Communicative English grammar teaching to high school learners in Vietnam

In Vietnamese high schools, English is mainly delivered in grammar translation method to ameliorate student achievement in grammar-Oriented examinations. In a long term, students suffer from fatigue and failure to communicate properly. This research aimed to apply the communicative approach in grammar teaching to improve students’ communicative competence and enhance their interest in grammar lessons. To obtain the above targets, a conceptual framework of studying grammar was shaped with the view that grammar should be studied in a context. The study employed reflective approach as the main research design and quantitative approach as a supplementary method. A teaching program with four trialed grammar lessons was implemented in TNH High School, Vietnam and data were collected from two instruments of observation and questionnaire. The findings showed that the students’ communicative competence and interest in the grammar lessons were significantly enhanced. The research outcomes were then translated into several recommendations to improve the quality of grammar teaching and learning at high schools in Vietnam

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Communicative English grammar teaching to high school learners in Vietnam
fusion about 
 Khuong Thi Hong Cam. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 3-20 15 
forms in the first three lessons, and then 
improved in the last lesson. 
The production stage was most innovated 
with activities that provided students a real 
purpose to communicate (Harmer, 1991). 
During this stage, although the students still 
made mistakes with the forms and showed 
their passiveness in the first two lessons, they 
expressed their enjoyment with the activities 
and grasped the understanding of meaning 
through all four lessons. 
In brief, there were two tendencies 
towards the students’ feelings and 
performances elicited from the observation 
data. The greatest of the achievements was the 
maintenance of the positive attitudes and 
performances over time. Meanwhile, the 
drawbacks ranged from reduction to even 
elimination to the completion of the teaching 
program. The changes started in the second 
lesson and gradually became more and more 
conspicuous from the third to the last one. 
5.2. Research question 2: What are the 
students’ reflections after being taught 
communicative grammar in terms of lesson 
content, task design, and feelings? 
Questionnaires were deployed to help 
answer the second research question. The data 
were converted into the three measurements 
of raw count, percentage and mean. Since this 
last type of data only serves to triangulate 
observation data, the trend can be spotted via 
the calculation of means or central tendencies 
only. Therefore, the raw counts and 
percentages are not necessarily scrutinized. 
The following analysis will investigate the 
students’ attitudes reflected in the 
questionnaire data towards the three main 
themes of lesson content, task design and 
students’ feelings. 
5.2.1. Lesson content 
The data on lesson content are 
categorized into the three sub main themes of 
form, meaning and integration for 
investigation. For better comparison, the two 
first sub-themes will be combined for analysis 
and interpretation (Chart 1). The last one will 
be addressed for isolated exploration later. 
Chart 1. Students’ attitudes towards form and meaning 
16 Khuong Thi Hong Cam. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 3-20 
As a whole, the students showed 
unfavorable opinions at one end and gradually 
changed ideas to reverse attitudes towards the 
other end. Most students disagreed that the 
form was focused on (M = 3.72) and they 
were rather unsure that it was well explained 
(M = 3.12). However, they quite approved 
that it was well practiced and consolidated (M 
= 2.2). Most interestingly, they advocated that 
the form was introduced through context (M = 
1.56). Their feedback showed that they 
actually concentrated on the form although at 
first it did not seem to be a visible focus. The 
embedding of context to explore the form as 
Harmer (1991) proposed was achieved. 
At the other end of the continuum, all the 
statements related to meaning were highly 
backed up by the students since M ranged from 
1.56 to 2.0, well below the middle point of 3.0. 
Most of the students recognized the active role 
of context in explaining the meaning and use of 
the structure (M = 1.6). Therefore, in a like 
manner, they agreed that the meaning and use 
were well explained (M = 2) and well practiced 
and consolidated (M = 1.68). Their options 
convincingly proved that the meaning and use 
were much emphasized in the conducted 
lessons, which is in line with the framework of 
Harmer (1991) and Ur (1996). 
In the sub-theme of integration (Chart 2), 
the situation was positive when a majority of 
the students agreed that four communicative 
skills were integrated in the grammar lessons 
(M revolved around 1.36 and 2.52). 
Chart 2. Students’ attitudes towards integration 
Specifically, listening, speaking and the 
combination of these two skills received the 
most votes, as the means read 1.36, 1.56 and 
1.36 respectively. Writing ranked the fourth 
(M = 2.16) and reading got the lowest support 
(M = 2.52). Although the reading skill was the 
least supported by the students, it was 
remarked as being somewhat integrated. The 
concern raised by Phuong and Uyen (2014) 
was solved when both oral and written skills 
were integrated in the lessons. 
5.2.2. Task design 
The students’ attitudes towards task 
design in presentation stage and in practice 
and production stages will be presented. 
Having a quick look at the means ranging 
from 1.72 to 2.60 in Chart 3, one can easily 
figure out that a majority of the students 
found the tasks in the presentation stage well 
designed in terms of form, meaning and use 
thanks to contextualization via listening 
activities. 
 Khuong Thi Hong Cam. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 3-20 17 
Chart 3. Students’ attitudes towards task design in presentation stage 
Most of the students thought the listening 
activities were properly designed (M = 1.72). 
The reason was then given for this proper 
design: the structure under scrutiny was 
normally embedded in a context of use. Thus 
the students agreed that these activities helped 
introduce the structure naturally (M = 1.84), 
so they could provide real examples to help 
use the structure in a proper context (M = 2). 
