Effects of Teaching Grammar on Writing


This essay will analyze the effects that grammar teaching has on writing. It will critically analyze the language transfer theory and give the necessary conclusion on whether grammar teaching contributes to good writing skills to learners. Scholars have put forward several theories to explain the process of language acquisition. The accuracy of spoken language contributes heavily to the accuracy of the written language.

The teaching of grammar for the purposes of improving the written language has generated heated debate in the recent past on whether it contributes to the development of good writing skills. Many scholars argue that expressive grammar, if well taught, may contribute to good writing skills for the learners. However, whether grammar teaching helps in improving the writing skills of an individual depends on the first language of the involved person.

According to research carried out by Ellis, Sheen, Murakami, and Takashima (353), the period that the grammar lesson initially took was too little for learners to develop the necessary writing skills. The grammar lessons had little to offer on the construction of sentences.

In their writing, Ellis, Sheen, Murakami, and Takashima (357) concluded that grammar has no significant role in developing the writing skills of an individual, and in most cases, its contribution is negligible. Ellis, Sheen, Murakami, and Takashima (359), recommended that grammar should be taught in a way that it is applicable in real life situations. Grammar, if taught in this manner, will improve the ability of students to develop their writing skills.

Grammar should include teaching individuals on sentence construction and word usage as opposed to the current lessons, which only focus on grammatical instructions only (Ellis, Sheen, Murakami, and Takashima 363). It should include studies that improve the ability of a student to write correct grammar and not only focus on making the student understand some few principles of writing based on memorization.

Related theories

Language transfer theory

According to Truscott (257), the theory describes in details the factors that affect the acquisition of a second language. The theory claims that the learner’s first language greatly influences the process of acquiring a second language. If the learner’s first language is similar to his/her second language, the leaner will be in a position to understand the language faster than in cases where the first language is different.

In other words, a leaner will tend to use words and phrases that are similar with his/her first language as opposed to those words or phrases that are too different from the one used in the first language (Truscott 259). Language transfer can either be in the form of grammar, interpretation of words, or pronunciation.

Truscott (260) attributes the fastness of acquisition of a second language to the input that the leaner receives. Also, Truscott (262) asserts that for an individual to acquire foreign language skills, he/she must have stayed in a foreign country to which the language is widely used.

In their article titled, The effect of grammar teaching (syntax) in English on 5 to 16 year olds’ accuracy and quality in written composition, Andrews, Beaverton, Locke, Low, Robinson, Torgerson, and Zhu (48) posit that interaction also helps a person in developing his or her writing skills.

If an individual uses a second language that he or she intends to learn during interactions with peers, there is the likelihood that writing skills will easily be developed and thus become easy to learn. The output is another factor that this theory emphasizes on (Andrews et al. The effect of grammar teaching (syntax) 50). Output and constant feedback to learners is also a vital factor that helps learners in the acquisition of skills in second language learning.

Constant feedbacks are essential since it increases the morale of learners. Different cognitive aspects underscore the learning of a second language, but they can be broadly classified as “micro and macro processes” (Andrews et al. The effect of grammar teaching (syntax) 63).

Micro-processes include “attention, working memory, integration and restructuring, the process by which learners change their interlanguage systems and monitoring, and the conscious attending of learners to their language output” (Andrews et al.

The effect of grammar teaching (syntax) 64). On the other hand, macro-processes include the distinction between intentional learning and incidental learning and the distinction between explicit and implicit learning (Andrews et al. The effect of grammar teaching (syntax) 71).

Universal grammar theory

In another article, The effect of grammar teaching on writing development, Andrews, Beaverton, Locke, Low, Robinson, Torgerson, and Zhu (39) note that the universal grammar theory attributes the acquisition of foreign language skills to the ability of an individual to catch up.

According to this hypothesis, the ability to learn a foreign language is greatly influenced by one’s ability to learn, and it does not depend on the input given as the Language transfer theory suggests (Andrews et al. The effect of grammar teaching on writing 41). The theory further asserts that all the languages in the world have some characteristics in common, which make it easy for an individual to learn a foreign language without necessarily being taught.

However, the theory does not expressly define the specific characteristics shared by these languages, and thus, it leaves a gap for future research. Universal grammar is thus defined as the general knowledge that a human being possesses, which greatly influences the process of acquiring a second language (Andrews et al. The effect of grammar teaching on writing 53).

Bitchener, Young, and Cameron (191) add that recent improvements to this theory suggest that language development is also influenced by the genetic structure of an individual. The genes dictate the number of languages that an individual can comprehend (Bitchener, Young, and Cameron 198). The other factor that influences language acquisition is the external data that an individual can access.

