A place for teaching grammar? Analysing challenges in developing grammatical knowledge for ESL and non-traditional students at university


In the wake of the massification of higher education in the 21st century, universities worldwide are under pressure to support the influx of non-native English-speaking students and students from non-traditional backgrounds; both of which can find it quite challenging to communicate effectively in an academic context. These students typically struggle with academic writing, due at least in part to limited opportunities to develop their grammatical awareness and written expression while studying at university. This article critically analyses why universities and respective teaching staff can be reluctant to offer more direct assistance with grammar problems to students, even though doing so can assist students’ understanding of correct form, develop their communication skills, and, over time, increase their general confidence in participating in academic discourse. In addition to exploring time constraints for instructors and students, it suggests that teaching staff with low grammatical knowledge will not generally seek to develop grammatical knowledge directly in university classrooms and feedback practices. While university teachers should not be expected to dedicate significant amounts of time to correcting grammar and instead focus on meaning and understanding, this article presents two templates to help demonstrate how embedding discipline focused grammar-based activities into relevant sections of curricula and delivering relevant professional development seminars to university teaching staff can improve student communication, retention, and future employment prospects.