Analysing Prescriptive And Descriptive Grammar

Analysing Prescriptive And Descriptive Grammar

Grammar forms a basis of teaching all languages and enhances both the writing and communicative skills of the learners. Through the teaching of grammar, language learners are able to acquire the correct structures which are acceptable in the specific language. For quite some long now, there have been some contesting views on which approach is the most appropriate and is much likely to yield more in a classroom setting. Language teachers constantly raise concerns to the specialists questioning whether there is much value attached to descriptive grammar than the prescriptive grammar. The prescriptivism approach is linked to traditional grammar while the descriptivism approach is attributed to communicative/functional grammar (McDonough, et al., 2013, p. 72). The prescriptive grammar approach lays more focus on the correctness of the structures unlike the descriptive approach which stresses on the need to develop both grammatical and performance competence. The key objective of this paper is to carry out an in-depth analysis of the two modes of teaching grammar closely drawing from two tasks one derived from the traditional grammar and the other one from the functional grammar.In this assignment, I will follow the Askeland’s model to back up my conclusions. The model advocates for a holistic approach in grammar teaching: grammatical and performance competence. Askeland concludes that as much as there is need to acquire the correct grammar structures, the teachers should not overlook the role played by interaction in grammar acquisition (Askeland, 2013, p. 82). This paper is divided into four sections with the first two providing an analysis tasks framed in traditional grammar approach and the functional grammar approach respectively. The third section attempts to redesign the first task in the first paragraph to make it more relevant linguistically and suit the needs of the learners. The fourth section of this paper will sum up all the content in the previous parts and outline of my personal learning though I the third person point of view.

The prescriptive approach of teaching grammar is founded on accuracy/correctness and inaccuracy/incorrectness which are majorly derived from traditional grammar (Hewings & Hewings, 2005). It emphasises a set of rules and norms that govern the use of a specific language. This mode of teaching is much focused on the syllabus provided in the textbook. In the context of prescriptive teaching and learning, the learners are expected to develop the ability to construct grammatically correct sentences. As thus, learning occurs consciously. Typically, the traditional approach is based on drills, filling gaps in sentences and transformational activities (Askeland, 2013). The instructor in the classroom plays a visible role in controlling the entire process and acts as a supervisor rather than as a facilitator. The teacher, in this case, is supposed to declare the answers given as either right or wrong. The picture shot below is a perfect example of a task that can be given in a typical prescriptive grammar classroom context.In this test, the learners are required to fill in the blanks with the correct form of the word in parentheses (O’Connel, 1995). The exercise tests the learners understanding of tense and the ability to construct the correct forms in the simple tense and the progressive tense. Ideally, the ability to fill in the gaps correctly creates an implication to the teacher that the students can use different tenses appropriately. In a greater scope, this task is designed to help students to understand the different forms of English verbs. A good understanding of tense helps the learner to understand when something occurs. Misunderstanding tense could lead to confusion. This task will help the students learn how to use tense correctly and accurately. Additionally, the learners will be able to easily interpret sentences in different time frames. Good knowledge on tense helps an English learner to gain perfection in the use of different forms of verbs. Hence, a person who has learnt correct tense will be able to construct accurate sentences well versed with the intended tense. He or she will also be able to interpret sentences correctly classify them according to their respective tenses. Askeland situates such types of tasks under traditional grammar approach.

