People are still struggling with the role of Grammar in bilingual education…

It is amazing how difficult it is for us to let go of old habits, old beliefs, traditional ways of doing things. That is not different with teachers… although one might expect it to be.

Recent and not so recent studies about language acquisiton have pointed out the importance of acquiring a language in a more natural way. The claim is that language, for the majority of the people that learn it, has the purpose of being a vehicle of communication. We learn a language to be able to communicate with one another. We, or at the least those who are not going to be a linguist, are not interested in a learning a language as an ultimate goal in itself. We learn a language because it enables us to interact with a broader audience in a more effective way, to create bonds, to understand contexts in which different languages bring different interpretations, to connect.

In this scenario, grammar must be redefined. Over the decades the main disagreement between advocates of one or another method for learning a language was the importance of the teaching and learning of grammar. And the opinions were usually totally opposed from one another. Either grammar was the salvation or the disgrace when it came to learn a language. Today in the post method era this should not be an issue, but still is. Teachers struggle to understand the actual role of grammar when learning a language with the purpose of communication.

One thing must be clear, and must be the starting point for any discussion about grammar. Language comes before grammar. Grammar was invented as a way of describing how languages work, their patterns according to different contexts, and also as a way of trying to standardize the languages and maintain them the way they are – which is ultimately impossible, for languages are like living, ever changing organisms, that keep adapting to changes. So the role of grammar, within that perspective, is to describe the way languages work so we can understand them and use them more effectively. That is what we commonly call language awareness. Grammar, for those who are not going to be linguists, is only useful as a tool to improve communication. Regardless of the names of the structures what matters is to be able to identify the patterns of the language that are there, in different contexts, and use them accordingly. So being aware of those patterns must be an important goal on the way to bilingualism, and this development must clearly be an objective when it comes to teaching in a bilingual education environment.

It is not about praising or execrating grammar. It has its role, and it is not a secondary one. But forget about grammar boxes. Forget about memorizing the names of the structures or a table of verbs. That does not lead to bilingualism. Teach language awareness, teach your students to see the matrix of grammar across language. Grammar is alive, as languages are, and if the students are able to see grammar that way, then they will finally benefit from it.

Carlos Henrique Trindade

Carlos Henrique Trindade has been in the ELT world for over 25 years and throughout this time he has worked in some of the main international publishers. Carlos is a specialist in Bilingual Education and has been implementing bilingual education programs in schools all over Brazil for the past five years. Carlos is currently the leader of Santillana's Group newest initiative: Educate Bilingual Program.

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