The Grammar Story: Investigating the Staged Acquisition of L2 Grammar Through Processability Theory

When you read an engaging story, it grabs hold of you and transforms your reality. In that transformation, a teachable moment arises that helps us puzzle through to our next stage of awareness. The story of how I came to understand grammar acquisition by second language (L2) learners is such a journey.
Acquiring an L2 is not an easy feat. Even with a relentless pursuit of the clear expression of our thoughts in another language, grammar mistakes and errors are our constant companions. A grammar mistake refers to missteps or other forms of omissions that someone makes due to a lack of attention. On the other hand, a grammar error shows that the learner requires further instruction to understand and utilize the item correctly. In the classroom, it is common practice for teachers to correct both mistakes and errors as a default reaction to a perceived learning need. However, the efficacy of correcting learners’ errors continues to be a subject of an ongoing debate, with some participants suggesting that errors should not be corrected.

Understanding English Grammar Through Visual and Experiential Models

What if we taught grammar based on the principles of the physical world from which it originates? What if we put aside the traditional approach of teaching form, explaining meaning, and having students commit this information to memory? What if we went back to physical principles, and metaphors based on them, that can be experienced and understood by all learners?
I can’t help wondering if the traditional approach to grammar teaching, based on form, usage, and memorization is actually helpful in terms of what is happening in the heads of expert speakers when they communicate.

Did you Notice…? The Role of Noticing in the Development of Grammar

There is one main principle that governs language growth. It regulates the development of “external language” as a shared social system as well as the development of “internal language” that the individual uses as a means of thought and available output for communication. The principle is so fundamental—like the Law of Gravity—that we seldom notice it. This is the principle of contrast: “A new form emerges in a linguistic system only if it provides a significant contrast with a form that’s already in the system.

Grammar: The Conundrum We Love and Hate

As many of our contributors point out, they have had a difficult relationship with English grammar. Don’t we all? Grammar is mysterious. It has a simple definition: “the set of rules governing the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in a natural language” [source]. And yet, for most of us, especially native speakers, it is the dark matter of the English teaching universe. It is hard to understand, hard to teach, and impossible to teach with certainty. We have all had that moment when, just after you smugly explain one of the few rules you have confidence in, a student says something that shakes your Jenga tower. “So, you see, Rafael, when you say you are going to a place, you have to put to and an article between the to go verb and the place, as in I’m going to a concert.” Rafael: “Then why do you say going to school?” Down the blocks fall.