Teaching grammar in The Netherlands

  • An article by Gert Rijlaarsdam, prepared for an ESRC-funded seminar.
  • Main points:
    • Grammar is obligatory in primary and lower secondary schools.
    • But the only grammatical analysis required by government is subject – predicateĀ  – parts of predicate.
    • The aim of grammar teaching is to serve the teaching of
      • spelling, punctuation, standard grammar and social choices (of Dutch)
      • foreign languages – but this is taught communicatively, so uses little grammar.
    • But: “Teachers seem to like to teach grammar, although they know that it is not related to the quality of written production. Even in lower secondary, vocational tracks, which cater for the less cognitive advanced students, the amount of time spent on grammar is relatively large. One of the reasons might be that only in grammar teaching the teacher can show her disciplinary competency, being educated as a teacher of Dutch — teachers in secondary education are trained in one school subject.”
  • Confirmed by Babette Verhoeven, who “was one of the last cohorts to go through the “traditional” system, which was then reformed – and in this reformed system I first became an English teacher, so I know both the old & the new systems.”
    • There is perhaps room for more variation under the Dutch dispensation – so some MFL teachers (while also teaching in the communicative approach) might do more explicit grammar teaching than others (my English teachers certainly did).
    • Under the old system that I went through, when you went to grammar school as I did, you had to study Latin & Greek – here, there was lots of explicit grammar teaching (parts of speech, but also tense-mood-aspect & case).
    • One of the big changes in the curriculum when this traditional one was updated in the mid-1990s was the dropping of these two languages. Instead, students would study a course similar to the English A level in Classical Civilisation: more of a focus on the philosophy, art, archaeology / history of Ancient Greece & Rome – with literary texts such as Homer being taught in translation. I suspect one of the reasons for ditching these languages was that too much time was spent on teaching & learning conjugations & declensions (too much grammar), which was seen as not useful for the 21st century.

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