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Does learning grammar terms in the language you are learning matter?

Okay I know odd questions but we are having this debate where I work. I teach English in China and I find my students learn English grammar using Chinese. When I ask them a grammar question in English I get the famous "deer in the headlights" look from them. If I were to ask that question in Chinese they'd know it but in English they fail to know because they never learned the terms.

The debate now is should we teach grammar terms in the language one is learning and why? I say yes, because you need to know it to be able to discuss it and learn more. It helps you stay in that language and not be translating which isn't a good thing.

I hear other arguments that native speakers never really learn grammar but they speak their language so why learn it? I used to feel that way but once I began to learn Chinese and teach English grammar I changed my mind. Learning the grammar of a language is important (maybe not to have a basic conversation) but it helps you to become more fluent and it improves your writing skills.

Keep in mind my students will study abroad in English and write essays and other academic papers so learning grammar is essential for them. However, I'd love to hear other views.

July 16, 2019



Looks like we are on the same page :) I'm currently low C1 and when I was learning the grammar covered in intermediate levels, I was doing this through a book called 'English grammar in use' and by means of other outside sources. Since the book was entirely in English and I shouldn't have used my native language in this period, I had to learn the general grammar terms in order to comprehend the given material more easily and efficiently. Therefore, I think anyone whose level is intermediate has to consider learning grammar terms if he or she truly wants to grasp the language.


I agree, Royal1223, as I have experienced the same thing personally.

I was observing someone using a new-ish teaching method that only has the students parrot phrases. She is touting this method as a game-changer, since students must stay entirely in the target language. It appears phenomenal on the surface, but I am extremely curious to see if students "hit a wall" and cannot progress without having some foundational grammar. At the moment, they can only parrot memorized phrases and are not being creative. My goal this year is to follow her students into the next level.


Just FYI, I saw a comment to my post that said I had posted this in the wrong place, but to be clear I posted here because I want input from other teachers not just language learners. As an "educator" I'd really appreciate getting input from other "educators", thanks.


The current language acquisition research (Benito Mason and Stephen Krashen) discourages the explicit teaching of grammar alongside teaching a new language as this interferes with students natural language production.

As a high school language teacher, I have to find a balance. We use language with the students in context and when they seem to have acquired it we introduce the grammar behind it gently as an FYI. I want them to use the language not discuss the language/ linguistics but I also don’t want them to feel intimidated by situations when linguistics are discussed.

My 2 cents : )


Thanks I will check out the research. I see your point. If it is helpful, teaching English in China to 2nd language learners, I have come up with a simple system to teach structure. I use a simple formula and the students can practice by filling in the formula. They are first taught four basic terms, noun (n), verb (v), adjective (adj) and adverb (adv). We practice learning which words are which, then they can do the following sentence structures, simple present (n + v (es/s)), simple past (n + v (ed)), present continuous (n + {to be} (am, is, are) + v(ing)) and past continuous (n + {to be} (was/were) + v(ing))

I even give them a simple sentence to practice: I walk I walked I am walking I was walking

I have found teaching grammar in this way has been very successful and then later I can introduce perfect tense, and future tense. I can also then introduce other parts of speech. I am finding that I must teach the English terms but once I do that the older students sort of understand the concept of what the grammar does. I have the best results with young students because they find how I teach this to be like a game and they love playing games.

Anyone else have "ideas" or ways you teach this?


Do you find they get intimidated by grammar discussions, SraBG?


Dear Madame Sensei:

Not really, they grasp it well and in fact my older students really value the "grammar cheat sheet" I use. It gives all the "formulas" for the structures and then explains each structure using an example. They find by using the "sheet" suddenly what didn't make sense now does. The hard part is making the first connection that they need to learn the English terminology, they know what it means they just don't have the terms in English...once that is done, then it begins to click. BTW I know you asked SraBG but I wanted to share my experience in order to give you feedback. :)


That's okay; I value your feedback, too!


This is a great debate!

I feel very strongly that we as "not babies" need to learn some grammar. I feel this is part of pattern recognition. Babies have thousands upon thousands of hours of language exposure. Our students as teenagers only have one hour a day in our classroom, and we know it is a struggle to get them to put in time outside of the class. So if they can memorize a pattern, it makes it so much quicker to internalize the language. Understanding the grammar is part of that pattern. PerfectEng, I love what you said above about teaching the formula and having the students fill it in. These sentence frames are very crucial to learning fast.

My last thought is that I often find that we as language teachers wind up teaching a lot of English grammar as well. Since part of linguistics is comparing languages and cultures, students have to be cognizant as to how their own native language works in comparison to the language they are trying to conquer.

Great discussion going on here!



Thank you, I was asking this point because my colleague feels we don't need to teach grammar in English when teaching English and I disagree. I wanted to find out if others felt like I do, that learning the terminology is important then you can start to connect the "dots" so to speak. My kids know the word "noun" in Chinese but if I say it in English they go blank...yet when I explain that it's the same word...then you see a light come on and they get it. Once they get the terms the rest begins to fall into place and suddenly what they struggled with and thought was "so hard" becomes rather easy.

One more point, you need to do this in stages...first you must teach the parts of speech, and I find you only need to teach (n), (v), (adj) and (adv) to be effective the rest tend to follow and become more intuitive. Then you need to begin with the first four structures Present and Past simple, Present and Past Continuous. Once they can get those four I begin to introduce the Perfect...and finally the future.

It's not hard and I have several games I've created to make it more fun. However, it's a preference or style...and it's up to the teacher how they choose to do it, but it needs to be something that shows results, that's my opinion.

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