What is grammar in language teaching?

No term in the language teaching field is as ambiguous as grammar. It is fraught with ambiguity because of its complexity magnified by the fact that every one of the various definitions is multidimensional. For instance, grammar can be used to represent both learner grammars and proficient language speaker grammars.

It is imperatively important for any language teacher to be clear about what is meant when one is making claims about grammar. For this course, specifically, we will take the one that is broad enough to draw on many of these linguistic theories for their insights, yet sufficiently focused to fulfill its teaching and testing functions. An understanding of grammar teaching and assessment is better served by knowing how the subject is learned or acquired. Hence, we have included a discussion on how we learn grammar.

The National Capital Language Resource Center (2007) considers grammar central to the teaching and learning of languages. It is also one of the most challenging aspects of language to teach. Hence, to every language teacher, teaching grammar is a sine qua non to a successful language teaching experience.

On the day you were born, you had no paper to write on the name given to you by your parents. Your sole means of talking to the world (for the first time) was to cry. Hardly did the people around you get exactly the intention of a baby crying. While all babies have some normal fussy crying every day. When this occurs over 3 hours per day, it’s called colic. Perhaps, this could be what it meant.

Knowing that you are able to interpret what you wished to convey, that’s a sure indication that you’re alive and that you possess one of the greatest abilities any human being can possess — being able to communicate.

As you grow older, you learn how to speak your native language and that’s because of the people around you. When I say people, I am referring not only to your parents but also to your playmates. In this regard, interaction is the key component of your language development. You need no formal education just to learn the language. Anyone only needs to be exposed to everyday conversations.

However, as a language teacher, it is a must that you acquire a technical understanding of grammar. To define grammar in its broadest sense, we shall look into the approaches to understanding grammar, 7 ways of looking at grammar, types of grammar, forms of grammar, levels of grammar, and three-dimensional grammar framework.

The first and most important rule that all English Language teachers should remember is that in order to teach grammar, they must have a firm understanding of grammar. Probably the most common association with the word grammar is the word rule.


One viewpoint to consider is that grammatical rules do not precede, but rather emerge from language use. Meaning, rules are probabilistic and not deterministic.

Still, existing pieces of literature offer varied ways of viewing grammar. Let’s delve into these theoretical concepts one by one.

Approaches to understanding grammar

The term grammar generally refers to the rules and conventions by which words are ordered and changed to form a sentence.

Grammar can be prescriptive or descriptive.

Descriptive grammar refers to the structure of a language as it is actually used by speakers and writers.

Prescriptive grammar refers to the structure of a language as certain people think it should be used.

Both kinds of grammar are concerned with rules–but in different ways. Specialists in descriptive grammar (called linguists) study the rules or patterns that underlie our use of words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. On the other hand, prescriptive grammarians (such as most editors and teachers) lay out rules about what they believe to be the “correct” or “incorrect” use of language.

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