In another aspect of this stage, the 
discovery task, the students highly supported 
the careful design of the questions about 
meaning and use (M = 1.96). Satisfactorily, 
they quite agreed that the questions about 
form were designed in detail (M = 2.6). 
Thanks to the attention paid to the three 
aspects of form, meaning and use at the same, 
they strongly approved that the questions on 
the second end of the form-meaning 
continuum helped them become aware of the 
use of the structure in a proper context 
(M = 1.76). 
According to Chart 4, a majority of the 
students held the view that the tasks in the 
practice and production stages were well 
created (M ranged from 1.68 to 2.84). They 
agreed that the activities in these stages were 
various (M = 1.8) to meet different targets of 
each stage, namely focus on accuracy in 
practice stage (M = 2.84) and on fluency in 
production stage (M = 2.32). This variety was 
implied to encompass all the three main 
aspects of grammar teaching in both practice 
and production to achieve communication. 
Therefore, later on a great number of the 
students supported the idea that the tasks 
helped them improve their communicative 
skills (M = 1.68). Besides, being consistent 
with their comments earlier on the lesson 
content, they agreed that the tasks helped 
them grasp not only the meaning and use (M 
= 1.88) but also the form (M = 1.84). Since 
the latter was drilled as well, they had quite 
optimistic expectations about their 
performance on normal form-oriented tests 
(M = 2.12). 
1.72
1.84
2
2.6
1.96
1.76
1
1.2
1.4
1.6
1.8
2
2.2
2.4
2.6
2.8
9 10 11 12 13 14
M
E
A
N
QUESTIONS
Well-designed activities 
Natural introduction of structure 
Real examples for proper use of 
structures
Detailed questions about form 
Detailed questions about meaning 
and use 
Helping students become aware 
of using the structure properly
18 Khuong Thi Hong Cam. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 3-20 
Chart 4. Students’ attitudes towards task design in practice and production stages 
The integration of context into the 
tasks in three stages (Presentation, Practice 
and Production) supported by the advocates 
of function - based grammar theory 
(Halliday, 1994; McCarthy, 2001) received 
acknowledgement of the students. Despite 
focusing on meaning and use, the trial method 
did reject the importance of form. This finding 
reinforced the suggestion of Butt et al. (1995). 
The inclusion of forms also satisfied the 
grammar-based examinations that Vietnamese 
education system strongly supported (Toan, 
2013). Finally, the finding about students’ 
communication skills would satisfy those who 
raised concerns about students’ ability to use 
English to communicate in their real life 
(Phuong and Uyen, 2014). 
5.2.3. Students’ feelings after the lessons 
As shown in Chart 5, except for the last 
item of difficulty (with the mean value of 
2.52), the students expressed their feelings in 
positive emotional terms (M ranged from 1.48 
to 2.08). They found the lessons new and 
strange (M = 1.52). Due to the innovation of 
the lessons, they felt interested (M = 1.6). 
Therefore, they became more active to 
participate in the activities (M = 1.48). With 
their enthusiastic participation, they asserted 
that they could absorb the lessons (M = 1.92) 
and remember the structure well (M = 2.08). 
These findings were in line with the 
comments of Ehrenworth and Vinton (2005) 
and (Ur, 1996) when the grammar points were 
presented, practiced and produced with the 
embedding of contexts into tasks. 
 Khuong Thi Hong Cam. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 3-20 19 
Chart 5. Students’ feelings after the lessons 
In brief, the students supported the trialed 
method with more positive than negative 
opinions on the content, task design and 
feelings after the lessons. As far as the content 
is concerned, except the theme form, the other 
themes such as meaning and integration 
highly met their satisfaction. Interestingly, 
they were satisfied with all the tasks designed 
in three stages. Finally, with respect to their 
feelings after four lessons, apart from the 
complaint about the factor of challenge, they 
were quite content with the lessons. 
6. Conclusion 
This research was undertaken with a 
purpose to create a pedagogical reform in 
English grammar teaching and learning. 
However, the intervention can only be 
obtained when there is a unification in both 
micro and macro levels, which involve high 
school teachers of English, textbook designers 
and policy makers who exert authority over 
the testing system. 
For high school teachers of English, the 
teaching program and findings provide 
teachers of English in Vietnamese high 
schools with a specification of how to 
contextualize grammar tasks and how to 
conduct a grammar lesson in the constraints 
of their current condition. In preparation for a 
lesson, teachers can have recourse to 
communicative course books for authentic 
contexts in which the communicative 
purposes of the structure and the specific 
participants that the language aims at clearly 
emerge. They should design tasks in 
presentation, practice and production stages 
in the way that contextual components are 
taken into consideration and conduct them in 
the way that four skills, or at least the two 
skills of speaking and listening, are 
integrated. 
Textbooks designers can relieve a burden 
from Vietnamese high school teachers if they 
redesign grammar tasks in English textbooks 
in a communicative way. To do this, they 
should consider the elements of meaning and 
use instead of form only in designing tasks. 
Instead of providing only mechanical 
exercises with isolated items, the textbook 
tasks should be contextualized. 
However, English textbook writers will 
still underestimate the importance of 
communicative aspects until the testing 
system is given a significant overhaul. Due to 
the economic and technical constraints in the 
Vietnamese high school settings, listening and 
speaking tests will not be able to administered 
nationwide in the short run. However, the 
conventional test can be simply modified by 
contextualizing test items. If students are 
tested on skills to use the language rather than 
on a good memory of linguistic rules, testing 
can provide positive backwash effects on 
English teaching and learning 
20 Khuong Thi Hong Cam. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 3-20 
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