This e-mail to a listserv for fl teachers prompted this response from me:
Let me open up a line of discussion on this topic. You are, of course, under no obligation to read this, let alone reply to it.
The reason grammar is taught in upper division courses are two fold: it is felt they must know grammar in order to know the language, plus it is believed they must know grammar in order to be academically prepared to do analysis of a literary or linguistic sort.
The first of these is false. Our greatest authors did not know grammar in the sense you are using the term: a conscious knowledge about the workings of the language from a grammatical perspective; they simply could speak and write well, which has little to do with the sort of grammatical knowledge you are talking about. Those wedded to grammar instruction would love it if explicit knowledge of grammar were necessary to write well, but it’s not.
The second of these works only when the learner already knows the language, i.e. grammatical knowledge may be useful in analyzing texts, in fact, I’m sure it is. But those who use linguistic knowledge of that sort did not use such knowledge to learn the language; they already knew the language and that’s why the grammar makes sense and becomes useful.
The crushing burden of this notion that we learn languages by understanding structure instead of meaning is that few students ever become proficient even at a beginner’s level in the language they study. I hear this every day from my students who compare my Latin class with other language classes they have taken or are taking in my high school. Three to five years of instruction in a language and they can do nothing with the language except conjugate verbs. It is truly sad because many of these students are fascinated by language and want to learn one or two languages besides English.
So, to answer your question directly, tprs works in that, from what I know about it, students come out of tprs classes able to use the language. Should they go on to upper levels, they will learn grammar just as students who are native speakers of English learn English grammar to the extent they need to in order to pursue their studies in English….. most likely literature, but if linguistics, then surely they’ll need to know grammar.
What you are picturing is the usual round of upper division grammar classes, still taught in universities, which produce students who cannot recognize the question “Where does your father work” in the target language and say things like “I have twenty years” instead of “I am 20 years old” (i.e. the target languages’s equivalent of the expression for giving one’s age). The purpose of those classes is to teach greater proficiency in the language but they result in the sort of students who e-mail us on flteach every week, telling of how they arrived in France with 4 years of college French and could understand nothing.
How long do we want to perpetuate this farce?