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Content Type3
TitleSome Thoughts on Grammar, Accuracy, and Our Quest for Perfection

By Julie Sykes, CASLS Director

As a researcher and language teacher invested in second language pragmatics and the fundamental importance of creating shared meaning, I am often asked my take on grammar instruction, the role it plays in language teaching and learning, and ways in which we might approach it in our everyday practice.

My response almost always includes three key ideas, captured here as part of a month-long InterCom series examining the role of grammar in world language classrooms.

  1. Grammatical structures are fundamental to creating shared meaning and expressing ideas. We cannot “do” pragmatics without grammatical structure. The assumption they are in some way in opposition is a false dichotomy that we need to reframe. For example, the conditional morpheme at the end of a verb is more than a structure needed to perform a function in the hypothetical future. Instead, it is a vital form to express politeness, but often social distance, in some language varieties. Learning to wield its power can be included earlier in language instruction sequences, highlighting the critical role politeness, as expressed in a morpheme of two or three letters, plays in human interaction while also emphasizing the need for accuracy.
  2. In formal instructional contexts, we often overemphasize accuracy and adherence to a “standard” model which can inhibit language use and human interactions, the very thing which, in the end, leads to more learning. It is rare we, as language teachers, don’t agree on the value of interaction, the expression of meaning, and language variation. Nevertheless, when assessed, grammatical and lexical accuracy often supersede other critical components of language, or, in some cases, are the only elements on which the high stakes scores are given.
  3. As language teachers, we are in a critical position to place emphasis on the co-construction of shared meaning, while also ensuring learners have the critical language skills to do so. This means, for example, attaching grammatical structures to meaning in salient and meaningful ways, which, in some cases might require us to rethink the approach to the structures being taught. In other cases, it might mean doing just what we have been doing to situate grammar within the communicative scenario in which it is most useful. This week’s Activity of the Week is an attempt to do just that.

Regardless of the approach one takes, grammar and pragmatics are intimately connected and warrant collective attention, not as elements on opposing sides of a continuum. In InterCom this month, we attempt to do just that.

SourceCASLS Topic of the Week
Inputdate2018-09-30 11:12:37
Lastmodifieddate2018-10-01 03:58:02
ExpdateNot set
Publishdate2018-10-01 02:15:02
Displaydate2018-10-01 00:00:00