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Summary Details

Query:   The State of Applied Linguistics & TGT
Author:  Ronald Sheen
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Applied Linguistics

Summary:   A summary of responses to my posts on traditional grammar teaching. (See LINGUIST Issue:

In April 2007, LL published on my behalf a piece on traditional grammar teaching (TGT) in which I pilloried applied linguists for constantly stigmatizing TGT whilst ignoring the appreciable evidence in its favour. My purpose in doing so was to engage applied linguists in an LL debate on the issue.

Unfortunately, there were no responses to this post. Therefore, in June, I posted a piece providing a description of what TGT has become in making itself appropriate to contemporary classroom needs. This received seven responses from LL members who are Humphrey P. van Polanen Petel, Zev bar-Lev, Brian Ó Curnáin, Reza Falahati, Richard Hudson, Stahlke, Herbert F.W, and Natasha L Warner. Their responses were all positive in terms of the points made though none actually addressed either the issue of the nature of TGT or the reasons for the stigmatization of TGT by applied linguists or their apparent reluctance to engage in open debate on the issues

The seven respondents (to whom I have responded individually to thank them) did, however, make valid points which concerned respectively: the fragmentation of academic disciplines in which factions tended not to communicate, the importance of sequencing in grammar instruction, the failure of learners to grasp the importance of grammar in the accurate expression of language, the confusion created by having two distinct approaches to grammar teaching by having two almost identical names: focus on form and focus on formS, the caution required in interpreting the lack of response to LL queries as a manifestation of lack of interest, the existence of other websites such as the Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar (ATEG) where issues such as TGT were the subject of enthusiastic debate and finally, the importance for teachers to understand that though some students might benefit from explicit knowledge of grammar, others might not – a point I made implicitly in citing Carrell et al. (1996) and Horan (2003).

Perhaps most importantly it is worthy of note that none of the respondents is an applied linguist. This is both unsurprising and depressing – ‘unsurprising’ because it is consistent with the continuing failure of applied linguists to respond in the literature to critiques of their stigmatization of TGT and ‘depressing’ because it demonstrates the preparedness of applied linguists to advocate positions for which there is scant published empirical evidence and to ignore contrary evidence. It is even more depressing that the editors of applied linguistic journals continue to fail to oblige contributors to support their advocacies with reliable empirical evidence derived from long term comparative studies. It is even tragic, for this failure during the last half century has resulted in the condemning of countless numbers of students to learn a language with approaches which have proved to be failures. (see Sheen, 2005, for a discussion of this issue)


Carrell, P.L., Prince, M.S., & Astika, G.G. (1996). Personality types and
language Learning in an EFL context. Language Learning, 46, 75-99.

Horan, A. (2003). English grammar in schools. In P. Collins & M. Amberber (Eds),Proceedings of the 2002 Conference of the Australian Linguistic Society.

Sheen, R, (2005) ''Focus on FormS as a means of improving accurate oral
production'' A chapter in Investigations in Instructed Second Language
Learning, (Eds.) Alex Housen & Michel Picard, "Studies on Language Acquisition" (SOLA) at Mouton De Gruyter, Series Editor, Peter Jordens. 271-310.

LL Issue: 18.2812
Date Posted: 27-Sep-2007


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