Have you been teaching your students too much grammar?

After packing up my materials at the ETAI conference last week, I had time to hear some of Leo Selivan’s presentation on learning language, which emphasized mainly that language is produced in chunks and that grammar must be acquired rather than learned. Most of what he said matched my own experience and the methods I use, but it’s always nice to be backed up by a reputable authority. Speaking of methods, this is a good time to mention my book English is Fun in Rhythm.
“Speaking of methods” – How would a non-English speaker learn a phrase like that? “How would”? Why not “How could” or “How should”? I could keep going, but I shouldn’t so I won’t (not wouldn’t). Since English is my native language I know which word is correct even if I can’t explain why. I learned by being exposed to language in spoken and written form all around me from the day I was born.
Now let’s go back to our EFL students. They also learned their native languages by constant exposure, and probably speak correctly. Young children seem to be able to figure out the rules by themselves. So exposure to authentic language is the key to producing proper language structures. How can we provide this exposure to learners of a foreign language? Songs (back to my website), drama in the classroom and on stage, computer research, magazines, books, movies. Talk about subjects that interest them and they will learn vocabulary that interests them.
In our discussion after the presentation we tried to come up with songs with “can”. I had trouble thinking on the spot so I’m going to list a few now.
Dancing Queen (You can dance, you can jive..), ABBA
We Can Work It Out, The Beatles
I Can Be Your Hero, Enrique Iglesias
Any song you choose will have some useful language chunks. Teach them the language they need to communicate and learning becomes relevant.

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