Grammar learning is different from other academic subjects since grammar builds on prior knowledge.

L2 learning goes beyond acquisition of linguistic features. The process includes communication, cultural awareness, the ability to compare and contrast L1 and L2, and the use of language skills with academic disciplines (Magrath, D., Jan. 21, 2019).

Here is a good definition of grammar:

Grammar is the structure of a language. It is a set of rules specifying the ways words are inflected (how endings are added to change the meaning) and the ways individual words can be combined into larger units to form phrases, clauses, or sentences (ProLiteracy, 2013).

One should be aware of grammatical differences across languages. Languages with many speakers have large vocabularies, but languages with fewer speakers have smaller vocabularies and more complex grammar.

Languages have an intriguing paradox. Languages with lots of speakers, such as English and Mandarin, have large vocabularies with relatively simple grammar. Yet the opposite is also true: Languages with fewer speakers have fewer words but complex grammars (Cornell University, Jan. 29, 2018).

As the world populations become more interconnected, the grammar becomes more simplified.

Through computer simulations, a Cornell University cognitive scientist and his colleagues have shown that ease of learning may explain the paradox. Their work suggests that language, and other aspects of culture, may become simpler as our world becomes more interconnected (What happens to language as populations grow? It simplifies, say researchers).

Words are relatively easy to learn, but grammar takes time.

But learning a new grammatical innovation requires a lengthier learning process. And that's going to happen more readily in a smaller speech community, because each person is likely to interact with a large proportion of the community…Conversely, in a large community, like a big city, one person will talk only to a small proportion the population. This means that only a few people might be exposed to that complex grammar rule, making it harder for it to survive… (What happens to language as populations grow? It simplifies, say researchers).

Grammar instruction needs to be topical and related to what the students are learning in other classes. The days of repetitive drills are over.

When possible, you should try to incorporate grammar instruction into these real-life contexts rather than present it in isolation (ProLiteracy, 2013).

Linguistic change

Grammar may change to a least-marked form, but not always. For example, the increasing popularity of “dove” rather than “dived” in American English coincides with the development of cars, and hence the rise of soundalike “drive” and past tense “drove” in describing journeys. The team add that they suspect similar effects might be at work in a number of the verbs that currently look like they might be changing by chance alone (Davis, N., Nov.1, 2017).

Teaching hint: Pre-teaching

Students can start with easy topics before fully engaging in studying grammar points.

Used primarily with beginning and intermediate level students, pre-communicative activities allow the teacher to isolate specific elements of knowledge or skill that compose communicative ability, giving students opportunities to practice them without having to fully engage in communicating meaning (Gebhard, J., 2009).

Teaching hint: Authentic materials

Browse YouTube to find commercials in the target language to strengthen listening comprehension skills and to help students identify grammatical forms in context. You can search specifically for the YouTube channels of well-known brands, companies, or retail stores within the target language country.

Commercials serve as a quick snapshot of a culture and expose beginner students to native speakers in a manner that’s not overwhelming. They may have the same products in their home countries. Have questions for students to answer as they view a commercial, such as:

  • What is the product being advertised?
  • What are the people in the commercial doing?
  • Rate the quality of the commercial—why did you like it or dislike it? (Spathis, E., May 1, 2018)

Find examples of the grammatical point that you need to teach. An advertisement may have examples of imperative forms. A news report would be a good way to illustrate the past forms for example. The predicted outcome of a soccer match or a weather forecast would be an interesting way to present the future. Later, the class can contrast the prediction with what really happened.

Teaching hint: Questions

Have students work in pairs on a similar problem involving “wh..” questions. They are finding out information on various restaurants. The information requested concerns reservations, credit cards, smoking versus non-smoking areas, daily specials, hours of operation and any other culturally specific item. One student has the information and the other has the questions.

Teaching hint: Directions

A picture or set of visuals can also serve as an introduction for a new structure (Using topical grammar). They create a situation for the learner to acquire new vocabulary and forms without resorting to translation or repetition since the learners can listen and give short answers at first. A good activity would be to reproduce a map and develop some activities.

Native English speakers would use the correct propositions, but ESL students may attempt to translate from their language, so they will need a lot of practice.

Teaching hint: Conversational exchange

A simple short conversational exchange can introduce the future. As a warmup, the instructor can review familiar verbs in their present forms, perhaps talking about a current campus happening or reviewing a past lesson.

Then, the concept of future time is introduced by mentioning a coming event, such as a test or a vacation, and the sample forms are put on the board. Don’t be afraid to use informal language at first. Students are most likely using slang expressions that they have learned from other students, and the concept of formal and informal language is common across languages.

Teaching hint: Content

Content-area activities provide opportunities for L2 acquisition without memorizing rules.Even beginners can benefit from the introduction of authentic materials into ESL classes.

Whether you bring in texts, songs, or video clips, authentic resources have the power to catch students’ attention and spark their motivation (Spathis, E., May 1, 2018).

Authentic materials have been relegated to more advanced levels, but a creative teacher can introduce these materials and provide motivation for students to learn more.

But with some exploration, a willingness to take risks, and a dose of reflection, it’s possible to use such materials at the novice levels as well. Novice learners can take full advantage of authentic resources, as long as there are level-appropriate expectations, supports, and tasks in place (Engaging novice World Language learners).

Teaching hint: Music

In Malaysia, music provided a way for students to connect with the English language. They were more motivated to improve their abilities on the language. Here is a comment from the program’s secretary, Fatin Suhaila Che Ibrahim.

Students are also able to connect with the English language thorough their mutual interest in new cultures and music. This in turn makes them more motivated to improve their proficiency in their English language skills outside of the class (Zahrattulhayat, M., Oct. 2, 2019).

Music goes across cultures and allows for additional “comprehensible input” that goes beyond books and lectures. Teaching assistant Rhiannon Moore states:

One thing which is obvious is that there is universal love for music. I have seen a lot of Malaysian students in western countries who listen to K-pop even though it is not their language, but they still could catch up with the words and sentences. The same goes with the English language, when they listen to English songs (Learning English language through music).

Music is a good way for students to acquire vocabulary and syntax without memorizing lists and rules.

Teaching hint: Grammar and culture

ESL courses typically focus on grammar, reading and writing, but a cultural component is needed as well.

English as a second language (ESL) classes generally emphasize English grammar and vocabulary to lay the foundation for speaking, reading and writing correctly in English. Yet these classes are also an important opportunity to teach students about various aspects of the culture in which they're immersed (Dixon, L., 2020).