Second Language Acquisition

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I have to write a text about whether grammar should be taught or not in English as a foreign language class and discuss how grammar should be taught. I also have to explain important concepts in this area like explicit and implicit meaning and deductive and inductive meaning among others. I would like your help to do this work.

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Coming from an English as a Foreign Language specialist, the universal consensus is that you should teach any foreign language completely, along with its rules, meanings, proper and ethical usage. The rationale behind this is that language is never taught in isolation. The reason for this is that words and phrases are never used in isolation, either. They come together with reasoning, understanding, and, like you state in your question, explicit, implicit, deductive and inductive meaning.

In order for the human brain to grasp the semantic meaning of a second language, the system itself needs to be "word attacked," or systematically studied, from the inside out. 

While a few English Language specialists may disagree with the way English should be taught, theorists from different generations would support the idea that language should be taught as a system, not as a mere cluster of independent words or phrases. 

The Universal Grammar (UG) theory

The UG theory states that grammar consists of a series of processes, principles and categories which are shared by all languages. This theory was initiated in the 13th century, when Roger Bacon proposed that all languages possessed what we can call a grammatical "blueprint," upon which their systems are built. 

Noam Chomsky, one of the most prominent names in linguistics, supports the theory of Universal Grammar and adds, 

"Universal grammar is not a grammar, but rather a theory of grammars, a kind of metatheory or schematism for grammar" (Language and Responsibility, 1979).

By "schematism," Chomsky refers to the way that the language is presented and naturally shows itself along with its form and operative nature.  

Another important observation made by Chomsky regarding the importance of grammar and the innate qualities that it carries, is that Universal Grammar does not happen accidentally. Chomsky defines it as  

The system of principles, conditions, and rules that are elements or properties of all human languages not merely by accident but by necessity (Reflections on Language, 1975).

Moreover, Stephen Pinker in The Stuff of Thought (2007)speaks about "cracking the language code" in order to learn it best. It all boils down to how children learn languages so quickly.

Just look at how children that speak other languages manage to acquire second language so easily. It is because they directly "attack" the language out of necessity. They are motivated by the prospect of communicating and playing with other kids.

This shows, according to Chomsky's theory, that we must all be equipped with a set of mechanisms that decode what is known as the "grammar machinery" that accompanies every language. 

All this being said, the conclusion is simple: Yes, you must teach grammar. However, your teaching may or may not be primarily responsible for the student's acquisition of the language. It will be the innate ability of the student to differentiate, use induction, deduction, problem solving, and memory to finally connect all the dots together. Motivation and processing will also be key. The teacher, essentially, is a conduit.

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However, your teaching may or may not be primarily responsible for the student's acquisition of the language. It will be the innate ability of the student to differentiate, use induction, deduction, problem solving, and memory to finally connect all the dots together. Motivation and processing will also be key. The teacher, essentially, is a conduit.

Deductive and inductive teaching of grammar

In TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) there are two theoretical models of teaching: inductive and deductive. As theoretical models, they basically mean one thing: neither of them is better than the other, and the teacher ultimately chooses the one he or she thinks is best. 

Deductive teaching will move from the general to the specific. You show a typical example of a sentence, for example, and then you break down the lesson into smaller, more in-depth segments. You will present the grammar rule first, then show examples.

Inductive teaching will do the opposite. Teach the segments first, as concepts, and then apply them to a bigger example. Along the way, you ask students whether they can identify patterns, concepts, connections, and similarities from what you taught previously to what you are teaching now. You will first show examples that illustrate a grammar rule. 

A seasoned teacher will probably agree that the best methodology depends on how much time you have to teach, how many students you have, and the level of motivation of the students. 

Implicit and Explicit

Since language has to be understood both explicitly and implicitly, teachers of language must take this into consideration when teaching. However, this is an ongoing debate in the TEFL field that runs the way the "nature versus nurture" debate runs in Psychology. 

Explicit instruction involves explaining rules, providing "metalinguistic feedback" (asking if something is correct or incorrect), comparing and contrasting language, and having students repeat things. 

Implicit instruction is teaching the language without rules or forms. The teacher uses the rules and forms of grammar spontaneously throughout the teaching. The students will recognize the patterns on their own and apply them.

The argument:

Arguably, if you are left alone in a foreign country, you have no other choice but to learn implicitly. In contrast, if you have the means to hire a private tutor, chances are that you learning will be both explicit and implicit. The point is this: You will learn either way!

Pros for explicit instruction

Explicit instruction clarifies any doubts in grammar usage and application, whereas inductive instruction runs the risk of the student confusing a rule or applying it erroneously due to the specificity in the initial instruction.

Pros for implicit instruction

Implicit instruction happens more naturally and may elicit more interest and motivation from students who prefer to learn independently and by discovery. 

All this being said, it is clear that grammar should be taught, whether explicitly or implicitly. It should be taught because according to theory,

  • humans are born to understand it
  • humans can make the connections
  • all languages possess a grammatical blueprint (in theory)
  • communication should be taught complete with the internal and external elements.

Go to these readings for more great information and check out eNotes's study guide on second language acquisition. The link is included in the answer. 

Brown, H.D. (2007). Principles of language learning and teaching. Pearson Longman.

Haight, C., Herron, C., & Cole, S. (2007). The effects of deductive and guided inductive instructional approaches on the learning of grammar in the elementary language college classroom. Foreign Language Annals, 40, 288-309.

Thornbury, S. (1999). How to Teach Grammar. Pearson.

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