Place of Grammar in the Teaching of English
What exactly should be the place of grammar in the Teaching of English has been a subject of heated controversy between the ancients (or traditionalists) and the moderns (advocates of the Direct Method). The Ancients put a lot of emphasis on grammar and held that the ability to speak or write English was impossible without a prior mastery of the rules of grammar.
It was on the foundation of grammar that the edifice (building) of language learning could be raised. They maintained that the only way to gain grammar over the English language was to learn the rules of its grammar. So the teaching of grammar came first and then followed the ability to speak and write. As a natural corollary to their faith in the efficiency of grammar, it came to be regarded as an end in itself, as the be-all and end-all of language. It was held important for mental discipline since its learning was pretty stiff.
Advocates of the Direct Method: Advocates of the Direct Method contradicted this point of view and some of the extremists went so far as to abolish the teaching of grammar altogether, they held that grammar had no place, worth the name, in the learning of English.
According to H.E. Palmer, instead of helping, it rather hindered the unconscious assimilation of language. So it should be kept away at least in the earlier stages of English language learner. The Direct Method purports (aims) to teach a English language by establishing a direct association of its form in the mind of the students and creating in them a ‘sense’ with regard to the usage of that language.
This ‘language sense’ is created and developed not by studying the rules of the grammar of that language but by coming into contact largely and freely, with the original modes of expression, used by the people to whom the language is native. This can best be done by mixing freely with those people and by extensive reading or the original literature of the learnt by exactly the same method as we learn our mother-language.
The Proper Course: The proper course is to adopt the via media between those two extremist. Teaching of grammar can`t wholly condemned in a sound program of instruction, it is of positive value in avoiding the pitfalls of incorrect expression. Although it doesn`t confer the power of expression in speaking or in writing.
Yet it does boring to the child an insight into the structure or corrects sentences. The knowledge of grammatical rules may help the child to repair the disconnected pavement of a written composition or of an oral speech. It helps to speed up the process of learning by eliminating the pitfalls. Grammar is, in point of fact, the spirit and life of the language animating, the otherwise dry bones represented by dictionary words. If grammar is properly taught it can help the students to think clearly and connectedly, to reason out to judge and to sift.
Although it doesn`t help in a acquiring the capacity to gain practical command over English, it does create the critical sense which enables the learner to criticize and judge his speech and writing “Grammar shouldn`t be regarded as an end in itself, it is a means to an end, a guide, and the students must be practiced in the use of that guide.
No learner ever gains sure command over any form of construction in a foreign language by any other means that than the frequent use of that form of construction. Practice alone makes perfect, and without practice it is vain for students to learn the rule, fact, definition or usage supporters of the old methods were therefore right in the importance they attached to skill in using grammar in speech and writing. What is wanted is a combination of the two.