Editorial

BEFRIENDING GRAMMAR

 

Thanks to language, man became man.

 Descrates

It is needless to reiterate that we are human beings for the reason that we are gifted with the faculty of language. Aldous Huxley joined Descrates when he made even a stronger claim that ‘deprived of language we should be as dogs and monkeys’. True, hundred percent true!  Words fall short to illuminate the value of language in human life.  However, a million dollar question is “what is something that makes a language?”, What is something that distinguishes language from other communications?   Of course, there are several defining features of language but perhaps most importantly, human communication is set apart from rest of the communications because language has the attribute of grammar which others do not. The enormous complexity in language also leads us to look for grammar.  Thus, men are not merely homo loquens but also homo grammaticus to tag along with Frank Plamer.

Arguably, grammar (and its instruction) is as old as human language.  Though the history of written grammar is traced back to fourth century in the East (India) and even later fifth century in the West (Greece), some grammar plausibly must have existed in oral tradition of language before. This existence of grammar implies the existence of grammar instruction in some way. To say more explicitly, we have been doing grammar in one way or other since the origin of language. And perhaps, we will not be able to imagine language without grammar any time in future.   Despite criticisms against its tyranny in language learning, grammar continues to survive either implicitly or explicitly. We have heard and read controversies for and against grammar instruction but the fact is that every language teacher is a grammar teacher. Whether a language teacher teaches different skills or aspects or various genres of literature, grammar is inherent. It is because language is language because of its grammar.   If so, then a sensible question is:  “how can we befriend grammar?”  Befriending grammar implies befriending changes in grammar. Changes in grammar are shaped by changes in language which is also called a living phenomenon. If the grammar of a language does not proceed in consonance with changes in language, the grammar can/should be declared dead. Similarly, innovations in grammar pedagogy have deconstructed our perceptions and practices both. Thus befriending grammar also requires us to be familiar with the issues and directions in grammar instruction both home and abroad. Some of the current issues in grammar instruction worldwide as Rod Ellis puts are: Should we teach grammar, or should we simply create the conditions by which learners learn naturally? What grammar should we teach? When should we teach grammar? Is it best to teach grammar when learners first start to learn an L2 or to wait until later when learners have already acquired some linguistic competence? Should grammar instruction be massed (i.e., the available teaching time be concentrated into a short period) or distributed (i.e., the available teaching time spread over a longer period)? Should grammar instruction be intensive or extensive? Is there any value in teaching explicit grammatical knowledge? Is there a best way to teach grammar for implicit knowledge? Should grammar be taught in separate lessons or integrated into communicative activities? These issues demand every grammar teacher to be alert and think critically over them.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Nepalese ELT has ever made an effort to adopt and adapt the global trends. The reason is Nepalese ELT does not have its own research foundation. Though some of the issues in grammar instruction can be addressed with the insights from mainstream ELT, several local issues seem to be cropping up and demanding course desiginers, experts and practitioners to think afresh, to initiate research to diagnose the gaps and to reveal new directions in order to reshape it. For instance, nativisation of English in Nepal has led us think in a new way on whether we should continue with grammar of British English, American English or we should have our own grammar of Nepalese English. We are already familiar with the fact that many discussions have taken place to justify new English in Nepal and to build a corpus for it. Likewise, with the privitazation of education, English grammar writers in Nepal are mushrooming but the quality of their products can be questioned on several grounds. Grammars based on borrowed materials and devoid of any attention towards English and Nepalese English corpus can in no way expose language learners with everyday English. Vertical course designing trend also poses another problem in grammar instruction. We gradually seem to be realising that teaching grammar in isolation does not fetch more and therefore it is the time we moved towards discourse grammar of English.

In this May issue of NELTA Choutari, through an interview and two reflective articles, an attempt has been made to inform the ELT practitioners with the issues in grammar instruction and also some insights and expertise to enlighten their perspectives and  practices both.

Though this issue lays its efforts to penetrate into the issues of grammar instruction in Nepalese ELT, we serve you with the following diverse contents:

  1. What, Why And How of Doing Grammar?  An Interview with Dr. Bal Mukunda Bhandari
  2. Gaps In The Expectations Of Course Designers, Teachers And StudentsBal Ram Adhikari
  3. Almost Every Sentence Has A Tense!!!Madhu Neupane
  4. Examining ExaminationsPavan Kumar Sah
  5.  The Training And Trainees!: A Reflective Report On Training In Birgunj-Suresh Shrestha

We are sure that while you go through the aforementioned writings, you will find the issues thorny, creating controversies and stimulating discussions. Please feel free to share your observations, no matter sweet or sour.

Sajan Kumar 

Editor

May Issue, NELTA Choutari

 

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