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Review of  Grammatikunterricht zwischen Linguistik und Didaktik

Reviewer: Nausica Marcos Miguel
Book Title: Grammatikunterricht zwischen Linguistik und Didaktik
Book Author: Sabine Dengscherz Martin Businger Jaroslava Taraskina
Publisher: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Linguistic Theories
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): German
Issue Number: 26.3429

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Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


This edited book offers a selection of articles presented at the 2013 “Internationale Tagung der Deutschlehrerinnen und Deutschlehrer” (International Conference of German Teachers) as part of the sections “Grammatik in heterogenen Lerngruppen” (Grammar in Heterogenous Groups of Learners) and “Von der Grammatiktheorie zum sprachlichen Handeln”(From Grammatical Theory to Communication). According to the editors, the collection addresses teachers, researchers, and students of German as a second or foreign language (L2). Although the chapters are not numbered in the original, in order to make this review clearer, a number has been given to every one.

Chapter 1: “Linguistik-Empirie-Didaktik: Perspektiven auf modernen Grammatikunterricht” [Linguistics-Empirical Methods-Didactics: Perspectives on the Modern Grammar Classroom]

In the first chapter, the editors discuss why grammar can be seen from three perspectives, namely from a linguistic perspective ( language description), a didactic perspective (how to convey grammar) and an empirical one (analyzing teachers, learners, and materials). Grammar instruction is at the intersection of these three points. The editors concur in the wider focus of the following chapters, but emphasize the links among them, since all of them include target groups interested in grammar (e.g., learners, teachers, and book authors) and grammatical topics (e.g., metalanguage, order of acquisition, communicative practice, etc.). Another commonality across chapters is that all of them offer some pedagogical implications for the German L2 classroom.

The book is consequently divided into three sections:
1) a linguistic one (“Linguistische Grundlagen aus didaktischer Perspektive” [Linguistic Foundations for a Didactic Perspective]);
2) an empirical one [“Empirische Studien zu Linguistik im didaktischen Kontext (Empirical Studies on Linguistic Issues in a Didactic Context)];
and 3) a didactic one [“Didaktische Konzepte auf linguistischer Basis” (Didactic Concepts Based on Linguistic Theories)].

FIRST SECTION: “Linguistische Grundlagen aus didaktischer Perspektive” (Linguistic Foundations for a Didactic Perspective)

Chapter 2: “Grammatikunterricht für Lernende ohne Grammatikkenntnisse” [Grammar Class for Learners without Grammatical Knowledge]

Elke Hentschel explains what the categories of grammatical case and gender in German entail and compares German with other languages. The author aims to make teachers’ reflect on the difficulties learners without explicit linguistic knowledge and/or speakers of a distant L1 might have. Thus, after reading the chapter, a teacher can be better prepared to answer learners’ questions such as, “Why are cases used in German?”

Chapter 3: “Zur Topologie der Nominalphrase: ein Desideratum in didaktischen Grammatiken des Deutschen als Fremdsprache” [About Topology of Nominal Phrases: A Desideratum in L2 German Pedagogical Grammars]

Aras Farhidnia suggests giving the same weight to phrase structures, and more specifically to nominal phrases (NP), as to word and sentence structures when teaching L2 German grammar. First, the author provides an overview of German NPs and emphasizes the need to teach them so that learners are aware of this structure and its expandable nature. Farhidnia also considers the need to incorporate this metalanguage in the classroom and sketches some activities for advanced L2 learners. Overall, Farhidnia’s goal is to support L2 learners’ understanding of sentence structure.

Chapter 4: “Die, diese, keine, meine, alle, viele, manche und ähnliche Wörter-Zur Problematik der Wortartenbestimung” [Die, diese, keine, meine, alle, viele, manche and Similar Words-Difficulties with The Classification of Word Categories]

Marion Weerning shows how a traditional classification of words in fixed categories is not without problems. Using a traditional classification of ''articles” can just be misleading because this terminology mixes morphological, pragmatic, and syntactic characteristics. She aims for teachers and learners to focus on the differences among the so-called articles so that they can be better learned and understood.