The availability of learning materials exposes a person to experience the language. Thus an individual with access to a variety of materials on the language that he or she wishes to learn has good chances of easily developing the language.

According to Kitchener, Young, and Cameron (200), the theory also agrees to the view that ease of access to grammar language also influences second language learning. Occasionally, aspects of the universal grammar theory can be defined and classified under the conventional understanding of cognition.

Cognitive factors

Contemporary studies on second-language attainment employ a cognitive approach. Bitchener, Young, and Cameron (202) argue that it is based on the mental ability of an individual to learn a second language. This part of the study is the backbone of explaining the benefit of grammar teaching on the development of a language.

As such, the proponents of cognitive theories hold that the learning of a second language is often a process of the normal operations of the brain (Bitchener, Young, and Cameron 204). This aspect places them in direct distinction with other language hypotheses, which theorize that acquisition of a foreign language is a distinctive process different from other kinds of education.

According to cognitive research, learners take in and retain inputs given to them in the short-term memory (Bitchener, Young, and Cameron 205).

However, after some time, the information is transferred to long-term memory, where it is later used to produce the desired output. Other cognitive approaches “have looked at learners’ speech production, particularly learners’ speech planning and communication strategies” (Bitchener, Young, and Cameron 195).

Speech planning can have an effect on the way the leaner speaks and studies concerning the same focus on how planning affects the three aspects of speech, viz. complexity, accuracy, and fluency (Bitchener, Young, and Cameron 205). Out of the three aspects above, planning has the greatest impact on the aspect of eloquence, and most researchers have narrowed down their works on this area.

Communication strategies underscore deliberate attempts by individuals to counter cases where the communicating parties do not understand one another. These strategies are taught in different settings for different purposes, and thus their role in the acquisition of another language is still unclear with different scholars taking disparate stances concerning the issue.

Further research/conclusion

The teaching of grammar produces different results on different individuals depending on whether the language is the individual’s first or second language (Ellis, Sheen, Murakami, and Takashima (367). Most researchers claim that teaching grammar to persons in their language will not have great effects on their writing skills.

However, according to Nassaji and Fotos (129), teaching grammar to persons who wish to learn a second language may have an impact on the learners’ writing skills if well taught. Though the research carried out to determine whether grammar teaching contributes to the development of writing skills for students is limited, there are indications from the little available research that grammar contributes less to writing skills (Nassaji and Fotos 135).

In the recent past, teachers have differed greatly on this issue. For expressive grammar to be effective in achieving the desired results, it must be linked to proper usage, and it should mainly focus on the problems that learners face in their writing. Conventionally, learning how to write and especially in a second language is normally an arduous task for beginners.

Therefore, instructors and teachers should major on developing the grammatical aspect of learning, which in most cases are very critical in communication. According to Nassaji and Fotos (138), different scholars have conducted different researchers, and they have all concluded that grammar instruction, which is separate from writing instruction, does not improve the students’ writing competence.

Also, “research indicates that the transfer of formal grammar instruction to writing does not apply to larger elements of composition (Nassaji and Fotos 138). Therefore, Nassaji and Fotos (141) propose four important grammatical concepts, viz. the sentence, inflection, tense, and agreement.

Tutors and teachers should not overstress the need to grasp grammatical elements at the expense of allowing the students to apply what they have learned in their writings.

Works Cited

Andrews, Richard, Sue Beverton, Terry Locke, Graham Low, Alison Robinson, Carole Torgerson, and Die Zhu. “The effect of grammar teaching on writing development.” British Educational Research Journal 32.1 (2006): 39-55. Print.

Andrews, Richard, Sue Beverton, Terry Locke, Graham Low, Alison Robinson, Carole Torgerson, and Die Zhu. The effect of grammar teaching (syntax) in English on 5 to 16 year olds’ accuracy and quality in written composition, 2004. London: EPPI-Centre. Print.

Bitchener, John, Stuart Young, and Denise Cameron. “The effect of different types of corrective feedback on ESL student writing.” Journal of second language writing 14.3 (2005): 191-205. Print.

Ellis, Rod, Younghee Sheenc, Mihoko Murakamid, Hide Takashimae. “The effects of focused and unfocused written corrective feedback in English as a foreign language context.” System 36.3 (2008): 353-371. Print.

Nassaji, Hossein, and Sandra Fotos. “6. Current developments in research on the teaching of grammar.” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 24.1 (2004):126-145. Print.

Truscott, John. “The effect of error correction on learners’ ability to write accurately.” Journal of Second Language Writing 16.4 (2007): 255-272. Print.