Basically, the teaching is grounded on learning specific structures and forms. This approach consistently follows the syllabus dictated by the textbook. At first, the teacher gives the rules governing tense for instance the suffixes that mark simple and progressive tense. Later on, the teacher gives some examples which will help the learners complete the given exercise. It involves many drills as well as the inductive approach. Learners in a prescriptive classroom will hardly understand the contextualised meaning of sentences (semantics and pragmatics) as the structures they are exposed to deal with phonology, morphology and syntax. For instance, the task on tense only deals with morphology and syntax. The above task on tenses just like any other prescriptive test has some strengths and weaknesses. It is a perfect avenue for EFL learners to learn the basic rules governing tense. It can help clear all the ambiguities and confusions among the students surrounding tenses. It helps to make the rules clear to the learners. For instance in the case of simple tense, the teacher clearly states the rule that the tense is marked by (–s) in singular nouns. This helps to draw the correct tense systems in the minds of the learners. However, at times, the structures may vary leading to confusion among the students especially when communicating with the natives. The tense rules in grammar books are somehow subjective and exclude some basics used by the naïve speakers in communication. At times, the change in the tense of some verbs might not be governed by a specified rule. In the cases where the EFL students interact with the native speakers, they will take note of the fact that the natives do not only apply the rules taught to them (Odlin, 1994, p. 7). Thus, prescriptive grammar teaching limits the learners to only the standards stated in the syllabus of the grammar books overlooking other necessary knowledge depicted by the natives in their speech. Essentially, the prescriptive grammar approach works better in enhancing better writing skills at the expense of the communicating skills. The native speakers will surpass the foreigners in both writing and speech as they are more exposed to the English language.Descriptive grammar teaching approach is a more functional approach to teaching that stresses on the need to achieve the native speaker competence (Ellis, 2002). Unlike the prescriptive approach, the descriptive model is based on the actual use of language in varied contexts. Descriptive grammar lays less focus on the correctness and incorrectness of language. Under this approach, the teaching-learning process requires that the learners observe the use of the language in different contexts and derive the principles, rules and norms that govern the use of the language. Descriptive grammar allows for variations within one dialect. The main goal in a descriptive grammar classroom I to attain communicative competence equal to that of the native speakers. Communicative competence is a blend of both grammatical competence and performance competence. For a learner to be qualified as a communicatively competent, he or she must be able to apply all the communication behaviours that the native speakers judge appropriate in the given context. One must be able to articulate sentences that are appropriate in the given topic and setting (sociolinguistics). Thus, the learning of grammar is directly linked to actual communication contexts. The appropriateness of language in the given context is emphasised while the accuracy and correctness carry less prominence. The descriptive grammar approach is highly practical and is structured in a manner that is directly related to the actual use language (Odlin, 1994, p. 8). This way, the approach affords the learners the opportunity to relate grammar to their daily activities. The photo shot below features a perfect task that could be used in a descriptive grammar classroom.

Unlike the previous task where the learners were supposed to fill in some blanks with the correct forms of the verbs given, this task demands a greater understanding of the topic given. A learner, in this case, is required to form complete sentence structures from the pictures of the cartoons given (O’Connel, 1995). This test is more open in that different learners can construct different sentences but still get the exercise right. This test calls for a combination of various grammar skills. Such exercises test different learner abilities. For a student to pass this test, he or she must be able to order words correctly in a sentence as well as how to express wishes and regrets. The test requires the learner to imagine that he or she was the people on the cartoons. Through imagination, the learners will be able to create sentences expressing wishes and regrets. This approach makes the exercises more realistic and applicable in real life circumstances.Descriptive tests are very different from prescriptive tasks as they depict different levels of practicality, contextuality and creativity. From the two tasks, it is crystal clear that the descriptive approach emphasises the naturalness of language production, unlike the prescriptive approach which stresses on the correctness of language. Secondly, the functional approach is more practical. While the first task was concerned with filling in some gaps the second tasks requires the learner to come up with complete sentences assuming to be in a certain context displayed in the pictures. In simpler terms, the task on filling in the blanks is just similar to restating the already stated rules. The functional approach of grammar teaching thus allows the EFL learners to portray their understanding of the use of language in varied contexts. There is much likelihood that learners in a descriptive classroom will acquire more proficiency and fluency within a short period.