Chapter 5: “[email protected] und die Propädeutische Grammatik [email protected]—ein kontrastiver Blick auf die Grammatik des Deutschen” [[email protected] and the Introductory Grammar [email protected]—a Contrastive Look at German Grammar]

Péter Bassola, Viktória Dabóczi, Attila Péteri, and Horst Schwinn introduce an online grammar website called ‘[email protected]’ belonging to the “Institut für Deutsche Sprache” in Mannheim. This online material can be used by German L2 teachers as well as by advanced learners. Moreover, this can also serve undergraduate and graduate students of German studies, in and outside of Germany. The chapter shows how grammar teaching is conceived in ‘[email protected]’ For instance, it promotes comparisons between languages and uses a basic and, as much as possible, unambiguous terminology. The chapter also provides some examples of how [email protected] has been used by these different learners’ groups.

SECOND SECTION: “Empirische Studien zu Linguistik im didaktischen Kontext” (Empirical Studies on Linguistic Issues in a Didactic Context)

Chapter 6: “Learning Styles and Appropriate Instruction. A Study of the Effect of Learning Styles on Learning Gains Regarding Grammar Instruction in Dutch Foreign Language Education”

In their classroom-study, Marjon Tammenga-Helmantel, Iryna Bazhutkina, and Sharon Steringa explored learning styles (based on Kolb, 1979) of 219 Dutch high school learners in general higher education (HAVO) and pre-university secondary education (VWO); and what kind of L2 grammar instruction better served each learning style. The data showed similar learning styles among HAVO and WVO learners. Moreover, no significant relations between learning styles, kind of instruction and learning gains were found. Therefore, the authors do not make any explicit instruction suggestion, although they assert that feedback on learning styles might be of interest for teachers and students alike.

Chapter 7: “Gebrauchsbasierte Bestimmung kommunikativ relevanter Konstruktionen” [Usage-Based Classification of Relevant Communicative Constructions]

Ingo Fehrmann presents a corpus study of different causative constructions with the verb “machen” (to do). Fehrmann first analyzes these constructions in the TIGER-corpus (see Brants, Dipper, Eisenberg, Hansen-Shirra, König, Lezius, Rohrer, Smith, & Uszkoreit, 2004) using statistical techniques, and then evaluates how they are introduced in the textbook “Profile Deutsch” (Glaboniat, Müller, Rusch, Schmitz, and Werten-schlag, 2005). The author encourages the usage of semantic frames for using a “functional grammar” in the German L2 classroom.

Chapter 8:“ ‘Wenn du in Finnland kommen, ich will du zu Kino bringen!’—Wortstellung in mündlichen Leistungen von finnischen DaF-Lernenden” [When You to Come in Finland, I want You to the Movies Bring—Word Order in Spoken Output of L1 Speakers of Finnish learning German as a Foreign Language].

Laura Lahti deals with word order in L2 spoken German by analyzing oral data from twenty L1 Finnish high-school learners. The author compares their development with the stages established by processability theory (Pieneman, 1998) and Diehl et al., (2000). Lahti establishes some connections between word structure development and proficiency levels from the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). She concludes by pointing out that inversion and subordinate clauses are two aspects that deserve further attention in the classroom in order to improve communicative competence.

Chapter 9: “Zur Rolle der Klammerkonstruktion bei der auditiven Sprachverarbeitung in Deutsch als Fremdsprache” [On the Role of Sentence Structure in L2 German Speech Processing]

Rudolf Iványi presents a pilot study where he analyzes the effects of sentence bracket (“Satzklammer”) and lack thereof in listening comprehension. Two groups of L1 Hungarian high school learners (n=39) participated in the study. For one of them, awareness training on sentence bracket was carried out in the classroom. After that, each group was divided into two: one group listened to a text with sentence brackets, whereas the other listened to a rewritten text without them. Although the small number of participants does not allow for quantitative comparisons, the results show that more comprehension errors were not necessarily present because of the sentence structure, but rather because of lexical difficulties. The author recommends German L2 teachers to raise awareness of the sentence bracket in order to boost oral comprehension.

