Catherine Walter opened the second day of the Forum with her talk about learning grammar and pronunciation. The first question she asked was whether to teach grammar or not. She gave an overview of theory in relation to this topic and stated that explicit knowledge is useful. She also talked about the current theoretical views and said that the task-based instruction allows a place for pre-planned grammar instruction and skills approach.
Is there any evidence that explicit grammar teaching works? She said that Norris and Ortega did a lot of research and proved that explicit teaching works better than implicit. She also mentioned other authors who all proved the same. She stated that learners will not only learn the rules but also this leads to conscious and unconscious knowledge over time. She concluded that grammar should be taught, but taught efficiently. How teachers should structure a course? According to Paul Nation and his four strands, we have meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, language-focused learning and fluency development.
She then talked about the '3 Es' of grammar teaching - explanations (rules), examples and exercises. Some rules are imposed and some are expressions of observed regularity. The order of the '3 Es' varies and depends on the approach used (inductive or deductive).
A rule should show clearly what are the limits on the use of a given form, it should also be clear, and as simple as possible. A rule should be relevant.
Examples need to be prototypical and have to be natural-sounding. They also should not contain irrelevant difficulties, for example, above-level vocabulary.
Exercises give the opportunity to develop fluency. Ideal exercise combines quantity and quality of practice in a short time.
She said that everybody needs good receptive pronunciation - productive pronunciation is important for some. She suggested teachers do decoding activities with their students such as A or B, same or different, write the word.
Second plenary on teaching language issues in today's Russia was delivered by Svetlana G. Ter-Minasova. She started by saying that language mistakes are forgiven cultural mistakes are not.
She then explained that Russia is a big and isolated country but unlike the western isolated countries on islands, like UK or Japan, Russia developed a strong culture of admiration for everything that is foreign. She said that that has implications on the language as well. If one says to someone that they are European, that is regarded as a compliment and saying that someone is Asian is quite the opposite and she also stressed that Russian capitals have always been in Europe. Then she talked about the Soviet project after the revolution - they wanted to teach people to read and write and millions were taught in a decade.
She said that knowledge of foreign language during the first years of Soviet government was stigmatised - it was considered that only members of the upper class speak foreign languages and people were concealing their knowledge. In the early 1930s Soviet government realised they need foreign languages for diplomacy and language learning became a must. After the second revolution in the 90s, all professionals actually wanted to learn foreign language.
The tradition of FL teaching was developed in a strange environment - behind the iron curtain. She said that no contemporary literature could arrive to Russia and that she learnt long chunks of Dickens' David Copperfield by heart as a student. She called the tradition of EFL teaching in the Soviet era 'Depth, fairness, perfectionism'. Students had to be perfect and excellent in line with the Soviet ideals. She stated that even today there are traces of the attitude. The communication with foreigners was not possible - if the foreign languages students communicated with foreigners they were thought to be either spies or were planning to emigrate. Perfectionism today is not regarded as a good thing. She told a story how she got a British Council scholarship and went to London which changed her life and in essence she did not want to go. The other scholars who got the scholarship were the best in their fields but were not capable of good communication because they tried to speak perfectly which is not possible. Foreign language is strange and foreign, and cannot be mastered and a teacher should be a guide who leads the students. She concluded by saying that the secret of success for a teacher is love for the subject and for the learner. So many teachers suffer from the fear of the subject they teach. There is no learning or teaching a foreign language without knowing the culture.
Svetlana Bogolepova started her session on teaching grammar within different approaches by asking the teachers whether teaching grammar was important. Then she continued by explaining the lexical approach - grammar and lexis cannot be separated. Advocates of this approach suggest grammar to be taught as patterns of chunks.
Language awareness approach states that the grammar has to be noticed first and understood by the learner. There is also cognitive development.
Task-based learning - students need to complete a task - a lesson has a clear outcome, task completion. Student have to negotiate the meaning in order to collaborate. For example, they engage in debates or plan an event.
Dogme is another approach. Scott Thornbury in his book Teaching Unplugged says that we need minimum materials in the classroom since the materials can distract our students. For example, students get a communicative situation and discuss.
Demand High is a concept according to which the students are relaxed in today's classroom and when relaxed, there is no learning. Therefore, we have to challenge our learners and get the most of textbook activities.
It was stated that the one of the common trends in all approaches is to practice the language in discourse. Svetlana concluded her session by saying that we should combine the approaches to suit our context.
In her session about engaging activities for young learners, Olga Fomina explained the difference between the inductive and deductive approaches in teaching grammar. She said that inductive method has been regarded as most effective in the work with young learners since 1990s. In deductive approach we have teacher's presentation and a standard routine, the use of charts and symbols and every step will be clearly explained. Teachers will be using full forms and not contractions.
With an inductive approach, we will probably start with a situation and context - we will also have a role-play in a created context and presentations that depend on real-life rating. This approach implies a lot of drilling and repetition. As opposed to the deductive approach, teachers will be using contractions, for example, 'I'd like' and not 'I would like'.
As for activities teachers should use in grammar presentations, Olga suggested role-playing, reading, use of pictures, story telling, drawing as well as playing and singing. She finished her talk by presenting the findings of the research on grammar teaching in schools in Russia.
Blog post by Kristijan Rajkovic