of terms and to be very accurate in their use myself. I have observed the principle of frequency of recurrence in selecting the illustrative examples. I have resorted to the rule of repetition in my own use of illustrative examples in all contexts available to me: in lecture notes: the gist of the lecture, key words, the summary of the lecture, in verbal instruction, in graphic summaries of several topics, and even in semi-standardised tests.

8f. As regular tests and a talk at the end of the term indicated, the results I achieved were satisfactory. Although I cannot assess with one hundred per cent accuracy, some students in different groups were so well prepared for the term-end talk that they participated in a discussion of such topics as modality or differences between the grammar of spoken and written English quite competently. Moreover, the examples they gave in tests and in term-end talks showed that they have understood the function of such units as headers and tails, phrases of vagueness or formality and informality of certain structures and vocatives very well indeed.

9. My success with the descriptive course of English grammar shows in what I taught, what they have learnt and what I have learnt. My own major discovery was in learning how much depends on the teacher – on his accuracy and precision in using the terms, descriptors and examples, in a course of lectures. My surprise discovery was in learning how sensitive some obvious questions may be to the students: some facts of grammar may be obvious to the teacher but they may be very vague to the students. The conclusion would be this: although it is psychologically motivated, recommended and acceptable to treat children and students as one’s equals, this does not wholly apply to an academic subject. A teacher would do well if he attempted to learn the basic knowledge that the students have and resorted to it rather than resorting too much to his assumed concept of the students’ knowledge.

III. A conclusion to this paper would have to refer to the leading authors and the best informed participants in online discussions which have outlined irreversible principles relevant to the teaching of grammar. They expressed no doubt about the necessity to teach grammar and they were not crazed about novelty or technology for the sake of novelty. I myself gave up technically modern presentation (such as PP) for the benefit of face-to-face interaction in exercises. Concerning novelty, for example, in an online discussion mentioned above, Amanda Wood pointed out that “”modern” doesn’t mean it’s good; just because it is “old” doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad”, which in philosophy reads as the inescapable interrelatedness of all things and the influence of descent. If we ignore this law, we end up inventing a bicycle or remain “still leaning on the arm of novelty, her (pleasure’s) fickle and frail support” (William Cowper). Few would miss this law today if it is ignored, but language exercises it of its own in every instance of its use.

In the course presented, I have applied all the known principles – praised and recommended, defied and neglected, written off as scholastic yet innate in man’s systemic thinking and in his ability to discern patterns in broad subjects and processes. The principles to which I was faithful in my lectures, in exercise periods and classes, were the interdependence of all things, awareness of structural stability and variation, of patterns and the use of patterns and, above all, accuracy and repetitio, practising it myself in every and all contexts of classroom teaching. One other organising principle was the brevity of presentation. The result pleased both the students and the teacher


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