Which is more important to teach, grammar or vocabulary?
Traditionally, grammar is taught first; it has primacy over vocabulary. Vocabulary items were just vehicles to explain grammatical structures. In other words this kind of teaching gives primacy to form and uses lexical items simply as a way to give examples of the structures taught previously. That’s why, in most traditional textbooks, grammar comes first and it is only later that reading and vocabulary are introduced. Recently, however, meaning has become of paramount importance in language teaching (or shall I say learning) process. As Widdowson, H. G. (1990: p. 95) points out: Teaching which gives primacy to form and uses words simply as a means of exemplification actually denies the nature of grammar as a construct for the mediation of meaning. I would suggest that the more natural and more effective approach would be to reverse this traditional pedagogic dependency, begin with lexical items and show how they need to be grammatically modified to be communicatively effective.
Why is vocabulary important?
First, it would be easier to communicate reasonably without many problems if you could use enough appropriate vocabulary in context. However, one would undoubtedly be unable to communicate relying only on grammatical rules. What gives a structure its raison d’être is mainly the meaning it carries in the lexical words the structure is constructed with. According to Michael Lewis fluency does not depend so much on having a set of generative grammar rules, as suggested by Chomsky, and a separate stock of words as on having rapid access to a stock of lexical chunks. In the lexical approach, lexis is central in creating meaning, grammar plays a secondary role in managing meaning. The logical implication for teachers is that we should spend more time helping learners develop their stock of phrases, and less time on grammatical structures. Secondly, a large inventory of vocabulary items is a...
References: Widdowson, H. G. (1990) Aspects of Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press
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