Arguments against grammar syllabus
This is a video where Scott Thornbury is arguing against a grammar syllabus. He contends that there are eight arguments that compel us to reject such syllabus.
Scott’s Eight arguments against grammar syllabus
Here are Scott Thornbury’s eight arguments against a grammar syllabus:
Process vs. product arguments
The first argument is related to whether language should be viewed as a process or as a product. Grammar syllabi inform us about how language is seen by linguists (the product), not about how language is actually acquired by learners (the process).
Grammar syllabi do not reflect what grammar really is. What we now know about language through corpus is not represented in such syllabi.
Spoken or written
Grammar syllabi is about written language which is a bit different from spoken language. Is the grammar derived from written text transferable to spoken language?
Spoken language is full of phrases or chunks which represent up to 60 % of spoken language.
Grammar should be view as an emergent property. It is not a prerequisite for communication but a by-product of communication.
Focus on form
Grammar syllabi focus on form and overlook meaning.
The grammar McNuggets
Grammar syllabi hold the view that language can be cut into discrete segmented bits that can be detached from context and be transmitted to learners.
The backwash effect
The language elements are chosen only because they enshrine the structural view of language of the day, not because of their intrinsic significance for learning.
Grammar or vocabulary?
Scott finally argues that he doesn’t hold the view that grammar shouldn’t be taught but he rather believes that it shouldn’t be the starting point of any syllabus.
It is true that a syllabus that focuses on grammar will not be of much help to learners. It is also interesting to notice that tourists usually carry dictionaries with them not grammar books. Wilkins (1972) wrote that
“. . . while without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed”(pp. 111–112).
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.
And this is exactly what Michael Lewis advocates in his lexical approach
Finally, I invite you to watch Scott Thornbury’s video. It is thought provoking.
- Lewis, M. 1993. The Lexical Approach. Hove: LTP.
- Widdowson, H. G. (1990) Aspects of Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Wilkins, D (1972).Linguistics in language teaching. London: Arnold