Teaching and learning :
The effective teaching of grammar in modern foreign languages (MFL)
'One of the most misunderstood words in the English language has to be the word ‘grammar’ '(Rendall, 2006: 53). This statement stands as the ideal starting point from which to unveil a rationale for the importance of grammar in the language acquisition process and how it has been perceived in the past decades . What is grammar ? Why and how should it be taught ? These questions, as basic as they look, do no seem as easy to answer if we look at the evolution of language teaching in the last decades . Grammar is the structure of languages and to understand its importance it would be helpful to review some of the most important language acquisition theories regarding first language acquisition and different approaches of Modern Foreign Language (MFL) teaching and learning in the 20th century in the Uk, This paper reviews some of the theories and research which fuel ‘the great grammar debate’ regarding first language acquisition and second language teaching and learning . It will analyse how these theories have influenced governement policies, school curricula and teaching approaches in the past decades and what is the place of grammar within the current teaching of the modern foreign language (MFL), to finally explain how these researches have been informing my own teaching practice.
'The universality of language is what unites all human being across the globe .The different perspectives of thought is what differentiates our languages.' (Rendall,1998:58). As stated by Rendall, language is common to all human being and is a typical characteristic of the human race. but the way we acquire,develop and evolve this special feature is still not clearly understood and has been the object of researches from which different theories about language acquisition has emerged. Following Dolati (2012:752) statement that 'Behaviourism, Innatism and Interactionism were considered to be the heart of current language acquisition theories'; it seems appropriate to start by looking at these theories' different perception of the language acquisition process.
The behaviourist theory appeared during the 1940s and it claims that language learning is a mechanic process as Dolati (2012:752) explains that 'behaviourist theories all share some version of stimulus-response mecanisms for learning and that therefore language acquisition is perceived as a 'conditioned behaviour' '. Traditional behaviourists such as Skinner (1957) asserts that 'children start out as clean slates and that language learning is a process of getting linguistic habits printed into these slates', For behaviourists, language acquisition is a step by step process of 'imitation, repetition, memorization and controlled drilling reinforcement' (Dolati, 2012:752). However, even though children continue to imitate and practise the sounds and patterns linked to what they hear, therefore forming 'habits' of correct language use; it does not seems that this alone can account for the explanation of some of the speech forms created by children and their acquisition of more complex grammatical structures.
Noam Chomsky was the leading supporter of the second theoretical approach of first language learning : Innatism. He propounded his theory of Universal Grammar in the 1960s which questioned and contradicted the behaviourists belief that children come into the world with a blank slate mind. Noam Chomsky (1957) asserted that language is too complex and language learning occurs too rapidly to be explained through imitation. Children learn more about the structure of their language than they could reasonably be expected to learn on the basis of the samples of language which they hear. Chomsky believes that children were born with a special ability to discover for themselves the underlying rules of a language system. The innate component of language in human beings is called...
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