(Chapter 10: “Grammatik induktiv vermitteln: Vor- und Nachteile für Lehrende, Schwierigkeiten und Lösungsansätze” [Teaching Grammar Inductively: Advantages and Disadvantages for Teachers, Difficulties and Possible Solutions]

Priscilla Maria Pessutti Nascimento discusses a questionnaire filled out by 15 German L2 teachers working in Latin America. The questionnaire, which explored difficulties with teaching inductively and deductively, was completed after the participants had taken a course on teaching grammar inductively and taught according to those principles. The author concludes that the teachers had fewer difficulties when following an inductive approach than a deductive one. Moreover, she points out the need for training teachers in language learning theories so that the role of explicit teaching can be better understood.

THIRD SECTION: “Didaktische Konzepte auf linguistischer Basis” (Didactic Concepts based on Linguistic Theories)

Chapter 11: “Übungsformen im fremdsprachlichen Grammatikunterricht” [Types of Activities in the Foreign Language Grammar Class]

Hermank Funk discusses grammar activities in textbooks and their relationship to current language learning theories (e.g., DeKeyser, 2007; Nation and Newton, 2009). By using examples from textbooks, Funk differentiates between grammar activities that conduce to automatization and those that do not. In addition to this, he includes a list of criteria so that teachers and researchers can evaluate textbook activities. He concludes by encouraging more research on the effect of textbook activities on learners’ language development.

Chapter 12: “Was wir aus Altersunterschieden für die Grammatikvermittlung lernen können” [What we can learn from age differences to teach grammar]

Christine Czinglar analyzes corpus data to explore the acquisition of verbal placement. The corpus consists of data from the development in a naturalistic context of two L1 Russian speakers, who were sisters with the same background, except for their age at their time of learning L2 German (ages 8 and 14). The younger one showed a faster learning of verb placement as well as higher vocabulary richness. Based on these learners’ development, i.e., learning of sentence bracket, subordinate clauses and verbal chunks, the author makes some recommendations for the grammar class such as introducing inversion in main clauses as soon as possible and avoiding subordinate clauses with SVO structure in the input.

(Chapter 13: “Grammatikvermittlung in DaF Lehrwerken am Beispiel der Konnektoren” [Analyzing Grammar Instruction in German L2 Textbooks Using Linking Words as Example]

Erich Huber, Almudena Mallo, and Julia Brade explore how linking words are presented and practiced in twelve German as foreign language textbooks. The authors establish that the often-used semantic organization of linking words is not clear enough for L2 learners. Thus, they suggest a syntactic approach (“Konjunktoren,” “Subjunktoren” and “Adverbkonnektoren”) as well as utilizing the “Feldermodell” (field model) to introduce them in textbooks. The authors also have some suggestions for communicative activities that can facilitate learning of linking words.

Chapter 14: “Just-in-Time-Grammar: eine Zwischenbilanz” [‘Just-in-Time-Grammar’: An Interim Evaluation]

Silke Mentchen and Annemarie Künzl-Snodgrass discuss the pedagogical grounds behind the online program 'Just-in-Time-Grammar' that they have conceived. This free CALL resource is designed to support autonomous learning. Thus the authors make some suggestions about how learners can use it.


To sum up, this collection of articles highlights three main areas concerning L2 grammar instruction: a) analyzing language features, b) exploring language learning and teaching empirically, and c) providing pedagogical suggestions for grammar teaching. Although the book is divided into three sections, these common themes reappear throughout the chapters. Furthermore, the role of materials—i.e., textbook activities, pedagogical grammars, and specific materials, such as ‘[email protected]’ and ‘Just-in-Time-Grammar’—are discussed at some length.

