Saturday, December 1, 2007

Betty Azar, Marianne Celce-Murcia, and Michael Swan on Teaching Grammar

From time to time, it is stimulating to check out what's happening in the field of TESL (or TESOL) either by attending a conference or reading a journal. In my case, I spent a few hours this weekend reading through several articles published in a special edition (September 07) of an electronic TESL journal.

This issue focuses on "The Current Status of Standards of English Grammar" and features such well-known writers/teachers as Betty Azar, Marianne Celce-Murcia, and Michael Swan. I recommend taking a little time to digest the writings and reflect on your own teaching style.

At my school, we have 2 hour 45 minute 'grammar' classes (which meet 3 times per week). We use Betty Azar's GBT (grammar-based teaching with her textbooks), with some FonF (Focus on Form) along with the New Interchange series (which has a more concept-based teaching approach - CBT), always in a communicative language context. From all of the writers in this e-journal, I gained reinforcement of the idea that the most effective language teaching methods are those that engage the students because of interesting content and useful grammatical constructs that allow them to express themselves and be understood.

I agree with Swan who says that "a glance at any history of language teaching will show 'language in use' has been taught, well or badly, since languages were first studied" and that much of the debate over whether to teach 'meaning' or 'use' in the context of grammar structures might be better spent on more fruitful endeavors (Swan, 2007). In addition, I fully understand Azar's defense of her GBT approach, which some have apparently identified as one that excludes communicative language teaching (CLT). She emphasized "doing both" as her motto; I'd say do 'all' of the above - which means use all the tools and concepts you have available to get your students to use their English well and often.

The one discouraging thing about reading some of these articles is the realization that when practitioners and academics of ESL try to talk to each other about subjects that should lead their readership to enlightenment, they can lose us in a sea of acronyms. I had no idea there were so many three-letter 'words' for every school of thought about ESL teaching!


Betty Azar said...

Dear Evelyn,

Thanks for sending me the link. What a great resource for teachers! I very much enjoyed reading your "two cents" and appreciate your including a link to my article. I tried to bring some pragmatism and fresh air into the perennial grammar debates. I myself have never understood what all the fuss is about -- working from a grammar base has always made sense to me and I've never seen it as being in conflict with communicative language teaching.

At TESOL in New York this year, I'm being joined by Michael Swan, Keith Folse, and Kent Hill (a young applied linguist from Japan whose special interest is researching grammar systems) for a panel entitled "Teaching Grammar in Today's Classroom." We're going to explore the myths and realities surrounding the teaching of grammar. I can't wait!

I'm trying to get a Web site up and going -- so I know how much work goes into it. You've done a fantastic job. If I may, I'll send an email when my site is actually online, another month or two, I think, and hope that you find it interesting and helpful. It's a teacher-resource site for people who teach grammar, using my books or other texts. I never knew how much work goes into preparing a Web site!

Best regards,
Betty Azar

P.S. The link actually didn't work, but I googled it with no trouble.

evelyn said...

Dear Betty,
Thank you very much for your comment and encouragement. I wish I could attend your TESOL panel discussion. Perhaps you will include some of the highlights of that on your new website. Please do send me an e-mail when it's up and running next year.

I hope you'll stop by 'Many Englishes' from time to time too.

Best wishes,

Michael Swan said...

Hi, Evelyn. In a hurry between two trips, but enjoyed your piece. You're so right about acronyms: ESL, EFL, CGT, TBI, NLP, TPR, ZZZ, ZZZ, ZZZ.


Michael Swan

evelyn said...

Dear Michael,
Thanks very much for taking time to comment. I hope you have a good panel discussion at TESOL, and I look forward to reading about the outcome.
Best wishes,

Scott said...

Marianne is my grandmother, Man knowing everything she wants for me... I hope that I can get into UCLA afterI graduate from High School. I still remember the good old times when I would purposely speak bad grammar just to mess with her... I also remember all the time she spent with me reading books so I could speak right because I had a problem speaking when I was little... I still find it cool that the books that she wrote are still being read and used to this day.

evelyn said...

Hi Scott, Thanks for the post and acknowledgment of your grandmother. Her books are classics and still well read and well used by teachers of English as a second language. Best wishes in your academic career and in life! Enjoy the good memories of being read to by this great teacher, your grandma Marianne Celce-Murcia!