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Teaching English Grammar to Speakers of Other Languages

reviewed by Mary A. Avalos - January 20, 2017

coverTitle: Teaching English Grammar to Speakers of Other Languages
Author(s): Eli Hinkel (Ed.)
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 113890693X, Pages: 288, Year: 2016
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Eli Hinkel has gathered a group of well-known second language scholars to contribute to her edited book Teaching English Grammar to Speakers of Other Languages. She focuses on three areas of English grammar teaching: principles and foundations of grammar teaching, strategies and techniques, and grammar for productive skills like speaking and writing. The purpose of the text is to offer a “contemporary perspective” (p. xi) on the teaching of grammar to speakers of other languages. It contributes to the existing literature by providing relevant principles and practical suggestions. Themes running throughout the book are aligned with contemporary perspectives. They include grammar instruction beyond the sentence level, differences between spoken and written language, and student-centered suggestions for fluent and authentic use of language based on students’ learning needs. This makes learning English grammar meaningful for second language (L2) learners.


Part One of the book provides options for teaching methods and grammar instruction. The first chapter, by Marianne Celce-Murcia, argues for a discourse level of teaching English grammar to foster understanding and communication. She points out that in communicative language teaching, both bottom-up resources (e.g., grammar, vocabulary, and orthography/phonology) and top-down (e.g., awareness of audience, purpose, and politeness conventions) are needed for productive use and comprehension for language acquisition (p. 4). Sandra Lee McKay’s Chapter Two takes on the controversial subject of English as an international language diplomatically. She provides readers with thorough explanations of English varieties and suggestions for determining which variety of English should be instructed in a context with speakers of multiple varieties. Susan Conrad’s Chapter Three deals with the use of corpus linguistics. Her focus provides possible ways corpus linguistics can be used to increase students’ understanding. She also discusses authentic grammatical constructions using deductive and inductive approaches. Keith S. Folse’s Chapter Four reviews English grammar books for adults’ instruction to determine grammar areas and typically taught lessons. He then provides suggestions and rationales for excluding/including grammatical constructions in a course syllabus. By doing this, he emphasizes that students should drive the content of English grammar teaching. Anne Burns’ Chapter Five provides an overview of Systemic Functional Linguistics (or Grammar). This is a similarly condensed version of Thompson’s (2004) approach. Her tables and explanations of the Teaching-Learning Cycle are clear and accessible for those who wish to better understand this social theory of language. It prizes context to understand multiple perspectives of English use.


The second part of the book highlights suggestions on implementing grammar instruction for specific purposes. Chapter Six and Chapter Seven, by Penny Ur and Rod Ellis respectively, provide excellent overviews of the role of practice and consciousness-raising for English grammar teaching and learning. They each point out the need for meaningful input and output to acquire and use L2 effectively. This provides valuable suggestions for activities aligned with different purposes mentioned in these chapters. Likewise, Jack C. Richards and Randi Reppen lay out 12 important principles of grammar instruction in Chapter Eight. They also provide engaging activities for implementing these principles. Eli Hinkel’s Chapter Nine on grammar constructions concludes Part Two. It has a convincing rationale and activities for teaching L2 constructions. They are also known as “collocations, fixed phrases/strings, lexicalized sentence stems, chunks, formulaic language, formulaic sequences, or prefabricated constructions” (p. 173) for instruction. This helps promote authentic and fluent L2 comprehension and use. She includes two helpful appendices with common English constructions for speaking or oral participation (Appendix A) and more formal academic writing constructions (Appendix B).


This final part of the book is devoted to instructional approaches promoting productive use of L2. Chapter Ten, by Michael J. McCarthy, looks at advanced English proficient students' instruction. He suggests expanding L2 students' "known, familiar meanings and functions . . . into different formal realizations" (p. 219) based on the use of corpora. Advancing English proficiency is often overlooked, thus this chapter is an especially valuable contribution. Dana R. Ferris writes a comprehensive Chapter Eleven, detailing what does and does not work for integrating grammar teaching during writing instruction. She includes a succinct and effective process for determining students' needs to focus language instruction within writing lessons. Also included are two appendices with a sample mini-lesson on shifting verb tenses and a language self-study project to assign to students. The final chapter, by Ken Hyland, demystifies the genre of academic texts by explaining what stance is and why it is important. Sample activities are suggested to give explicit instruction on stance for academic texts. Since academic writing and stance can even be challenging for proficient English speakers, I highly recommend this chapter to any instructor with students needing assistance comprehending and producing academic texts.

I enjoyed reading Teaching English Grammar to Speakers of Other Languages and learned a great deal. Overall the book is practical, yet grounded in research on evidence of what works with grammar teaching and learning for L2 students. The provided sample exercises demonstrate how teaching grammar at the level of discourse for all levels of English proficiency enables a communicative approach that furthers coherent and cohesive discourse. While the authors primarily address instruction for L2 adult learners, I see many possibilities for modifying the suggested activities for secondary grade levels and potentially even some elementary levels.

Language is a resource for the making of meaning (Schleppegrell, 2004). Rationales for broadening resources for L2 students including standard academic English grammar are clearly evident in these chapters. I understand that adult L2 learners in university contexts generally attend classes to learn and use English grammar as promoted in this book. In addition, there still may be ways for university instructors to draw on what is known in their students’ first language (L1) to compare/contrast with L2. If knowledge of students’ L1 exists among university L2 English language teachers, the use of L1 to build knowledge of L2 could be added to most of the suggestions provided throughout the book. As advocated by the title of Martinez’s paper (2016), listening closely and looking carefully can be new ways for L2 learners to use their L1 to position students in agentive ways to learn L2. However, that may not always be possible. In light of this understanding, I highly recommend Teaching English Grammar to Speakers of Other Languages for L2 English teachers who want to integrate grammar instruction in meaningful and contemporary ways that are needed in today’s diverse classrooms.



Martinez, R. (2016, December). Looking closely and listening carefully: An ethnographic approach to understanding the complexity of students’ everyday language. Paper presented at the 66th Annual Meeting of the Literacy Research Association, Nashville, TN.

Schleppegrell, M. J. (2004). The language of schooling: A functional linguistics approach. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Thompson, G. (2004). Introducing functional grammar (2nd ed.). London, UK: Hodder Education.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 20, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21803, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 10:22:39 PM

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About the Author
  • Mary Avalos
    University of Miami
    E-mail Author
    MARY A. AVALOS is a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Miami (FL). Her research interests include second language and multilingual teaching and learning in public schools. Most recently, she has worked with teachers to develop interventions that provide explicit instruction for the language of schooling in multiple content areas, including reading/language arts, mathematics, and social studies.
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