False Beginners and Japanese Methods of Teaching Grammar
∗ Despite at least three years in Junior High School, three years in High School & the possibility of two-four years at university, many learners still have real problems using English
∗ Although more communicative methods are becoming popular in Junior High School, translation is the main method of teaching in High School and this is the system most of our adult learners have been through.
∗ Many learners think they understand grammar & don’t need to study it any more but still make many basic errors.
∗ Often grammar has been explained inaccurately or incompletely, especially as JHS teachers are not native speakers, & learners find it difficult to move away from these ingrained errors.
∗ Grammar that has been taught has been forgotten. On a positive note this means learners have latent knowledge.
Meaning; Form; Pronunciation & Appropriacy (MFPA)
∗ Meaning – What a new structure or item of vocabulary means; its function in a certain context. E.g. The modal verb can could mean
1) ability to do something (I can speak Japanese)
2) a way to make a request or ask permission (Can I/can you open the window)
3) being allowed to do something (You can sit here)
∗ Form – How the structure of the new language is formed; how the grammar works and is put together. E.g. the present perfect tense is have/has (not) + past participle.
∗ Pronunciation – How to pronounce a new word or structure. This is not always clear from the way a word is spelt in English so it is the teacher’s job to highlight it, and also the way a word or a structure is pronounced in connected speech.
∗ Appropriacy – Lots of language has neutral appropriacy, which means it can be used with anyone; it’s neither formal nor informal. However some items of language are suitable for specific situations. E.g. In a letter we might write “I will inform you of the details as soon as possible”, whereas if we speaking to a colleague we’d probably say “I’ll let you know everything as soon as I can”
This is a good way to make sure you know what you are going to teach as it helps anticipate problems learners might have and highlights important points that need to be taught.
Example Language Analysis Language
Meaning:Function for making requests
Form:followed by bare infinitive
Various ways to answer: “yes, of course/no problem” or “I’m sorry, I’m busy/ I’m afraid I can’t”. (Yes, I can/No, I can’t sound very unnatural when used with this function.)
If changed to he/she, there’s no “s”
Pron:in connected speech: /kʊʤə/ or /kʊʤu:/
Intonation is high at beginning
Appropriacy:“Can” is more colloquial, “could” is neutral and “would” is more polite and suitable for letters.
This type of language analysis should be part of lesson planning, as it prepares for learner problems and difficult questions. The information needed can be found in the teacher’s book (or grammar reference books). There are several good books available from Head Office or head schools to help with grammar explanations etc and teachers should never feel bad about asking for help or advice. Giving yourself time to look something up is much better than making something up on the spot that might be wrong. Rather prepare something for the next class.
Good books are:
• “Practical English Usage” by Michael Swann (good for teachers)
• “English Grammar in Use” by Raymond Murphy (good for learners & also teachers as it simplifies grammar & uses language a learner can understand)
• “About Language: Tasks for Teachers of English” by S. Thornbury (good for raising teachers’ linguistic awareness & has lots of fresh approaches for more experienced teachers).
When you teach an item of language it is important to considerwhere it is used and who uses it = this is context.
A good context is:
a) natural & easy to see
b) familiar – either a universal situation everyone can understand or a situation that is culturally specific to the learners
c) generative, it generate lots of natural uses of the affirmative, negative and interrogative forms.
Generally the textbooks will give a context for the class and teachers can of course follow this. However, sometimes it might be necessary to change the context or develop it themselves.
Sophia McMillan Apr 2019