Why Grammar-Based Instruction is a Failure

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Research from ESL Students Gives Insight into Language Instruction

In the 1980s, a wave of immigration cause linguists to realize that many adult English Language Learners (ELLs) did not have time to study years of gram

mar before heading out into the real world. And they had families, jobs, and other responsibilities apart from ESL classes.

To the point, those immigrants needed the skills to communicate immediately. This was the groundwork for the Communicative Learning theory (CLT), which is highly effective. Now, 35 years later, adult language classes have evolved. Go into any language center around the world and the emphasis is on communicative activities, participation, and practice. But K-12 instruction remains the same. Why?

The Internet Makes Spanish Interaction Possible 24/7

Today, middle and high school students have access to the internet. They can realistically have a conversation with someone from one of the 21 Spanish speaking countries at any time. And families travel! There are entire movements of expats living abroad (myself included!) and Worldschoolers, who turn travel into educational opportunities. So, why are most middle and high schools still using outdated teaching strategies?

Click here to read more about our Spanish classes with communicative materials.

Multiple Choice Tests and Automated Grading

Because conversation cannot be graded on a standardized test. Nothing is standard about language. It is constantly evolving, changing, adapting, at a rate much too quick for administrators to keep up with. They would have to purchase and update materials yearly.

Spanish-Language Diversity from Mexico and Latin America

And secondly, there is no one correct answer. Spanish is the 2nd most spoken language in the world. No, it's NOT English. Ask separate people from Mexico, Guatemala, and Spain to translate the same paragraph and you will receive 3 very different results.

Even if you asked 5 people from different regions in Mexico to do the same, or 5 people with different educational levels, it would always turn out different as well. They can all be right if they communicate the meaning. But there is also an amount of human error, and many times, ego involved.

Online Teacher Training? Who has the time?

Finally, it takes a lot of effort and creativity. Pre-COVID, online language teachers were rarely trained. Now, training is even more complicated, with teachers having their own family responsibilities on top of everything else. At the end of the day, classes are much easier, quicker and more efficient, to plan and assign straight out of a textbook.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not blaming Spanish teachers. In all of the teacher groups I am in, it's obvious that no one is happy about the situation right now. And no teacher wants to be thought of as boring - I can say that from first-hand experience. Instead, I am wondering to myself, who made these state standards anyway?

They don't seem to be very high for language instruction if students don't have to use the language.

Are You a Teacher? Tell Us Your Story!

Teachers and/or parents, please let me know your thoughts.

  • Do you agree with my opinion on grammar instruction?

  • Have you ever taught or been taught using the Communicative Learning Theory (CLT)?

  • Does the internet influence (positively or negatively) the importance of learning a second language?

Tell me in your response in the comments below, or send me a message directly in the chat (lower right hand corner of the screen).

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Sara Tyler has 2 M.A. degrees, in Educational Technology and Curriculum and Instruction. Her B.A. degree is in ESL. She has worked online since 2014, and has taught languages since 2010.

Her company, Viva Online, L.L.C. provides Spanish language courses, immersion classes, and professional development teachers. She lives in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with her husband and 2 daughters.

Take a peek at these blogs for more language learning tips:

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My #1 Website for Advanced Spanish Materials

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