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How much spoken grammar finds its way through Turkish teachers of English?. Dr. Cemal Karaata Fatih University, İstanbul, TURKEY. The impetus for the study.

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how much spoken grammar finds its way through turkish teachers of english

How much spoken grammar finds its way through Turkish teachers of English?

Dr. Cemal Karaata

Fatih University,

İstanbul, TURKEY

the impetus for the study
The impetus for the study

There is a whole debate going on whether spoken grammar forms of English (SGFE) should be taught to learners of English in EFL settings. Two sides of the debate:

  • ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) supporters
  • ENL (English as a native language) advocates
the impetus for the study3
The impetus for the study

Without trying to take a stance on this debate or trying to find an answer to this question, I just wanted to take the picture of our position in our context.

Instead of “should we teach SGFE?”, are we, as non-native teachers of English, aware of SGFE and do we try to teach them to our students?”

Being a typical example of an EFL setting, the findings of this study might be of relevance and interest to similar contexts.

background knowledge
Background knowledge
  • Over the past 10-15 years the amount of corpus studies and the interest in the grammar of spoken English has increased considerably.
  • Biber et al. (1999: 1038): “The grammar of conversation has been little researched until recently, when the advent of sizeable computer corpora have made such research feasible for the first time.”
background knowledge5
Background knowledge
  • Thanks to this growth, we are now more informed than ever before about how native speakers interact with each other and what kind of spontaneous native speaker (NS) speech they have. Indeed, this curiosity has also culminated with the publication of the two major studies which are Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (Biber et al., 1999) and the Cambridge Grammar of English (Carter and McCarthy, 2006).
background knowledge6
Background knowledge

Many learners of English have problem in speaking fluently despite years of formal instruction

  • “a hesitant, overcareful style of speaking thanks to their overconcern with correctness and constant rule-searching” (Krashen, 1988).
  • “they speak like a TV announcer, always complete sentences with perfect grammar and they are bound to sound bookish without using the features of spoken grammar” (Goh, 2009).
  • Rings (1992) says there is a jeopardy of “producing speakers of English who can only speak like a book because their English is modelled on an almost exclusively written version of the language”
spoken grammar and textbooks
Spoken Grammar and Textbooks
  • As Biber et al. (1999:1038) say Western grammatical tradition is based almost exclusively on written grammar and this is a bias that still goes on. Two studies:

a) Kuo and Cullen (2007)

b) Karaata and Soruc (under review)

have shown that the recent findings based on corpora studies have been too slow to filter through ELT practices.

what is spoken grammar
What is spoken grammar?
  • Mumford (2009): “those aspects of English which are almost always associated with the spoken language or its written representation, as recorded in new corpus based grammars.”
  • Cullen and Kuo (2007): “Spoken grammar is the manifestation of systematic grammatical phenomena

in spoken discourse that arise from the circumstances in which speech (i.e., conversation) is characteristically produced.”

sgfe spoken grammar forms of english
SGFE (Spoken Grammar Forms of English)
  • ELLIPSIS is the omission of elements which are precisely recoverable from the linguistic or situational context.


A: Have you got an exam on Monday?

B: <I’ve got> two exams <on Monday>.

A: What exams <have you got>?

B: <I’ve got> German, reading and French oral, French oral’s a doodle.

A: Is it <a doodle?> (Biber et al., 1999:156)

sgfe spoken grammar forms of english10
SGFE (Spoken Grammar Forms of English)
  • HEADERS (HEADS, NOUN PHRASE PREFACES) direct the listener to what the speaker is saying about and they are fronting devices which allow the listener to have more processing time (Cullen and Kuo, 2007: 366).


  • The white house in the corner,does she live there?
  • A funny beginning, is that what we want in a story?
  • This woman, she’s night years old.
sgfe spoken grammar forms of english11
SGFE (Spoken Grammar Forms of English)
  • TAILS (NOUN PHRASE TAGS) are found at the end of the clauses and reminder of what has been said or what is important. They make explicit the identity of a pronoun used earlier in the utterance (Cullen and Kuo, 2007: 367).


It makes you wonder, you know, all this unemployment.

It was a good book, this.

No, I think it’s about nine hundred, that one.

sgfe spoken grammar forms of english12
SGFE (Spoken Grammar Forms of English)
  • VAGUE LANGUAGE is the language employed by native speakers to be more polite and friendly, and to make a less definite statement.


  • I have to talk to director or teacher or someone like that.
  • It has cost around 50 pounds or so.
  • I need a pencil, glue, scissors, and stuff like that.
sgfe spoken grammar forms of english13
SGFE (Spoken Grammar Forms of English)

PLACEHOLDERS are sometimes found in the middle of the phrases, and they are used when the speaker doesn’t remember or know the target vocabulary, which stimulates the listener to hold the place.


  • I need a thingummy for the slide projector.
  • I gave it to whatsisname/whatsisface in the accounts department.
sgfe spoken grammar forms of english14
SGFE (Spoken Grammar Forms of English)
  • LEXICOGRAMMATICAL UNITS cannot be modified themselves (e.g., through inflection or change in person or number), but when united with other structures, they form larger syntactic units (Cullen and Kuo, 2007: 369).


  • Single lexemes: really, actually, in fact, indeed, well, Mm, right, also, of course, anyway, basically
  • Short phrases: I mean…, You know…, It’s just like..., and things like that or something, a bit or a little bit, a bit better
sgfe spoken grammar forms of english15
SGFE (Spoken Grammar Forms of English)

QUASI GRAMMAR seems actually incorrect in terms of written grammar, but it is usual and correct in spoken grammar.


