It is interesting to read claims on the web that the traditional grammar-based language teaching model is “under attack,” when nearly everyone still subscribes to this archaic approach. The vast majority of language classrooms, whether in high schools, universities, or private language schools, still spend most class hours teaching and testing explicit information such as grammar rules and lexical items out of context.

I read a blog post a while back that claimed the following:

“Anything students need to know has to be taught, not caught.”

This soundbite seems logical, but it underpins the major misconception widely on display in traditional language classrooms and programs: the notion that languages can be taught. The truth is that languages can only be “acquired,” not taught. Human language is a physical skill akin to walking. Parents and schools did not “teach” you how to walk; you figured it out through trial and error. Language ability is the same; you did not learn how to speak English because your parents or teachers taught you about “subjects” and “predicates,” the meaning of Latin or Greek word roots, or English case inflections. Many schools, educators, and parents have believe in the faulty notion that we have to teach children their language, when in reality, they will acquire the language around them automatically given sufficient input and chances to practice output.

The exception to this stance is writing, a human technology that does indeed need to be taught. Writing is a skill that requires massive amounts of reading input, and an equally massive amount of writing output.  Having a teacher to give feedback on readability, mechanics, style, and writing conventions does help significantly.

One last thing: Perhaps the biggest reason grammar-based language teaching remains so common (despite disastrous results), is good old fashioned business. There is a lot of money to be made selling books, training teachers, running conferences, preparing students for tests, and selling cram school tuitions.

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