A Reductive Grammar Approach to the Teaching of Spanish as a Second Language. (Language Teaching & Learning)

By Dernoshek, Darrell J. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview
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A Reductive Grammar Approach to the Teaching of Spanish as a Second Language. (Language Teaching & Learning)

Dernoshek, Darrell J., Academic Exchange Quarterly


The role of pedagogical grammar has always been a controversial issue in the second language learning process. According to Krashen and Terrell's Natural Approach (1983), grammatical explanations and exercises are to be written clearly and concisely. Likewise, a reductive grammar focuses on a single distinguishing characteristic in the use of a particular grammar point. The distinguishing characteristic is linked to a conceptualization, which aids in a clear presentation of the grammar point and simplifies the learning process. This article proposes that by using a reductive grammar approach the learners' oral and written performance is positively affected for some linguistic topics.

1.0 Introduction

The role of pedagogical grammar in foreign language instruction is a highly controversial issue. Over the years the pendulum has swung back and forth between great emphasis on grammar as in the Grammar-Translation Method and absence of in-class practice of grammar as in the Natural Approach. Most instructors of Spanish have realized that the grammarless syllabus is extreme.

The need for a pedagogical grammar exists in second language instruction, but many applied linguists question the extent and kind of that need. Terrell (1982) states that in order to increase oral competence our expectations for structural accuracy must be lowered. In opposition to Terrell, Higgs and Clifford (1982) posit that a potential obstacle in achieving a high level of oral proficiency is the de-emphasis of grammatical accuracy resulting in fossilization.

In light of Terrell's and Higgs' and Clifford's observations, it seems that a reductive grammar approach might solve these problems. Such an approach provides the learner of Spanish with a reduced dose of grammar, enough to promote accuracy and enhance comprehension (Zephir 2000) but not too much so as to take away from practice time in the classroom. This approach focuses on a single distinguishing characteristic in usage of a particular linguistic point and links it to a conceptualization thereby clearly presenting the grammar point, while simplifying and simultaneously maximizing the learning process.

2.0 A Definition of Reductive Grammar

By examining the linguistic features of a typical introductory Spanish textbook, it is simple to compile a list of grammatical sets and conceptual systems organized according to similarities or differences between their members from a pedagogical viewpoint. The following is a partial list of binary grammatical features covered during the first year of study at the university level:

1. gender, male and female (both biological and grammatical)

2. number-singular and plural

3. nouns--count and measure

4. adjective position, before or after the noun

5. nouns and pronouns

6. forms of address, tu vs. usted

7. word order, interrogative and declarative statements

8. "irregular" vs. regular verbs

9. haber vs. ser

10. conjugated vs. unconjugated verbs

11. ser vs. estar

12. reflexive vs. nonreflexive verbs

13. saber vs. conocer

14. ...

All the items have high functional loads and involve conceptualizations. Since there is always a semantic contrast between the items in the pair, it is the responsibility of the teacher to introduce the idea of conceptualization from the onset of instruction so that the learner can identify the true, underlying meanings of the items that form the pair. Everything that the teacher says and does in the classroom and any means that brings the learner in contact with the second language is pedagogically relevant.

A reductive grammar approach consolidates the traditional, often multi-faceted grammar rules into one clearly expressed description to capture the essence of a function. In the pedagogical process, once the reduced rule is devised, complete attention should be given to it in such a way that each and every example is related to or justified by it.

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