Methodology Debates From has a small (and hopefully developing) section on methodology debates, and the first topic I looked at – “Can you teach grammar” by Jim Scrivener – was quite interesting, perhaps in large part because I agreed with much of it.

I should of course point out, if readers don’t know already, that with a BA and a CELTA (and even a few years of experience now) there are definitely others who are better qualified to speak on methodological matters than me. But still, I like to think I’m clever and can at the very least reflect on my experience and training. I can also sure write a lot, so here goes.

The gist of this article is: teachers, including experienced ones such as Scrivener himself, deliver decent, engaging, well-prepared, quality lessons – but it takes much more than that to “teach” grammar. He ultimately suggests that doing more reading and listening at lower levels, and waiting for students own interest/noticing/need to arise might well be more effective than focusing explicitly on grammar.

I think what he says makes sense, and fits much of my experience. One difficulty in implementing this though is simply that many students want to be taught grammar and will just not put up with a class or school where they don’t feel they are learning it (or are being taught it) as quickly as they would like. And I believe that while many people do genuinely want to know English and genuinely need to know English, they won’t ever take an interest in “why is … like it this, how do I know.” People who like languages might – but I’d say these people are more likely already to have learned languages however they were taught, and less likely to be clients of a language school later.

The good thing though is that experienced teachers saying and acting on this does in fact influence students, and at least get them started thinking that it might actually be right. The lack of explicit grammar instruction is not because the teacher is generally incompetent or too stupid on the topic of present perfect in particular; it’s because grammar lesson as such are not as effective in the long run, and the time is more usefully spent in other ways. From my experience in language schools, I think a teacher who doesn’t teach grammar explicitly if it comes in the book or the syllabus is unlikely to go far with that practice, but it’s not a bad idea to at least entertain the idea and present it from time to time, explicitly and in practice, to students.