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Spoken Grammar and Its Role in the English Language Classroom

Article · January 2014



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Amanda Hilliard

Arizona State University




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Amanda Hilliard

Spoken Grammar and Its Role in the English Language Classroom





I
f you have never heard of spo- ken grammar, this article could change the way you think about teaching speaking skills and even how you evaluate students’ speaking abili- ties. To see an example of spoken grammar, consider the two excerpts below and decide which one is from an English textbook and which one is

from a real-life conversation. Excerpt 1:

A: My little brother is a really good student.

B: Why do you say that?

A: Well, he is really smart, so he always gets good grades.

B: Maybe he gets good grades because he studies hard.

Excerpt 2:

A: Didn’t know you used boiling water.

B: Pardon?

A: Didn’t know you used boiling water.

B: Don’t have to but it’s um … they reckon it’s um, quicker.

As you probably guessed, the first excerpt is from an English textbook, while the second excerpt is from a

real-life conversation. But can you say why? Traditional, formal descrip- tions of English grammar are typi- cally based on standards of written English; recently, though, particularly as a result of analysis of large corpora of spoken data and an emphasis on spoken communication, researchers and linguists have begun to focus on describing features of spoken grammar and to question the appropriateness of applying writing-based standards and grammatical descriptions to spoken English. Because of current trends emphasizing communicative language teaching and authenticity, recognizing the classroom role of spoken grammar is more important than ever before. Learning about characteristics of spo- ken grammar and ways to teach them empowers you to improve your stu- dents’ overall fluency and face-to-face conversation, increases the authen- ticity of your speaking lessons, and prevents your students from speaking English like a textbook.

This article addresses key issues

and considerations for teachers want- ing to incorporate spoken grammar






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activities into their own teaching and also focuses on six common features of spoken grammar, with practical activities and sug- gestions for teaching them in the language classroom. It is hoped that this discussion of spoken grammar and its place in foreign language instruction, along with the activities, will encourage English-language teachers and textbook writers to incorporate more elements of spoken grammar into their own curricula.


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