Monday, September 12, 2011

Leech, Geoffrey N. (1994) “Students’ Grammar -- Teachers’ Grammar -- Learners’ Grammar”

Leech, Geoffrey N. (1994) “Students’ Grammar -- Teachers’ Grammar -- Learners’ Grammar” is one of the papers I should have (re)read before the Keio Symposium on Pedagogical Grammar (Please check tweets with the hashtag "#keiopg." Almost all tweets are in Japanese, though.) I thank commentators on Twitter who suggested these articles. Below is my quick summary of the paper.

Teachers' Grammar in between Academic Grammar and Grammar for Learners

As the first paper of a book based the BAAL conference on 'Grammar for the Second Language Classroom' in 1991 (p. 7), Leech first distinguishes 'teachers' grammar' from both 'academic grammar (for university students)' and 'grammar for learners'. In between 'academic grammar' that is supposed to be 'theoretical and descriptive' and 'grammar for learners' that is to be 'practical, selective, sequenced, task-oriented, etc.' (p. 17), 'teachers' grammar', Leech argues, is to provide teachers with a 'mature communicative knowledge' of grammar (p. 18). Leech gives five items of what a teacher is ideally required to do with this knowledge.

(a) Grammar as a communicative system: be capable of putting across a sense of how grammar interacts with the lexicon as a communicative system (both 'communicativeness' and 'system' will need independent attention;

(b) Analysing learners' grammatical difficulties: be able to analyse the grammatical problems that learners encounter;

(c) Evaluating the use of grammar: have the ability and confidence to evaluate the use of grammar, especially by learners, against criteria of accuracy, appropriateness and expressiveness;

(d) Contrastive grammar: be aware of the contrastive relations between native language and foreign language;

(e) Process of simplification: understand and implement the process of simplification by which overt knowledge of grammar can best be presented to learners at different stages of learning. (pp. 18-22)

The symposium dealt with these items ((b) and (e) in particular; (a) and (c) as shared assumptions; and (e) as a future task), but failed to make an explicit distinction between teachers' grammar and learners' grammar by using an general term pedagogical grammar. I regret as the modulator that we failed to explicitly make this distinction that was in fact shared by most of the panelists.

Learners' grammar as a 'convenient fiction'

The point (d), processes of simplification, was particularly discussed in the symposium, with a nice phrase by Yukio Otsu 「優しいウソ」(a convenient fiction). Teachers are justified to provide learners with simplified account of grammar, considering the limited cognitive capacities of students, but on the other hand, those 'convenient fictions,' when given thoughtlessly, may just confuses learners.

Leech also said as follows:

Simplification is necessarily in conflict with telling the whole truth about the language: by simplifying we indulge to some extent in fiction, by either overgeneralisation or undergeneralisation. (p. 21)

However, 'convenient fictions' are generally used in school education, for they're necessary as instructional scaffolding or "a ladder to be thrown away". Teachers are to use (and even create) convenient fictions in the form of 'rules of thumb' carefully and systematically.

'Fuzzy' view of grammar does not say that grammar is chaotic or haphazard.

Leech theoretically justifies 'rules of thumb' in grammar by introducing the notion of 'fuzziness' in prototype theory. Yet, after showing a brief analysis of 'the 's genitive and the of construction', he concludes that the notion of prototype is not all-sufficient, as there sometimes is a fairly clear-cut distinction. Teachers do not have a free hand to to create whatever convenient fictions as they like. As pedagogical grammar, the rules of thumb provided as 'convenient fictions' must avoid inviting unnecessary confusion in learners.

As Masashi Kubono said in the symposium, teachers should avoid 'convenient fictions' whenever they can; teachers are to provide 'truth' as much as possible. Education, after all, is an intellectual challenge.


Leech, Geoffrey N. (1994). “Students’ Grammar -- Teachers’ Grammar -- Learners’ Grammar.” In Bygate, Martin, Tonkyn, Alan and Williams, Eddie (eds.). (1994). Grammar and the Language Teacher. New York: Prentice Hall. pp. 17-30.

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