After reading Hartwell’s article “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar,” as well as the other blog entries
on the topic, I found that before I can even take a stance on
“the grammar issue,” it essential to address the following question:
what is the purpose of teaching grammar? Neelam introduces the idea that
one function of formal grammar instruction is to fuel the internalization of grammar.
I found it interesting that she compares herself with other students who had the
same instruction but were not able to internalize the rules. This makes me wonder:
is formal grammar instruction is the primary factor that influences effective
internalization of the rules, or perhaps is it more effective to practice in engaging in conversation and reading, internalizing
the patterns through seeing and hearing them modeled?
I suppose there is research on this topic. Hartwell introduces several studies that
suggest that formal grammar instruction does not correlate with effective applic
ation (205 and 220). Of course, I am not denying Neelam’s experience with internalization but questioning whether or
not the reason that Neelam’s classmates did not
internalize the language as successfully is that not all students learn effectively from
Bringing this back to my original question: is the purpose of grammar instruction to aid
internalization? Massimo made an insightful comment when he pointed out that his
“sophisticated knowledge of grammar and spelling did not help [him] at all to
communicate effectively with [his] new American friends.” From this statement,
Massimo associates grammar more with ease of communication than with writing.
I am sure that his papers in school were written nearly flawlessly, but what he valued
more was the ability to communicate effectively with peers. Perhaps having perfect
grammar in colloquial conversations is, in fact, socially debilitating in certain contexts
(particularly for younger people), because a speaker can be speaking too formal.
Therefore, even though Massimo undoubtedly internalized the formal rules of grammar,
this is not what he valued from his formal grammar instruction. So, basically,
I am inquiring: What do we value in grammar? Correctness or basic communication? Internalization? Something else?