The use of the descriptive approach in the teaching grammar not only helps the learners to attain the native speakers’ competence but also helps to breach the gap between the EFL and the native speakers. The test on descriptive grammar is an ideal tool in helping the students explore different variants in the use of language (Cook, 2016, p. 43). Different learners appreciate the fact there is no one single perfect construction as all variants are correct as long as they follow the rules. However, giving such tests in a classroom may be quite challenging especially in the case of highly populated classrooms. The teacher might be unable to ascertain whether all the learners got the answers right. Askeland highly advocates for both the traditional approach and functional approach in grammar teaching. She categorically states that when the learners construct longer texts and interact orally in English, they are more likely to make mistakes as they only focus on meaning (Askeland, 2013, p. 82). She thus puts forth that there is need to embrace both the prescriptive and descriptive approaches in the teaching of grammar. This way, the learners will be able to construct grammatically correct and meaningful sentences. The prescriptive approach helps the students perfect on the grammar rules while the descriptive approach helps them to develop communicative competence.
According to Askeland, ideal grammar tests teach are those that teach communicative competence while still emphasizing correctness. The task in the first paragraph could be redesigned to make it more relevant and learner-centred. In order to achieve these objectives, the grammar test should be open for both the prescriptive and descriptive teaching approach. The initial task was ideal for the prescriptive approach. Thus, the redesigning only requires one to come up with some questions fit for the descriptive approach. The picture shot below shows a task that can be used to meet the goals of both the functional and traditional grammar approaches.

The redesigned test is designed in a manner that allows the students to learn both the rules of the language correctly as well as to enhance their communicative competence. The first part of the exercise examines the ability of a learner to identify specific components in some sentences and give additional information (Frodesen & Eyring, 1993). This task is rather open and allows for varied answers from the student. The learners are supposed to carefully read the sentences and analyses the content applying the learnt concepts. This exercise is not only limited to testing the rules of grammar as it demands the students to provide lengthy responses. The second part of the exercise examines the learners’ capability to grasp the rules presented to them. It requires a better understanding of the principles and norms governing simple and progressive tenses. In order to be able to respond to the questions correctly, the learner must have a good knowledge of the rules governing the formation of verbs in the simple and progressive tense.

Pedagogical grammar assumes a hybrid nature and seeks to accomplish its goals through description, acquisition and instruction (Keck & Kim, 2014, p. 5). EFL learners are required to learn the new language through natural acquisition, formulating grammar rules for themselves from the available materials and taking all the instructions concerning the rules from the teacher. All the three components help to shape the EFL learners to attain competence in English. There is no single preferred methodology of teaching grammar as none depicts much superiority. The teacher is thus left with the responsibility to choose the method which befits the needs of the learners. This decision-making process is greatly influenced by the attitudes of the learners, teacher cognition, available materials, time allocated and the attitudes and beliefs of the teacher.The principal purpose of this assignment was to carry out an in-depth analysis of the different approaches to teaching grammar which are derived from the traditional and functional grammar. Both approaches (prescriptive and descriptive) add equal value to the teaching and learning of grammar. Hence, teachers should not apply one at the expense of the other. Pedagogic grammar has led to numerous advancements in the process of teaching new languages. It has informed both the teachers and learners the value attached to gaining communicative and grammatical competence. Pedagogical grammar implies that for one to attain proficiency in grammar, he or she must be capable of memorising the norms and rules attached to the grammar ad effortlessly communicate in the language both in spoken and written form. The concept of pedagogical grammar gives hints to both the teachers and learners of EFL on the best methods to teach and learn grammar. Teachers who are conversant with pedagogical grammar can make better decisions offering better opportunities for the students to learn effectively. Such teachers can constantly rethink about their choices and make shifts when required to. They guide their learners towards acquiring more helpful skills in grammar especially in the fields of accuracy and communicative competence. Pedagogical grammar stresses on the need for the learners and the teachers to get directly involved in the teaching-learning process. As the teacher is much involved in giving the formulated rules, the learners should engage in applying the given rules in various contexts. Typically, pedagogical grammar is based on non-technical, coherent, definite and heuristic rules.

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