diplomatic language services blog post on teaching grammar in a foreign language

Teaching Grammar in a Foreign Language

Teaching grammar in a foreign language is a debated topic in the field of language learning. Many language teachers ask a variety of questions. How effective is teaching grammar to adult FLLs? Does teaching grammar help language proficiency or slow it down? Is there any place for teaching grammar in communicative language teaching?

The answer is that teaching grammar to foreign language learners is necessary. A communicative language teaching approach encourages it too. However, it is about how to teach grammar to help learners better learn a foreign language. There are generally two common approaches to teaching grammar: inductive grammar teaching and deductive grammar teaching.

Inductive Grammar Teaching

Inductive is an inside-out approach to teaching grammar that starts with using the language in real-life situations. The teacher usually introduces the target grammatical structure in contextualized sentences in a natural conversation with the student focusing on the meaning and use of language. The teacher then draws students’ attention to the sentence structures by asking questions to help students discover the grammatical structure by themselves. Finally, the teacher helps the students provide a definition of the grammatical point. In some cases, this may not be needed, as the grammatical point was introduced in a context and that gives learners a good idea of when to use it.

Deductive Grammar Teaching

A deductive approach to grammar teaching is an outside-in approach in which the teacher first provides a definition of the grammar point and then the structure followed by examples and meaning. The examples are usually disconnected sentences that focus more on rules than the use of language. So, they do not connect with a student’s personal experience in real-life situations.

Inductive Grammar Teaching: Pros and Cons

The inductive approach focuses on language use. So, it helps learners become more fluent and use language in the right situations. In other words, real-life conversations expose learners to the target language. Thus, they connect the language to their personal experience. This helps them express what is in their mind without consciously thinking about the definition and structure of what they want to say. Since the focus is on language use, there are chances of making more mistakes in the inductive approach than the deductive approach, especially at the beginning stages.

Deductive Grammar Teaching: Pros and Cons

The deductive approach, on the other hand, focuses on accuracy. That’s why sentences are produced after definition and structure. In this approach, learners are trained to make sentences based on a structure and situation introduced by the teacher. The purpose is to make a sentence rather than to communicate. So, instructors expect students to make sentences without mistakes. However, they are not trained to connect with the language and express themselves as they would in real-life situations.

There are two main drawbacks to this approach. First, these learners are often not fluent in speaking because when they are making a sentence, they are consciously thinking of the structure which slows them down. Second, these learners may use a sentence with the correct structure, but the correct meaning and situation-appropriate language is often an issue as they have barely used language for real-life communication purposes. Looking at the pros and cons of each approach, a teacher should choose to teach grammar deductively or inductively based on the course goal. If the goal is to prepare students for a written grammar test, the deductive approach is a more effective way; however, if the goal is to help students learn a language in order to use it in real-life communications, inductive grammar teaching is a better option.

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