The Role of Grammar Instruction in a Communicative Approach Author(s): Tracy David Terrell Source: The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 75, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 52-63 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the National Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations Stable URL: Accessed: 05/11/2010 20:10 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at
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  The Role of Grammar Instruction in a Communicative ApproachAuthor(s): Tracy David TerrellSource: The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 75, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 52-63Published by: Blackwell Publishing  on behalf of the National Federation of Modern Language TeachersAssociations Stable URL: Accessed: 05/11/2010 20:10 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. 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For more information about JSTOR, please contact  Blackwell Publishing  and  National Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations  are collaboratingwith JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Modern Language Journal.  The ole o Grammar nstruction n ommunicative pproach TRACY DAVID TERRELL Department f Linguistics University f California San Diego, CA 92093 INPUT AND ACQUISITION THE DOMINANT MODEL FOR SECOND LAN- guage instruction in the United States in the seventies and early eighties has been described as a cognitive approach. The theoretical model that underlies the approach is that a lan- guage consists of a set of rules with an asso- ciated lexicon. It follows logically from the model that foreign language students must learn rules of grammar. The suggested se- quence is: study a rule (usually with instructor explanation), practice a rule (in grammar exer- cises), and then apply the rule in meaningful interactions in the target language. Krashen (13) has proposed a model of second language acquisition in which the processing of input, rather than grammar instruction, plays the pivotal role. His hypothesis is that acquisition occurs when learners process input in a low anxiety context. Learners presumably make use of a mental language acquisition device that allows them to store and produce utterances in the target language. Krashen does not attempt to specify how the acquisition process unfolds, but rather describes the con- ditions necessary for it to take place. He posits that the learner must be relaxed (have a low affective filter ) and be focused on meaning rather than form. The input must be compre- hensible and in addition be at an i + 1 level, that is, slightly more complex than the learner's current level of knowledge. An explicit knowl- edge of grammar by adults is said to be useful in only one way --as a monitor for self-cor- rection under certain circumstances, to wit, that the learner know the rule to be applied, that the learner be focused on correctness, and that the learner have time to think about apply- ing the rule to the output. Krashen has also suggested that grammar study may lower the affective filter for some adults and indirectly contribute to the acquisition process. The major implication of this input model is that learners' output is supposedly based directly on the input they process and store. Children acquiring a first or second language seem to do what Krashen's model predicts: there is usually a silent period in which chil- dren appear to build up competence which is later displayed in their speech. While this model appears to describe in broad terms how children acquire language, adult second language learners vary greatly in the strategies they use for second language acquisition. Some adult learners indeed do seem to rely heavily on input for their output. They experience a rather long silent period and do not attempt much speech until they have built up some competence. As an example, consider DC, a Spanish-speaking learner of English living in San Diego for the past two years. DC has had a great deal of input in Eng- lish, but little of it is comprehensible (for example, he watches a great deal of television in English), and he has had even less input at i (his level of comprehension) or i + 1. He has rarely attempted to speak English, preferring instead to rely on other more bilingual speakers of Spanish to translate for him. However, recently he has begun to speak some rudimen- tary English, and it is clear that his output consists of words and phrases he has heard at work (in a restaurant). Other adults appear to take a different ap- proach to acquisition. As an example, consider RV, a native speaker of Dutch who has lived in the United States since he was fourteen. RV has managed to acquire a fair amount of com- petence in Spanish on a social basis solely The Modern Language ournal, 75, i (1991) 0026-7902/91/0001/052 $1.50/0 ?1991 The Modern Language ournal  Tracy David Terrell 53 through informal conversations with native speakers of Spanish, most of whom are only superficial acquaintances. RV did not allow himself a silent period to build up some com- petence, but rather from the beginning tended to initiate conversations with native speakers himself. His primary strategy has been to think of something he wishes to ask or say and ask a bilingual speaker of Spanish and English, How do you say X in Spanish? He then uses his best imitation of the utterance with the native speakers. RV understands enough of the input to continue the conversation, but rarely does he use any elements in the input in his own output. As another example of an acquisition strategy not based on input, consider my own attempts at learning Arabic during a five-week stay in Morocco. I knew no Arabic on arrival and soon found that even the simplest input was incomprehensible. I soon switched to an out- put strategy practically identical to the one used by RV described above. I would ask (in French) how you say X in Arabic and then repeat the response several times, trying to memorize it. Then I would try out the new word or phrase as often as I could. I learned to count, to purchase pastries, to order tea in the morning, and to use a few other routines. Clearly, I acquired some words and phrases in Arabic, but what I acquired was my own ver- sion of these words and phrases based on my output, not on the input since I rarely heard these same phrases in the input directed to me. Indeed, I was rarely able to identify any indi- vidual words in the input and mostly deter- mined the meaning of utterances directed at me through contextual guessing. In summary, some informal evidence exists that adults do not automatically use input to develop competence in the way Krashen has suggested. The question then naturally arises as to the role of grammar instruction in adult second language acquisition. If some adults do not process input as Krashen suggests then it may also be the case that a conscious knowledge of grammar may play a greater (or even lesser) role in language acquisition and processing than Krashen posits. GRAMMAR AND METHODOLOGY I use the term explicit grammar instruction (EGI) somewhat loosely to mean the use of instructional strategies to draw the students' attention to or focus on form and/or structure. The role of EGI in a second/foreign