Ricardo Madureira –

Absolute beginners, unlike the so-called false beginners, are learners who have no previous knowledge whatsoever of the target language they are about to start studying. Teachers will often wrongly assume that some language structures are easier than others and consequently they will rush through some grammar points in the hope that students can understand everything without further, detailed guidance, taking it for granted that students can be left to their own devices when it comes to studying grammar.

The grading of structures is an artificial, albeit necessary, procedure, so there are no such things as ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’ grammar topics, at least strictly speaking. We rely on these simplifications because we have been trained to do so, such as when refer our students to grammar or course books whose contents are graded according to a certain sequence (have you noticed most of them begin with the verb ‘to be’ in the simple present and wondered why?). While linguistically we cannot support the idea of ‘easy’ or ‘difficulty’ grammar, sequencing has been proven to be necessary (maybe a necessary evil?) in Applied Linguistics research.

All too often, we find out that some teachers are too keen on testing students on grammar in a way that is heavy-going, hoping they will be able to grasp a vast amount of grammar terms, such as the name of verb tenses (present simple, simple past, present perfect, etc.), determiners, clauses, and so on, so teachers may come up with exam questions like this:

 

Fill in the spaces with possessive adjectives or possessive pronouns:

 

  1. This is Susan. Her mother is a teacher.
  2. These are Ben and Roy. Their parents are doctors.
  3. We are Ted and Gina. This is Fred, our
  4. Is this your wallet?
  5. No, this wallet isn’t mine.

 

There are easy ways you can test this grammar topic without resorting to grammar terms; the questions could easily be rephrased like this:

 

Fill in the spaces with one of the options given in brackets:

 

  1. This is Susan. ___________ mother is a teacher. (her/hers)
  2. These are Ben and Roy. __________ parents are doctors. (theirs/their)
  3. We are Ted and Gena. This is Fred, __________ dog. (our/ours)

Etc.

 

Your students may be able to understand the difference between ‘my’ and ‘mine’, use these words relatively well, but they may not be capable of eliciting an explicit grammar explanation, in the lines of “We use possessive adjectives before nouns. We use possessive pronouns without a noun.” In addition to that, they may also be clueless about the specific names of structures (relative, cleft, adverbial, noun clauses, etc.) or parts of speech (nouns, adverbs, verbs, and so on).

That does not mean in the slightest we are advocating a “zero-grammar” approach. We are just suggesting that teachers should investigate what is their real objective when they teach their students some grammar points, which is ultimately enabling them to use the structure, vocabulary, without conscious analysis.

If you can reach your objective without overburdening students (especially absolute beginners) with theoretical grammar, then why would you rely heavily on grammar terms? Remember students under exam conditions already feel on edge enough to go to the trouble of classifying the language, when understanding its workings unconsciously and applying them communicatively is a tall order in itself.

Before we wrap up this month’s article, take a look at other ways in which we can rephrase the question given above:

 

Option 1 – If you make a point of using grammar terms:

 

Fill in the spaces with a possessive adjective (my, your, his…) or possessive pronoun (mine, yours, etc.):

 

  1. This is Susan. __________ mother is a teacher.
  2. These are Ben and Roy. __________ parents are doctors.
  3. We are Ted and Gena. This is Fred, __________
  4. Is this __________ wallet?
  5. No, this wallet isn’t __________.

 

Option 2 – If you think your students can blithely go without grammar terms:

 

Fill in the spaces, continuing as in the examples:

 

  1. This is Susan. Her mother is a teacher.
  2. These are Ben and Roy. Their parents are doctors.
  3. We are Ted and Gina. This is Fred, __________
  4. Is this __________ wallet?
  5. No, this wallet isn’t __________.

 

As can be seen from the examples above, testing grammar does not necessarily mean testing grammar nomenclature.

 

 

Suggested readings

 

Fundamental Considerations in Language TestingLanguage Assessment in Practice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FINAL_Capa_Refresher.indd

Refresher Vocabulary & Grammar Tests For Advanced Proficiency Exams with Answers by Ricardo Madureira, Disal Editora.

For supplementary exercises (free of charge) (units 11 – 15), from my book “Refresher Vocabulary and Grammar tests…”, please go to: http://www.profricardomadureira.com.br , click on ARTIGOS and then download the file.