Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

The Impact of Metalinguistic Knowledge and Grammatical Awareness on Efl Learners' Performance in Grammar and Writing Tests

Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

The Impact of Metalinguistic Knowledge and Grammatical Awareness on Efl Learners' Performance in Grammar and Writing Tests

Article excerpt

1.Introduction

The use of metalanguage - namely, technical or semi-technical terminology employed to analyze or describe language (Crystal, 1997; James & Garrett, 1992) - is a pedagogical topic that is rarely discussed today in the professional literature on L2 teaching and learning (Borg, 1999). This general lack of attention has resulted, in large measure, from the unfortunate, entrenched linkage of metalanguage with explicit and formal instruction in L2 grammar usage (Berry, 1997; Eisenstein, 1987; Francis, 1994). Over the decades, instruction in L2 grammar has fallen from its centrality in traditional pedagogical approaches (e.g. the Grammar-Translation Method) and been relegated to a less important or insignificant position in many classrooms (Elder & Manwaring, 2004). Several sources of influence have contributed to this sidelining of formal grammar instruction.

While there are different versions of CLT, they all set great store on the development of communicative competence (i.e., the ability to use the target language to engage in meaningful and effective communication) rather than just grammatical competence (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). Although not all CLT practitioners (especially those adopting a weak version of CLT) are opposed to explicit and systematic teaching of L2 grammar in lessons (see Batstone, 1994a, 1994b; Scheffler & Cinciala, 2010), many CLT-oriented classrooms (in particular those implementing a strong version of CLT) 'downplay the importance of explicit grammar instruction (Elder & Manwaring, 2004, p. 145; Carter, 2003). Thus, the CLT movement has provided a pedagogical impetus that has contributed to a growing distrust in and an increasing marginalization of formal grammar instruction in many L2 classrooms.

Because of its long association with explicit and formal grammar instruction, metalanguage in particular has also been marginalized or even rejected as a legitimate component of pedagogical practices in many L2 classrooms (Berry, 2009). Alderson (1997), for example, questions 'the assumption that teachers need to have metalanguage' (p.2) and declares 'I have long suspected that this is why teachers use metalanguage in class, to emphasize their position of knowledge and authority, to reinforce their power' (p.16). Garrett (1986) claims that the use of metalanguage constitutes a major problem with formal grammar instruction because 'it cannot of itself invoke understanding of the processing which leads to the production of a structure' (p.141). In a similar vein, Mohammed (1996) asserts that grammar instruction based on linguistic terms and concepts can hardly achieve the goal of adding to or modifying the rules discovered by learners themselves 'through the natural process of hypotheses formation and testing' because 'such terms and concepts constitute an additional learning burden and remain as a separate body of knowledge that has nothing to do with the way people actually process language' (p.283).

In recent years, explicit and formal instruction in L2 grammar has fallen from its centrality in traditional pedagogical approaches and been relegated to a peripheral position in many classrooms, due to the joint influences of some popular theoretical claims, findings from early empirical studies about the disassociation between learners' explicit knowledge of L2 target structures and their ability to use these structures, and communicative language teaching, which, in its application, sometimes sets great store by the development of communicative competence and fluency rather than grammatical competence.

Explicit knowledge is the kind of knowledge that language learners are aware of and can express (Dekeyser, 1998). It could be either explicit declarative knowledge which means conscious knowledge of the rules of the language or explicit procedural knowledge which is the ability to use the learned linguistic terms. Criticisms of the use of metalanguage in the classroom are misguided because they fail to recognize the part that metalanguage can play in facilitating the development of metalinguistic knowledge but, several recent studies have found substantial positive correlations between knowledge of metalanguage and L2 proficiency. …

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