We should acknowledge that as important as it is to develop our understanding of the grammatical facts of the language we are teaching, it is not these facts that we wish our students to learn. We are not interested in filling our students with grammatical forms and syntactic rules. What we do hope to do is to cultivate linguistic performance in our students which is consistent with the facts. In other words, grammar teaching is not so much knowledge transmission as it is skill development. By recognizing this, we can take advantage of several insights from second language acquisition research concerning how students naturally develop their ability to interpret and produce grammatical utterances. Three particular insights are:
- Learners do not learn structures one at a time. It is not the case that a learner masters the definite article, and when that is mastered, moves on to the simple past. From their first encounter with the definite article, learners might master one of its pragmatic functions, e.g. to signal the uniqueness at the following noun phrase. But even if they are able to do this pragmatically appropriately, it is not likely that learners will always produce the definite article when we needed, because learners typically take a long time before they are able to do this consistently. Thus, learning is a gradual process involving the mapping of form, meaning, structures do not emerge in learners’ interlanguage fully developed and error-free.
- Even when learners appear to have mastered a particular structure, it is not uncommon to find occurring with the introduction of new forms to the learners’ interlanguage. For example, the learners who has finally mastered the third person singular marker on present-tense verbs is likely to overgeneralize the rule and apply it to newly emerging modal verbs. Thus, teacher should not despair at similar regressive behavior on the part of their students.
- Second language learners rely on the knowledge and the experience they have. If they are beginners, they will rely on their first language about how the second language works; when they are more advanced, they will rely increasingly on the second language. In understanding this, the teacher realizes that there is no need to teach everything about a structure; rather, the teacher can build upon what the students already know.
So, we see that different learning processes are responsible for different aspects of language. The variety of types of learning contribute to mastery of a second language.