The Grammar-Teaching Question: a Simple Explanation

Despite demonstrated mega-gains from C.I. which always beat traditional methods, many traditional-method teachers still insist, the students must learn and know and practise grammar rules to use the language.  But do they?

Here is a simple answer to this comment:

  1. We ask Mr or Mrs Grammar, which of the following sentences sounds better:  “I like to run,” or “I enjoy to run”?  They will say duhh, “I like to run” sounds better.
  2. Ask them, why?  They either won’t have an answer, or they will think for a bit, and then say something like well the verb enjoy requires a gerund or a noun.
  3. Say, right, then ask them, how did you use that properly without consciously knowing the rule?  The only possible answer is, I heard it a lot when I was growing up.
  4. Ask your colleague, have you taught [common basic grammar rule in whatever language, eg how to use gustar in Spanish]?  When they say yes, ask them do they still make mistakes [eg saying “yo gusto como”]?  Your colleague will say yes obviously.

And here is the point: if we can accurately produce L1 language feature X in real time despite not knowing the rule for it, but in L2 we cannot produce language feature Y in real time despite knowing it, it is clear that the conscious mind and the implicit system do not have anything to do with each other.

Your colleague may then bust out the “skill building” argument:  that they have not “practised” saying/writing language feature Y enough, or havn’t memorised their grammar notes or whatever. But this begs the question: they acquired X perfectly without any “practise” at all, so why assume that knowledge or practice of Y will help?




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