Writing and reading are invariably connected, most people would agree. Yet adding grammar to the mix is bound to be contentious. Grammar is not neutral. All through the ages of man, there have been those who spurned it, found it unnecessary, and those who claimed grammar to tbe the be all and the end all of language, both spoken and written.
This has given way to two approaches to teaching language.The one focuses on language use for communicative purposes, and the other focuses on language forms. This fundamental disagreement is the reason why it would be a good idea to avoid the issueof grammar altogether. It is impossible to make everyone happy. There will always be those who agree with you, and those who disagree with you.
However, if we are discussing writing, grammar can not be left out of the discussion. If we are discussing reading, grammar can not be left out of the discussion. It is essential for writing and it is essential for reading. Therefore, we accept that it is a good idea to include it.
Knowing grammar, in a conscious, intellectually honest way, is essential for anyone who wants to be a teacher of the English language. It does not matter if you teach it directly or indirectly, inductively or deductively. As a teacher, you can not help a student who is having trouble with grammar, if you do not know grammar.
Often, however, it is assumed that a native speaker of a language, any language, will be a good teacher of grammar because they know the language. This is not true. Knowing the language, knowing what is the correct way to say or write something. It is not the same thing as being able to teach a student why the language works as it does, why one form is chosen over another form, how purpose and audience carry as much weight as form, and when it is best to use a pragmatic form over a metaphorical form. All this requires deep knowledge of the grammatical forms of the language.
In general, it is the non-native English-speaking teacher who has superior knowledge of the language. We are tempted then to ask the question: What do we need the native-speakers for, if they don’t even know the grammar of their own language? That is a very good question.
The answer of course, is that the native speaker knows, in general, how to speak the language very well. Expressions, phrases, figures of speech, taboos, euphemisms, colloquialisms, connotation and denotation, cultural use of language, etc. That’s a lot of knowledge, an awful lot, that simply is not found in any textbook.
Here it is best to say that the concept of the best teacher is misguided, at best, regardless if one is inclined to favor either a native-speaker, or a non-native speaker. What we have to do is ask a better question of these two pwople.
The question is: Can you teach the language? If your knowledge of grammar is weak, what have you done to improve your knowledge of gramar? If your knowledge of spoken English is weak, what have you done to improve? You see, the greatest injustice a teacher can committ when teaching students to read or write or speak is to be unable to read, write, or speak.
When I teach writing, I write every assignment I ask my students to write. When I teach reading, I read every book, do every reading assignment that I ask my students to do. When I teach speaking, I do every speaking assignment, every interview, every oral task that I ask my students to do. I recommend it, to all teachers of English.
Finally, what about grammar? Well, I don’t have much to say about grammar. I teach it, to some students, using rules, using patterns, analysing its forms, deductively. With other students, I rarely mention it. I simply talk about what is the best way to say something, or get students to notice the difference between the way they are saying something, and the way I am saying, or writing, something.
There is no one correct way that will work for all students. Get over it, if you thought that learning how to teach grammar made you an effective teacher. It doesn’t. Get over it if you thought that all you had to do was get students to use language, and you would be an effective teacher.
Grammar is an essential part of teaching a language. Understanding your students means giving them the right kind of help to become better communicators, in writing, in speaking, in reading, and even as listeners.
To conclude, if you teach writing, be a writer. If you teach reading, be a reader. If you teach speaking, be a speaker of the language you teach. Teach grammar as a means to an end, not as the end itself…
Over the course of my teaching career I have learned much from observation and experimentation with my students. I owe an eternal debt of gratitude for their willingness to cooperate with me over the years.
Thank you, dear students!
EFL Teachers: No matter how good a particular resource or lesson may be, in the end, there is no substitute for the teacher’s own judgement about what works and what doesn’t work with your students.. In this spirit, I recommend the activities for teaching the four skills contained within these pages.
Native Speaker Needed?
At the 2007 TESOL Chile Conference the question was asked: Are native speaker teachers automatically the best teachers of a language?
Just because you speak a language naturally, does that mean you can teach it?
Or does the process of learning a language to a high level of fluency make non-native speaker teachers far better equipped to teach that language?
This book shares the global voices of those on both sides of the issue, pro and con, with their realities, perceptions and beliefs.
Some say the Native Speaker is the best teacher. Others voices say the Non-Native Speaker teacher is the best teacher. Some say students and their parents prefer the Native Speaker. Others say the evidence does not support that statement. This is where we begin our journey.
The book takes this point of departure, the never ending controversy of the mythical Native Speaker as the ideal language teacher, privileged, superior, and with a standard of English unattainable for a learner.
Right from the outset, the learner is doomed to ultimate failure, to possess a level of language known as “interlanguage” a linguistic Limbo. In this place, Limbo, the learner has become “fossilized”, not fully developed, at some substandard level of language learning.
Beyond this, the book aims to reach a deeper level of historical understanding by looking at the development of ELT, and then, returning to the present, to ask the question: Native Speaker Needed?
By then, we have come full circle, and now have clear and compelling evidence from which to base a conclusive answer.
The global search for high-quality education, embedded in high-performing education systems, has taken on mythical proportions, almost resembling the alchemists’ quest to turn common metals into gold.
It is my hope that the present day search for global education, equitable and providing equality of opportunity for all, shall not cease until the “gold” we seek, has been found.
I therefore dedicate this book to all the educators, researchers, parents and students the world over, who strive to achieve this elusive goal,high-quality education for all the citizens of the world.
In this endeavour, it is my belief that the International Baccalaureate merits a closer look, based on their more than 40 year history of delivering consistently excellent results.
I add that all of the reflections and views in this book are mine alone, unless otherwise noted, and can not be attributed to my employer or any other organization I am affiliated with, past or present. For any errors or oversights, I bear the complete responsibility.
Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He is the Head of the English Department at Colegio Internacional SEK in Santiago, Chile.
He is the Co-Founder and Co-Organiser of EdCamp Santiago, free, participant-driven, democratic, conversation based professional development for teachers, by teachers. EdCamp Santiago 2012 was held at Universidad Mayor in Santiago.
Thomas is also a past member (2010-2011) of the Advisory Board for the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association (HETL), where he also serves as a reviewer and as the HETL Ambassador for Chile.
Thomas enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. Thus far, he has written the following genres: romance, historical fiction, autobiographical, sports history/biography, and English Language Teaching. He has published a total of forty six (46) books overall.
The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family, his wife Gabriela, and his son, Thomas Jerome Baker, Jr.