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Inductive and deductive approach to grammar



Teaching grammar has been a controversial issue for centuries. Some people perceive it as essential to teaching any foreign language (for example those in favour of Grammar Translation Method), whereas others view it as an impediment to second language acquisition. Even experts on language teaching from the past and contemporary linguists like Stephen Krashen, who once said “The effects of grammar teaching… are peripheral and fragile,” seem to question the very idea of including grammar lessons in second language teaching. This incessant debate over the usefulness and the form of grammar teaching (and, consequently, of grammar instruction), in which as of yet no one has been able to support their claims with an unquestionably conclusive research, has resulted in plenty of different methods and techniques of formulating grammar instruction, among which two stand out, namely inductive and deductive method.


The former is based on the assumption that knowledge of grammatical rules should be acquired through exposure to samples of speech that present a particular construction. Students are to elicit the rule from the given input and subconsciously learn it by recognizing the reoccurring patterns. Proponents of deductive approach to grammar instruction, on the other hand, claim that an introduction of a new structure should be commenced with an explicit presentation of the rule that governs the structure. The presentation is followed by examples which show to students how the rule is used in context.


As we can see, these two methods are completely different and simultaneous use of both is impracticable. The rift that divides them finds, obviously, reflection in the results that they produce.


Firstly, let’s analyze how they affect students and the teacher. Deductive approach is certainly easier to apply and leaves little room for mistakes providing that the rule is concisely and clearly stated. It makes students feel secure and provides them with a tool with which to tackle the tasks at hand. Not only is their confidence reinforced by numerous examples, but also by the fact that the scope of what is expected of them is very clearly defined. Moreover, deductive method does not require much preparation on the part of the teacher. His work boils down to producing a comprehensible and lucid definition which can be easily applied in the exercises that follow.


Nonetheless, it also has some quite significant disadvantages that cannot be disregarded. The most important one is lack of students’ involvement and struggle for understanding, which may result in the lesson being teacher-centered and not demanding in terms of creativity and imagination. Teacher’s incompetence may deteriorate the situation further; if he is unable to state the rule explicitly, back it up with relevant examples and adjust the use of metalanguage to the needs of his students, then even the simpliest grammar instruction can become ambiguous, and breed confusion and discouragement.


When it comes to inductive method of presenting grammar instruction, it succeeds almost in every area where deductive method fails. Its major advantage is the fact that it encourages mental effort and forces students to rely on their intelligence and the ability to analyze and make connections between particular samples of speech. Knowledge obtained through the subconscious process of identification and incorporation of the presented grammatical rules into ones language system is characterized by greater permanence and can be put into practice without conscious and time-consuming examination of the context from the grammatical point of view. But here, too, much depends on the teacher. Choosing examples that will guide students to the desired conclusions is an awfully demanding and risky task. Not being able to delineate the path leading to a particular grammatical point with appropriate instances, the teacher puts on the line the whole lesson. Moreover, inductive method may take a lot of valuable time (in case when students are not able to come up with the rule implied in the given sentences) that could be devoted to practice and production. Hence the question arises: are we ready to risk that much?


In my opinion, the question should be answered with resounding yes, but only in certain circumstances. Inductive method can be used solely by an experienced and competent teacher who knows his students well enough to be able to adjust the instruction to their needs and capacities. The superiority of inductive method over deductive one can only be utilized if one has profound insight into teaching techniques and possesses deep knowledge of students’ patterns of thinking and approaching new structures. It is also of paramount importance to know when and how to help learners, what can be done to aid them in coming up with a particular rule and how to do that efficiently. The question of whether to state the rule at the end of the “inductive phase” should be addressed by each teacher separately since, owing to individual differences between students, there are no two identical classroom situations. Providing these requirements have been fulfilled, inductive method can enrich classroom experience immeasurably. Firstly, students obtain knowledge in the most natural and effective way, through sheer exposure to input in foreign language (which, in order to make it more comprehensible, may be summed up with the rule that it presents). Secondly, students are forced to make the most of their perceptiveness, prior knowledge and mental capacity. Last but not least, they learn how to be self-dependent, which may make a world of difference in their future study of the language.


But though these profits are certainly of undisputable value, we cannot abandon deductive method altogether. Research has shown that most students prefer to be given grammar rules directly, and that in some cases it is better to avoid ambiguity and risk of misunderstanding. To my mind, restricting oneself to only one method impedes the learning process. Grammar, whether we claim that it should be acquired subconsciously or not, remains a foundation of fluency in the second language, hence the conclusion that the teacher should use all possible means of conveying its rules, not limiting himself to one particular method of instruction, however productive and infallible it may seem.


All things considered, I personally believe that applying inductive method as the main, but not the only, means of presenting grammar instruction is bound to produce amazing results and help students back up their knowledge with intuition and a deeper understanding of the second language that are unattainable for those who rely solely on what clearly resembles Grammar Translation Method, which has been condemned by contemporary linguists. Although deductive method has its disadvantages, if used in appropriate context it can facilitate the learning process thanks to the fact that it is helpful whenever sheer examples and students’ inductive thinking fail. There is no ultimate method of grammar instruction and the key to success lies in the wisdom to draw from the experience of others, avoiding their mistakes and making the most of the approaches and techniques bore fruit. And inductive method can certainly be termed as such.


Bibliografia: “How to teach grammar”, Scott Thornbury, wydawnictwo Longman