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Review of  Teaching Grammar to a Grammar-Free Generation

Reviewer: Marijana Javornik Čubrić
Book Title: Teaching Grammar to a Grammar-Free Generation
Book Author: Tamilla Mammadova
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 32.2234

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The book by Tamilla Mammadova consists of 116 pages. It opens with an introduction and is thereafter divided into four chapters. The intriguing title is explained in the Preface which states a simple truth that many students simply refuse to learn grammar, claiming it to be useless and boring. Their main target in learning English is just communication. Obviously, any language specialist is likely to strongly disagree with that. Communication is not possible without understanding essential rules of grammar. Therefore I believe that most teachers on all levels have asked themselves the same question: how to teach grammar to a generation that wishes to be (or in fact is) grammar-free? According to the author, the aim of this volume is to present new ways of presenting and practising grammar to language specialists who are directly or indirectly dealing with the teaching of the English language.

In the Introduction, Mammadova states that the approach to grammar and its teaching today has become far less homogeneous than in the past, stating as one of possible reasons for that a radical change in classroom management caused by the new format of textbooks (CDs and DVDs). However, the author maintains that just a small number of teachers follow these innovative trends. This is something that is difficult to agree with, as it seems that a vast majority of teachers are availing themselves of these new materials and opportunities. The author announces that the volume will address the importance of evaluation, methods of and approaches to grammar presentation, practice and production and the analysis of twenty mainstream textbooks.

Chapter One deals with textbooks, EFL materials and their importance in EFL classes. A textbook is certainly one of the most important components of EFL teaching. Obviously, a good textbook makes the job of a teacher much easier. Unfortunately, opinions about the qualities of a good textbook differ. Students mostly expect textbooks to be interesting and to make learning easier and more enjoyable. In their opinion, that excludes any grammar exercises. This chapter deals with the importance of textbook evaluation and different types of evaluation. Evaluation can be performed by students and teachers alike, but the author stresses that the teacher-led evaluation has an unprecedented role in effective EFL teaching, because it takes aspects of a planned or intended curriculum as a focal point. In the present volume, the main objective of evaluation is to assess the methods of grammar presentation, teaching and practice used in a number of selected textbooks.

Chapter Two is entitled “Grammar teaching approaches and techniques“. It firstly offers several definitions of grammar and then analyses different methods of grammar teaching in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. The author conveniently divides grammar teaching methods into traditional ones (those used before the 21st century) and more recent ones. Traditional methods include the grammar-translation method, rules learning and error correction and teaching grammar in context. The author concludes that traditional methods, even if old, should not be eliminated from general English language teaching. More recent methods include consciousness-raising approach, communicative approach, task-based approach, comprehension approach and the ungrammaticality approach. Strengths of the traditional method are, among others, that they are good for discussion of alternative grammar patterns, that they develop associative language learning and allow for revision of errors. Strengths of more recent methods are that they provoke thinking and analysing abilities, the tasks are interactive, it increases innovation and combines explicit and implicit grammar teaching methods. In the second part of the chapter a number of creative grammar activities that focus on interactive grammar practice are presented. They include games, jokes, songs and music, pictures, flashcards and photos. The author also points out that in recent years technology has become an inseparable part of education. Some technological tools which are important for grammar teaching and learning in EFL include smartboards, apps, software, blogs and websites. In particular it should be emphasized that most websites intended for online teaching and learning contain grammar sections.

Chapter Three (consisting of three pages) presents the study, the purpose of which is to investigate grammar presentation methods and techniques used in twenty selected textbooks. The selected textbooks are mainstream textbooks of levels B2 and C1 designed for adult learners and published by renowned publishers (Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Pearson and Macmillan). The study deals with the students’ textbooks only, and it does not consider supplementary materials, such as workbooks, teachers’ books, students’ CDs etc. The selected textbooks are used in the upper stages of EFL at university level which are covering the main language skills as well as the grammar sections. Each textbook is examined page by page, focusing on the exercises, activities, tasks and grammar presentation techniques.

Chapter Four presents the main results of the study and offers many examples from the analysed textbooks. Most of the textbooks have a high number of grammar areas in common. The author concludes that the most common types of grammar teaching techniques are traditional drills (fill in the blanks tasks, error correction, grammar awareness activities and matching activities). Creative grammar activities are used less, and the most widely presented activities include: write a dialogue using some grammar patterns, role play the situation, play the game and write a story. The author concludes that out of twenty textbooks selected for the analysis, only one presents a solid number of both controlled and free production grammar practice activities. The author points out that her analysis of the twenty mainstream textbooks shows that authors frequently republish or re-edit their textbook with only minor, cosmetic changes.

In the Conclusion, Mamadova once again stresses that grammar is the foundation of language and concludes that the results of her analysis of the twenty mainstream textbooks indicate that most of the textbooks use controlled grammar activities, including “fill in the gaps”, “put (verbs, nouns, adjectives etc.) into the correct form”, “match”, “underline”, “find and correct mistakes”, etc. However, only a few of them present free grammar production, and the tasks included are: “write a dialogue”, “grammar patterns”, “write a story”, “role play the situation”, “play a game”, etc. Out of the twenty textbooks included in the analysis, the author concludes that only one of them uses an unconventional approach, which she refers to as “grammar-free method”, since in that textbook grammar is presented in an indirect way. According to the author, the results of her analysis can be considered as “food for thought” for future textbook writers.


In the beginning of Chapter One, the author claims that teaching a foreign language to a group of students can be compared to a performance on stage. Obviously, much like an actor, a teacher has to prepare what he or she is going to say to the audience, but it also implies that a teacher has to use certain tools and techniques to persuade the students to study, to capture their attention and motivate them to learn something. However, in spite of the students’ notorious lack of interest in grammar, fortunately or unfortunately, grammar is the foundation of a language and as such, it cannot be avoided. It has been suggested many times that grammar is no longer essential in teaching EFL, particularly ESP. Dudley-Evans and St. John clearly contradicted that in their influential book from 1998, stating that there are many misconceptions about the role of grammar in ESP teaching, including the one that ESP teaching is not concerned with grammar, but that it is incorrect to consider grammar teaching as outside the remit of ESP (Dudley-Evans and St. John, 74). This is still accurate, even more for EFL teaching.

The author states that the main goal of this book is to present to EFL teachers, English language instructors, textbook writers and other specialists new ways of presenting and practising grammar. As an English teacher and a textbook author, I looked forward to this book hoping for some ideas to include in the class or a textbook. Although the book is written in a clear and concise language and it offers a relatively interesting analysis of twenty textbooks in current usage, I am afraid it did not teach me anything new about presenting or practising grammar. I tend to agree with the authors of one of the analysed textbooks that the traditional grammar teaching techniques, which are dominantly used, are still probably the most effective ones. A more detailed conclusion related to the study would be welcome. It certainly reminds any textbook writer or EFL teacher that grammar cannot be avoided, but should be approached in fresh new ways whenever possible.


Tony Dudley-Evans & Maggie Jo St. Jon, Developments in ESP. A multi-disciplinary approach, Cambridge University Press, 1998
Marijana Javornik Čubrić is a Senior Lecturer of Legal English at the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb. She holds a PhD in legal linguistics and has authored several textbooks in the field of LSP.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781527522886
Pages: 127
Prices: U.S. $ 99.95
U.K. £ 61.99