language class in the United States has changed drasti- cally in the last forty years--as the favored methodology changed from grammar-transla- tion to audio-lingual, then from audio-lingual to cognitive, and finally from cognitive to communicative approaches. The grammar-translation approach concen- trated on grammar skills, in particular the ability to use grammatical terminology to describe the various morphological and syntac- tic principles of the target language. With the advent of audio-lingualism, instructors were not supposed to spend a great deal of time talk- ing directly about target language grammar rules. The oral input available to the students in the form of dialogues and pattern drills, how- ever, was highly structured, following a strictly ordered grammatical syllabus; and, in fact, most of the students' time in an audio-lingual course was spent drilling grammatical forms and structures. Proponents of the cognitive approach stressed that students should under- stand the rules for using target language forms and structures before they attempted to use them for communication.' With the advent of the popularity of various communicative approaches, especially in ESL classes in this country and also in foreign lan- guage classes in Europe based on a notional- functional syllabus, the predominant role of grammar as the organizing principle in a lan- guage class has been called into question. In most communicative approaches direct and explicit grammar instruction has been accorded a somewhat peripheral position in the total course design. The central position of com- municative (or at least meaningful) activities in the class is supported by research such as that reported in Bialystok, who found that func- tional practice facilitated performance on all four tasks examined. . . . formal practice was effective only to a limited extent. The disfavor of a heavy grammar focus in the class is at least partially due to the influ- ence among language instructors of Krashen's monitor hypothesis, which posits that the role of explicit grammar knowledge is limited to that of a monitor, or editor, which some speakers are able to use in writing or prepared speech, but which is not very useful in ordinary con-. versation. According to Krashen, current second language acquisition research supports the notion that an explicit knowledge of how  54 The Modern Language Journal 75 (1991) forms and structures function in the target lan- guage is neither a necessary nor sufficient con- dition for their acquisition. In a similar vein, Garrett (p. 133) takes note of the following apparent paradox: grammatical competence must be an integral part of communicative competence, but learning grammar does not seem to help students achieve either. In his insightful review of The Natural Ap- proach, Krahnke (p. 598) suggests that much of the effort spent arguing against the teaching of grammar might be better spent on convinc- ing true believers in grammar instruction that grammar has a newly defined but useful role to play in language teaching and in showing them what it is. The purpose of this paper is to do exactly what Krahnke suggested. I will suggest ways in which an explicit knowledge of grammatical relationships in the target lan- guage can be helpful to some learners in the acquisition process itself. Pienemann formu- lates the question this way: Can the processes of natural acquisition be influenced by formal instruction? This same question has been for- malized as the Pedagogical Grammar Hypothesis (28; rpt. 29: p. 109): Instructional strategies which draw the attention of the learner to spe- cifically structural regularities of the language as distinct from the message content, will under certain conditions significantly increase the rate of acquisition over and above the rate expected from learners acquiring that language under natural circumstances where attention to form may be minimal and sporadic. RESEARCH EVIDENCE The research literature has focused on five major areas (19): 1) does formal classroom instruction help in the acquisition process? 2) what effect does grammar instruction have on fluency/accuracy? 3) what effect does grammar instruction have on the rate of acquisition? 4) what effect does grammar instruction have on the order of acquisition of grammatical mor- phemes and structures? 5) what effect does grammar instruction have on ultimate attain- ment in second language acquisition? Effects of Language Instruction. The first ques- tion makes sense only in a ' naturalistic envi- ronment since for foreign language learners the classroom is the only source for comprehensible input and meaningful oral interaction. Re- searchers have tried to establish whether or not formal instruction is valuable for learners who live in the target language culture. In my opinion the controversy surrounding this ques- tion has become exaggerated. Clearly, lan- guage instruction can have positive effects on language acquisition even in naturalistic situa- tions: the goal is to determine what kinds of in- struction are most beneficial to which students. Fluency/Accuracy. If one asks whether EGI automatically leads to an immediate increased fluency or accuracy in ordinary speech, the answer is clearly no. But if we ask whether EGI contributes in the long run to increased fluency or accuracy in ordinary speech, we simply do not have enough evidence to give a definitive answer. On the other hand, research evidence, such as that reported by Spada, seems to support the notion that EGI is not the major factor in the accurate use of grammati- cal morphemes or structures in normal conver- sation. Other factors that appear to be of more importance are: 1) amount of comprehensible input; 2) kinds and amount of interaction with native speakers; 3) type of motivation for learn- ing the target language, and so forth. Strong evidence exists that the ability to demonstrate grammatical knowledge on a dis- crete-point grammar exam does not guarantee the ability to use that knowledge in ordinary conversation, be it spontaneous or monitored. In one illustrative study (35), Terrell, Baycroft, and Perrone showed that in spite of concen- trated instruction on the forms and uses of the Spanish subjunctive, first-year university stu- dents were unable to use the mood correctly in free conversation. Although correctness levels on a written test averaged above ninety per- cent, students only rarely surpassed ten percent accuracy levels in conversation. Not only were students not able to use the subjunctive in spon- taneous conversation, apparently they were also not able to monitor their speech with the grammatical information they had learned. Similarly, Scott showed that neither explicit nor implicit instruction was of much help in increasing students' ability to use the French subjunctive on an oral exam. On the other hand, as predicted, students receiving EGI did much better on a discrete-point grammar test than students receiving only comprehensible input containing the target structures. Rate. Long (19: pp. 127-28) reviews research relevant to the issue of whether language instruction affects the rate of acquisition. His conclusion is that formal instruction can be more efficient than just informal street nput.


Jul 23, 2017
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