GRAMMAR AS ONE OF KEY COMPETENCES OF LANGUAGE ACQUISITION
With the increasing demand to master English at the appropriate level for work, studies and travelling, both educators and learners need to cover a sustainable process of language learning, acquiring new skills, new layers of vocabulary, mainly terminology, and as a final stage of language acquisition take some scholastic exams supported by relevant certificates. So, we continually focus our attention on 4 core skills, i.e. language competences (reading, listening, writing, and speaking) and make great efforts to improve them, whereas grammar is neglected in most cases. Therefore, we would consider grammar as the 5th competence of language learning and mastering it fairly well, since it is regarded as one of the most important skills for accurate and fluent delivery of thoughts, both in oral and written discourses.
Grammar- a backward look
Until very recently, education without grammar was unthinkable and, and as we known the learning of grammar has an incredibly long and universal history starting from the first systematic grammars, of Sanskrit, originated in Iron Age India, with Yaske (6th c. BC) to our days. In the 16th century the new schools in England were even called grammar schools and students were provided with special grammar books. Moreover, the importance of grammar, as the symbol of clear and educated speech, is vividly shown in universal literature heritage, e.g. George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, in Sherlock Holmes’ speech by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shakespearean plays, etc.
Grammar – an endangered skill
Consequently, there arises a question: How did grammar fall out of standard education? First, at the beginning of the 20th century grammar research dried up, later grammar related questions were left out from scholastic programs and tests; finally, it simply died out from education. Therefore, being worried and puzzled we have done some research among my colleagues and internet bloggers trying to reveal the importance of grammar for them by asking a question Why Does Grammar Matter?, and the answers are fascinating. Here are presented two of them somehow summarizing a range of opinions:
1. ‘Grammar is important because it is the language that makes it possible for us to talk about language. And knowing about grammar offers a window into the human mind and into our amazingly complex mental capacity. People associate grammar with errors and correctness. But knowing about grammar also helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear, interesting and precise.’ - National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
2. ‘Learning grammar is essential for accurate speaking in communication with other speakers of English. Moreover, the grammar aspect is important in writing, e.g. academic essays, business correspondence, etc. Teaching grammar on a constant base helps students be accurate while practicing speaking and writing skills in a classroom and be aware of their mistakes.’ - Tatiana Shipunova, ESL teacher, PRUE
A didactic experiment
After such a brief overview, we would base our research on an experiment which we carried on two students learning English for different needs and at different levels. To start with, they are mother and daughter with the age gap of two decades. The former is an accountant working for a big firm, and her language needs and wants are related to travelling, watching films, and freely communicating abroad. And she started from the starter level, as she studied German at school. While her daughter, a graduate from PRUE, specialized in Management and with an over 4-year career in the leading banks of Moscow, has been learning for a long period, every time setting different targets and aims. First, we started with her at the pre-intermediate level and developed up to intermediate. Then, aiming at taking BEC certificate she covered B2 level and passed it (BEC Vantage/B). Afterwards, she improved her professionalism in financial analysis and subsequently developed her English in Finance. Later she felt some gap in General English and she took some courses of it, targeting upper-intermediate level, mostly improving vocabulary, listening skills by watching videos and films, reading authentic news (www.ted.com, www.bbc.co.uk, etc.). Currently, she is having tutorials preparing for CAE certificate and enhancing her socializing skills in every sphere, like hotel check-in/out, customs control in airports, appointments, and so on.
As we have begun with our senior student, Larisa, just from the alphabet, it was and still it is vital to pay due attention to grammar and we have already covered levels from starter to pre-intermediate. With the method of consistent revising and developing she feels rather confident in using grammar in her speech, with less mistakes and confusion. On the contrary, Olga, our junior student, always neglecting the grammar rules, finding them boring and not so informative, now is regularly feeling that there is a gap in her knowledge which hinders to express her thoughts correctly and confidently. As an example, let us analyse two of the messages sent by her:
- ‘Unfortunately, on this week I should work till 20.00 because of the Central Bank request and I will not manage other activities. I will write you in order to discuss the time of the next lesson’.
- ‘I should perform some tasks at workplace. I will tell you on meeting, Ok?’
Here we notice mistakes referring to propositions, model verbs, question forms and the vivid influence of the mother tongue. And such errors hinder the development of language skills to higher and much more accurate level, which will give her speech appropriate fluency, range, confidence and effectiveness.
Fundamentals to revitalize grammar competence
Henceforward, we would state some fundamentals arguing why we need grammar so vitally in both formal and informal intercourse. Grammar competence is essential for:
- Socializing globally and effortlessly. Grammar, like any other linguistic skill, helps to materialize our thoughts, ideas and emotions verbally. Moreover, we live in a global village, where every human step requires knowledge of foreign languages, as in case of our students, who seek to work for international companies, travel abroad and surf the net for information and entertainment.
- Paving the way to easy acquisition of other foreign languages. Based on our multilingual experience, we can state that all languages have both similarities and differences, which help to comprehend the grammatical structures, rules and principal issues. Therefore, to understand and apply them we surely need first to study grammar from A to Z of one natural language.
- Coping with personal issues like household and communal conduct (payments, claims/requests, orders, and congratulations), child upbringing, study and work. We are constantly facing new professional and social demands, so need to be committed to apprehend and master them. Grammar is a linguistic challenge and we strive to conquer it for better communication.
- Increasing our knowledge, literacy and confidence. After studying grammar, we should be more alert to the strength, flexibility, and variety of the language, thus practice it more confidently, speak and write more effectively. Even after a sequence of courses on grammar rules, we can still speak and write carelessly. And as it is mentioned in one of our articles, grammar accuracy is the trunk of literacy, therefore we need to water and fertilize the soil, i.e. enhance grammar competence incessantly. 
It is vital to note that at present most scholastic tests have so called Grammar Relevance point to assess separately the writing tasks (IELTS, CAE, BEC, etc). This grading involves all the aspects of grammar – variety of tenses, passive forms, modals, conditionals, prepositions, reporting, inversion, etc. Moreover, grammar is bound up with the meaning and effect of what we write and say; it gives us the words to talk about our choices, preferences, mood and tone. For different discourse situations we apply different sentence patterns, vocabulary layers and structures. Consequently, the due level of grammar competence helps us to realize the rule of 5Cs, which make our speech clear, correct, concise, coherent and cohesive.
The majority of publishing houses currently issue ESP or EGP coursebooks supplemented by grammar sections (Language Reference) which give more practical usage of grammatical rules and target specific topic-related needs. Whereas, we have to take into consideration the linguistic and cultural aspects, analytical thinking styles of different nations. For instance, Russians are keen on first studying theoretical aspects and rules, later come to practical implementation of them. Thus, it is advisable to integrate the acquisition of core 4 skills with the 5th skill by covering complete grammar textbooks in order to ensure meeting the individual needs of learners. In our case, we have combined EGP materials with grammar resources from starter to advanced levels.
Also, worthwhile is noting www.englishforeveryone.com website - simply outfitted with grammar links, teaching tips, and a grammar bibliography. In short, it is a place where people know that grammar matters and how, and why. It is well worth visiting and checking your grammar understanding. Thus, grammar is gradually regaining it decent position in human education. And philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was absolutely right stating, ‘Like everything metaphysical, the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language.’