Grammar

Did you know that you can't learn a language from a grammar book?

by Louis Alexander

It's quite impossible to learn to understand, speak, read and write a language by studying a grammar book. In the past, people tried to learn languages by studying grammar books. This was done in two ways. The first way was known as the 'grammar translation method'. The learner was given a grammar rule in the target language with sentences to translate into and out of that language. The second way was to give the learner a grammar rule followed by a number of sentences with missing parts. The learner had to supply the missing parts. Some students achieved a high degree of accuracy when performing these tasks, but no one ever learnt any language skills. Grammar is about knowledge and normal language use is not about knowledge. Language use is concerned with performance. We can say that in the past, the acquisition of a skill was the (rare) by-product of studying grammar. In the present, our concentration is on teaching communication skills and grammar is the by-product of this objective. In other words, we have completely reversed the assumptions of the past.

Does this mean that we can learn to communicate without any reference to grammar at all? I'm afraid not. We continue to study grammar because we simply can't avoid it. The answers to most of the questions you have about the use of English are largely grammatical. If you want to know why you have to say 'I am an engineer' and not *I am engineer*, the answer is grammatical. If you want to know why you have to say 'I'd like some french fries please' and not *I'd like any french fries please*, the answer is grammatical. When we're learning a language we need to know how and why statements and questions are formed in particular ways and grammar provides answers to the questions How? and Why? In other words, grammatical explanations allow us to focus briefly on a particular problem so we become conscious of it and once we have understood what is involved, we can concentrate on communicating and forget the grammar behind it. So we can say that we learn grammar in order to forget it, but while we're learning it, it performs an important task.

Communication is about doing things through language. If we concentrate too much on the grammar involved, then grammar inhibits communication. That's why so many adult learners are shy of expressing themselves in public. They think too much about the grammar and are afraid they will make mistakes which will expose them to ridicule. However, the important thing is to communicate successfully and if you make a few mistakes in the process, you are rapidly forgiven. The mistakes will diminish the more you concentrate on communicating and referring to grammar only as a support system to communication.

This is precisely how Direct English approaches the teaching of grammar. The syllabus in Books 1-3 concentrates on teaching you to give information about yourself and about other people, how to make requests, how to ask and answer the questions Where? and When?, how to describe things, how to express likes and dislikes, wants and needs, and how to talk about actions. All these activities are central to human communication and grammar is dealt with as a by-product. In Books 4-6, all the grammar of Books 1-3 is revised and the most important aspects of the English language are covered in a highly organized way, but they always form the background to the communicative tasks the learner is performing. In Books 7-8, difficult and unusual points of grammar are picked up at random from the texts that are presented and are dealt with in each lesson. Direct English aims to enable you to communicate with confidence by constantly training you to do just that: communicate. At the same time, it aims incidentally to make you confident in the grammatical accuracy of what you say and write.

 

© LG & DE Limited 2006

 

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