Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

New Trends in Grammar Teaching: Issues and Applications: An Interview with Prof. Diane Larsen-Freeman

Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

New Trends in Grammar Teaching: Issues and Applications: An Interview with Prof. Diane Larsen-Freeman

Article excerpt

Now that the Spanish Ministry of Education has announced that the new European degrees will start in the academic year 2008-2009, one of the most impending goals of English language teachers in Spanish universities is that of adapting to the pedagogical guidelines established by the European Space in Higher Education. As a result, new methodological models are being brought to the fore with the aim of providing learners not simply with what the Tuning Project (Universidad de Deusto and Universidad de Groningen 2003) defines as instrumental or generic competences in a foreign language (grammatical, discourse, sociolinguistic and strategic competences), but also with social skills (i.e. group work, decision making and problem solving activities) and cognitive abilities (i.e. information search, information analysis and synthesis, and critical thinking skills). The integration of such competences in the English language syllabus seeks to make students more competent communicators in their future professional careers (cf. Fallows and Stevens 2000).

Both young and experienced teachers alike are thus devoting time and efforts to finding new teaching resources and to putting into practice new methodological approaches with greater potential to offer improved knowledge acquisition in the above mentioned competences, the linguistic, the social and the cognitive. Prof. Diane Larsen-Freeman, Director of the English Language Institute at the University of Michigan, is at present one of the most widely acknowledged applied linguists and teacher educators in the academic world. A Distinguished Senior Faculty Fellow at the School for International Training, Professor Larsen-Freeman was also named in 1999 one of 30 American pioneers in the field of ESL in the 20th century by ESL Magazine. As a leading figure in second language acquisition, she kindly accepted the invitation to be interviewed and to offer practical guidance in exploring language teaching methods and recent methodological innovations.

Traditional methodologies have often been the breeding ground of language acquisition problems and ineffective learning environments in which learners hardly participate and/or volunteer. What advantages do the new trends in theory and pedagogy offer to ESL teachers to avoid what you coined as the "inert knowledge problem" (Larsen-Freeman 2003a)?

The term inert knowledge problem is not mine; it was coined by Alfred North Whitehead in 1929. He used it to refer to the fact that students learn things in the classroom that they cannot later put to their own purposes outside of the classroom. I appropriated the term because I thought that it applied very well to the teaching of grammar. Students are taught grammar as a set of rules, but even if they can apply the rules to exercises successfully during the lesson, they don't seem to be able to activate their knowledge of the rules when they are communicating during another part of the lesson or in another context.

Undoubtedly, one source of the inert knowledge problem is the language teaching methodology used. For instance, I studied Spanish using the grammar translation method. While I learned a lot of vocabulary and a lot of grammar rules, I cannot speak Spanish. Of course, the grammar translation method had a different strength. We read Cervantes and El Cid, and we learned a great deal about Spanish culture. My point is that methodologies have different strengths. The newer methodologies, such as a task-based approach, try to address the inert knowledge problem. They try to get people using the language from the beginning rather than learning about the language with the hope that later on the students can apply knowledge of the rules in an active way.

You treat grammar as a skill--you call it grammaring--and further state that teaching grammar as the 'fifth skill' can help students overcome the inert knowledge problem. Could you expand this a bit further? …

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