The Role of Grammar Instruction in the
Second Language Classroom
An Annotated Bibliography
The past twenty years have seen a dramatic shift in language classrooms from a focus on grammar rules and drills to more “communicative” approaches to teaching language. Left behind in the resulting tumult has been the question: Does teaching grammar have any impact on second language learners’ rate of accuracy? Stephen Krashen and others maintain that “comprehensible input” is sufficient for successful language acquisition and so explicit grammar teaching is not needed. Others have challenged this view, arguing that research shows a definite positive effect for grammar instruction. This annotated bibliography will review Krashen’s model of language acquisition and examine the major research that claims to find a positive correlation between instruction and language acquisition.
Fotos, S. (1993). Consciousness raising and noticing through focus on form: Grammar task performance vs. formal instruction. Applied Linguistics, 11, 129-158. In this study Fotos sought to determine whether a focus on form, either through grammar consciousness-raising tasks or formal grammar lessons, would result in learners noticing specific grammatical forms in context. She studied 160 Japanese university EFL learners who were divided into three classes. The lessons for one class (the “grammar task” group) included various grammar consciousness-raising tasks; the second (the “grammar lessons” group) had formal grammar lessons, and the third (the “communicative task” group) contained no grammar content. Three different grammatical structures were presented: (a) indirect object placement, (b) adverb placement, and (c) relative clauses. Post-tests were given after each structure was presented, with one test given one week after the lesson and another two weeks after. The post-tests consisted of a story or dictation exercise in which the structure occurred, and the learners were asked to identify any “special use of English” that they noticed in the text. Fotos reports that for all three structures, the occasions of noticing the structures was significantly lower for the communicative group than the other two groups; for adverb placement, this group did not notice any occurrences of the structure. The noticing scores for the two “form-focused” groups were very similar, although there was a decline in noticing from the first post-test to the second post-test. Since all three groups were comparable in noticing non-grammatical items, such as proverbs or unfamiliar vocabulary, Fotos concludes that the differences in noticing grammatical structures between the communicative group and the other two groups can be attributed to the grammar consciousness-raising techniques. She further suggests that the focus-on-form lessons enabled learners to develop high levels of explicit grammar knowledge, although she notes that there is still a question as to whether noticing will result in correct use of the structures by the learners.
Krashen, S. & Terrell, T. (1983). The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom. San Francisco: The Alemany Press.
In a summary of Krashen’s model of second language acquisition, the authors discuss five hypotheses: (1) Acquisition of a language (i.e., using the language for communication) is distinct from learning a language (i.e., knowing “about” the language); (2) There is a natural order of acquisition of grammatical morphemes in a second language, just as there is for first language acquisition; (3) What is learned by explicit instruction is used only to monitor performance in certain limited circumstance (such as when taking language tests) and does not affect one’s ability to use the language in day-to-day communication; (4) One acquires a second language the same way one acquires a first language—through receiving comprehensible input; and (5) Certain affective variables (such as...
Bibliography: Krashen, S. & Terrell, T. (1983). The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom. San Francisco: The Alemany Press.
Lightbown, P., & Spada, N. (1990). Focus-on-form and corrective feedback in communicative language teaching: Effects on second language learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 12, 429-446.
Long, M. (1983). Does second language instruction make a difference? A review of research. TESOL Quarterly, 17, 359-382.
Pica, T. (1983). Adult acquisition of English as a second language under different conditions of exposure. Language Learning, 33, 465-497.
Pica, T. (1985). The selective impact of classroom instruction on second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics, 6, 214-222.
Pienemann, M. (1984). Psychological constraints on the teachability of language. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 6, 186-214.
Van Patten, B. (1988). How juries get hung: Problems with the evidence for a focus on form in teaching. Language Learning 38, 243-260.
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