La Rivista per l'insegnamento e l'apprendimento delle lingue

What grammar should we teach?

Martin Parrott

Dopo aver indicato che in fondo alla domanda “quale grammatica dobbiamo insegnare?” vi è una risposta apparentemente banale e cioè quella di cui gli studenti hanno bisogno, l’autore si sofferma sull’importanza dell’aspetto grammaticale, in particolare quello sintattico, per la comprensione. Sin dagli inizi dell’apprendimento è essenziale concentrare la propria attenzione anche sulla sintassi di costruzioni complesse così da affinare la sensibilità e la capacità di riflettere sulla lingua. Facilitati in questo compito sono ovviamente gli insegnanti plurilingui. (red.)

*The article first appeared in ETAS AGM Journal Nov. 01.; permission of reprint given by the author.

The emergence of English as the world's first genuinely global language has been predicted for a long time. Now that it is here, its presence raises some unexpected and unprecedented questions.
But is it here? To be worthy of the designation 'global', a language needs to be present, in some sense, in every country in the world. English has probably now achieved this position. It is used as a first language by some 400 million people, mainly in the USA, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. It has achieved special status as a 'second' language in over 70 countries, such as Ghana, Nigeria, India, Singapore, and Vanuatu, spoken by at least another 400 million. And in most - perhaps now all? - of the remaining countries, it has become the foreign language which children are most likely to learn in school. The number of foreign learners may now exceed a billion.
Although estimates vary greatly, 1,500 million or more people are today thought to be competent communicators in English. That is a quarter of the world's population. So, is English a global language, when three out of four people do not yet use it? Given the areas of world influence where it has come to have a pivotal role, the answer has to be yes. The evidence suggests that English is now the dominant voice in international politics, banking, the press, the news agencies, advertising, broadcasting, the recording industry, motion pictures, travel, science and technology, knowledge management, and communications. No other language has achieved such a widespread profile - or is likely to, in the foreseeable future.
Several other languages have an important international presence, of course. Two, indeed, have far more mother-tongue speakers than English. A 1999 survey puts Mandarin Chinese and Spanish ahead of English, and although there is some uncertainty about the latter's statistics, there is no doubt that Spanish is currently growing faster than any other language, especially in the Americas. But the reason for the global status of English is nothing to do with the number of first-language speakers it has. There are some three times as many people who speak it as a second or foreign language, and this ratio is increasing, given the differentials between such low population-growth countries as the UK and USA, on the one hand, and such high ones as India and Nigeria, on the other. The future of the language is evidently out there in the ELT (English-language teaching) world. [...]

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