Grammar, evil or not?

As I write this entry we are in the final week of a semester, and I have taught a Portuguese class called “Advanced Grammar and Composition.”  Let me weigh in on the supposed evils of grammar when learning a foreign language.  I know that in today’s world of ‘communicative competence’ and ‘critical period hypothesis’, the idea of grammar has taken on a negative vibe in language learning.  There are people that say that we should not teach any grammar at all, ever.  “Let people learn naturally, like we did when we were little babies.”  Others say that students should discover for themselves all of the nuances of a language, and this will help them remember things.  So where does grammar teaching fit in?

First of all, we are not babies and language learning for adults will never replicate the experience of babies–thank goodness!  Babies go through cognitive development simultaneously with language development.  When parents first say “Timmy, look at the cow.  Do you see the cow?” babies don’t even know yet what a cow is.  First language learning is hard work and little kids struggle with it for years.  However for adults, we already have the cognitive development.  When we learn the word “vaca” in Portuguese we already know what a cow is.

So when it comes to teaching grammar, the key is BALANCE.  Sometimes a little grammar rule can create a great short cut in learning.  For example, knowing the rule “after ‘para que’ use the subjunctive”  can be extremely helpful.  The problem comes when we spend so much time in talking and analyzing grammar that we forget to move on to speaking the new foreign language.  Unfortunately, it’s actually easier to talk about grammar than it is to practice speaking a foreign language.  So, by default we sometimes resort to talking about it instead of doing it.

Hopefully we had that balance in this semester’s Portuguese class.  Take a peek at the student’s projects that are on our course blog called “é isso aí”.  Their creativity and performance were fantastic.

Obrigado gente, eu gostei demais da experiência de poder aprender com vocês.



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