  • There is lots of cars. (There is + plural noun)
  • He will invite less people to the party. (less + countable plural noun)
  • If I was a rich man (instead of the use of “were”)
  • It`s definitely cheaper and more fresh (instead of fresher)
the study
The study

The impetus to this study is to try to find out theanswers of the following questions (with no reference to whether SGFE should be taught to non-native speakers of English or not):

  • Do the teachers of English in Turkey use features of spoken grammar in their own communication (speech)?
  • Do they teach these features to their students in their classes? If yes, how often?
  • From which source(s) did they learn these features of spoken grammar, if at all they did?
  • The research was implemented mainly in Istanbul, Turkey in the first semester of 2009/10 academic year in three months. The participants were 189 Turkish teachers of English randomly selected from five private, and four state universities, 5 private high schools and 28 state primary and high schools.
data collection procedures
Data Collection Procedures
  • A questionnaire (n:189) and a semi-structured interview (n:8) were used.
  • The questionnaire was prepared by two researchers, reviewed by two other professors in the field of ELT and an expert in statistical analysis. It was piloted on 18 randomly selected instructors in a Turkish private university.
how were the questionnaires administered
How were the questionnaires administered?
  • After the informed consent of the administrators of the university/school, the participants started completing the questionnaire. First, the participants in each school gathered in meeting rooms and the researchers introduced some theoretical knowledge about spoken grammar forms, notably some ambiguous terms of spoken grammar to the teachers.
how were the questionnaires administered20
How were the questionnaires administered?
  • Second, the items were explained through power point presentations in order to impede any misunderstanding. The researchers were together with the participants in all questionnaire answering sessions and ready to answer any problematic issues. This increased the reliability of the questionnaire to a considerable extent.
semi structured interviews
Semi-structured Interviews
  • A semi-structured interview was also administered with 8 teachers who participated in the study. Their answers were almost completely in agreement with the general questionnaire results. Two things that most of them mentioned were:
semi structured interviews22
Semi-structured Interviews
  • They stated that they did not learn SGFE via formal instruction but rather they mostly “picked up” spoken grammar mainly from films.
  • Though they did not generally have a conscious effort to teach SGFE in their classes they believed that the SGFE they used in their personal communication were also adopted by some of their students, if not perfectly.
conclusions for the use of sgfe in teachers personal communication and teaching
Conclusions for the use of SGFE in teachers’ personal communication and teaching
  • The most common SGFE that teachers use in their own communication are lexicogrammatical units (86,8% always+often) followed by vague language (59,8% always+often) and ellipsis (54,5% always+often). On the other hand, the least frequent SGFE are placeholders (33,3% never) followed by quasigrammar (29,1% never) and tails (27% never).
  • As for teaching, the most frequently taught SGFE are lexico-grammatical units (58,7% always+often) followed by vague language (23,8% always+often) and ellipsis (22,2 always+often). The least taught SGFE are, on the other hand, placeholders (1,6% always+often) followed by quasigrammar (6,9% always+often) and tails (8,4 always+often).
conclusions for the use of sgfe in teachers personal communication and teaching25
Conclusions for the use of SGFE in teachers’ personal communication and teaching
  • In order to see whether there is a statistically significant relation between the personal use of each SGFE and their teaching, a Chi-Square test has been administered. The results for each item (e.g. headers communication – headers teaching) showed that the relation is statistically significant at a confidence level of 95% with p<0.05 (p=0,00 for every SGFE). This shows that the more a teacher uses any SGFE in his/her personal communication, the more he/she teaches it (here only the teachers` self-report is made use of – success and retention of the students have not been taken into account).
conclusions for the sources of learning sgfe
Conclusions for the sources of learning SGFE
  • Except for two items (headers and tails), media is the main source for acquiring SGFE. The percentage of SGFE learned through media is approximately 70% more than those learned from books (with again the exception of headers and tails). Participants of the study learned the least number of SGFE at primary school and by interacting with NNS, which is quite natural especially in an EFL setting.
conclusions for the sources of learning sgfe28
Conclusions for the sources of learning SGFE
  • Interaction with native speakers has a relatively high role in acquiring SGFE especially with regard to lexicogrammatical units followed by quasi-grammar (non-standard grammar), vague language and ellipsis respectively. Placeholders are the least learned SGFE followed by tails and quasi-grammar. On the other hand, lexicogrammatical units are the SGFE that have been learned most followed by vague language and ellipsis.
conclusions implications
Conclusions – Implications
  • As for the teachers’ own use and teaching SGFE, there is a high correlation. So if teachers (non-native teachers of English) are taught SGFE in their pre-service training and get some in-service courses, it is probable that they will be able to teach SGFE much more to their students. Therefore, the curriculum in ELT departments should be revised accordingly. Also, ministries of education and various education boards should consider the incorporation of INSET programs on SGFE.
conclusions implications30
Conclusions - Implications
  • As for the teachers’ sources to acquire SGFE, media (internet, video, movies, etc.) and interaction with native speakers have the most important role. Since interaction with NS is not that practical in EFL settings, the use of media should be fostered both in pre- and in-service training of English teachers from a spoken grammar perspective.
conclusions implications31
Conclusions - Implications
  • Another very important issue to be handled from this perspective is the design of materials used in ELT. As the above mentioned studies suggest, there is a `missing link`(Cullen and Kuo, 2007) between corpus studies and ELT practices. Materials designers should take into account the corpus findings and incorporate SGFE, at least in textbooks aimed to make the learners communicatively competent.
conclusions last word
Conclusions – Last word
  • Whether SGFE should be taught or not is a hot debated topic in ELT. This study has shown, to some extent, that non-native teachers of English, at least those that participated in the study, themselves are not that much aware of SGFE (which is not surprising) and if they are (or will be) in the position of teaching everyday real English as spoken by native speakers, it is a strong requirement that they be exposed to or taught these spoken grammar forms both in pre- and in-service periods.