The chapters in the first section deal mostly with explicit discussions on grammar in an L2 and/or linguistic classroom. Issues on metalanguage and on how to structure the grammar to teach are the main topics. The second section is devoted to empirical studies. Still, their approaches and goals are very different. Whereas Pessutti Nascimento focuses on teachers, Tammenga-Helmante et al., Lathi, and Ivány focus on learners’ development, albeit concentrating on different grammar points and cognitive issues. Interestingly, the classroom implications of these empirical chapters tend to be relatively vague. Fehrmann’s chapter in this second section seems to better fit with the first section. Although he analyzes corpus data and the study is empirical, Fehrmann’s main contribution to the volume is his reflection on a usage-based approach to present grammar.

The third section can more directly benefit the language classroom. Funk, and Huber et al. reflect on characteristics of good materials for automatization and teaching of linking words respectively, whereas Mentchen and Künzl-Snodgrass present some materials for learners’ autonomous learning. Czinglar’s chapter seems slightly out of place in this section. As a corpus study exploring L2 language development, it is closer to Lahti’s study than to any of those contained in the third section. Nevertheless, Czinglar does provide more specific suggestions in terms of grammar content for the L2 classroom than the other articles in the second section.

Given that this book is comprised of articles stemming from two conference panels, the differences in perspectives and methodologies is understandable. Although this is not a complete introduction about what grammar instruction can mean, it offers a peek into some of the current areas of discussion. Due to its nature and extension, there are some areas not covered. For example, interactions between teachers and learners in the classroom are barely addressed. The role of classroom materials is only discussed from a content perspective without analyzing their use and learning effects. Nevertheless, Funk encourages research on textbook activities’ effects on grammar learning. In addition to this, whereas learners’ development and learning are discussed in several chapters (Tammenga-Helmantel, et al., Lahti, Iványi, Czinglar), there is not much information on teachers’ approaches to grammar teaching, except for Pesutti Nascimento. After reading, the reader might still wonder what modern L2 German grammar classes look like and whether they exist as such.

Although this edited book is not for teachers who want to find ready-made teaching ideas (the third section, however, might be of some interest to them), it can raise any reader’s awareness of the broad meaning of the expressions “grammar teaching and learning.” The book definitely offers some food for thought, especially in terms of what “grammar” means and on the weight of grammar materials in developing grammar knowledge.


DeKeyser, R. (2007). Practice in a Second Language. Perspectives from Applied Linguistics and Cognitive Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brants, S., Dipper, S., Eisenberg, P., Hansen-Shirra, S., König, E., Lezius, W., Rohrer C., and Uszkoreit, H. (2004). TIGER: Linguistic Interpretation of a German Corpus. Research on Language and Computation, 2(4), 597-620.

Diehl, E., Christen, H., Leuenberger, S., Pelvat, I., and Studer, T. (2000). Grammatikunterricht: Alles für der Katz? Untersuchungen zum Zweitsprachenerwerb Deutsch. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Glaboniat, M., Müller, M., Rusch, P., Schmitz, H., and Werten-schlag, L. (2005). Profile Deutsch. Gemeinsamer europäischer Referenzrahmen: Lernzielbestimmungen, Kannbeschreibungen, kommunikative Mittel, Niveau A1-A2, B1-B2, C1-C2. [CD-ROM Version 2.0 mit Begleitbuch]. Berlin: Langenscheidt.

Kolb, A. B., Rubin, I. M., and MacIntyre, J. M. (1979). Organizational Psychology: A Book of Readings. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Nation, I. S. P., and Newton, J. (2009). Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking. New York: Routldedge.

Pienemann, M. (1998). Language Processing and Second Language Development. Processability Theory. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Nausica Marcos Miguel completed her undergraduate studies in German Philology at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and pursued her doctoral career at the University of Pittsburgh in Hispanic Linguistics with a focus on second language acquisition (SLA). She has taught Spanish, English and German as a foreign language. Her research interests include vocabulary and grammar in the second language classroom.