Grammarly Premium Also Works for Advanced EFL Students: Reflections on a Pilot Project at Leuphana

By Janina Sähn and Sabrina Völz

The Grammarly Premium Toolbar in Word

Ok, people. This is probably not going to be the most exciting post you’ve ever read, but if you teach at an institute of higher learning – especially in Germany – this post on our experiences with Grammarly Premium for the past year at Leuphana University Lüneburg may interest you warts, oops, I mean statistics and all.

Let’s start at the beginning for any of you who haven’t been bombarded with Grammarly ads. Grammarly Premium is a one-of-a-kind app for writers that uses artificial intelligence to scan a writer’s work in real time. It not only finds spelling errors, plagiarism, and over 400 types of grammar mistakes, it also offers suggestions on how to improve your writing style. It allows users to set the audience (reader’s level of expertise on the topic), register (formal or informal), tone, type of writing (academic, business, creative, technical, or personal), and genre (review, letter, fiction, etc.). None of Grammarly’s competitors has such sophisticated settings, which is one of the reasons we – after seriously reviewing the top five competitors, including ProWritingAid – decided to try it out with our students at Leuphana.

Before turning them loose on Grammarly Premium, Sabrina used it with several texts she wrote and made an informal guide about helpful points and potential pitfalls. Although Grammarly does have an academic setting and you can set the tone, it still has a way to go when it comes to academic writing. Grammarly doesn’t, for example, recognize quotes, so if we quote someone who writes in British English or a novelist who uses colloquial language, Grammarly will go crazy and highlight nearly every word. It will also encourage users to shorten far too many sentences. It is, therefore, not entirely appropriate for graduate students or professional writers. In those contexts, an occasional long sentence of 25+ words is standard practice. However, after using Grammarly for a while, we just learned to ignore those kinds of comments.

Based on what we found out in the few articles that do exist on Grammarly Premium in EFL university settings, Sabrina decided to only make it available to students who either take an academic writing course, pursue an English-speaking major, or show a C1-level of English or higher. Research has shown that it does work with students who speak/write English on the B2-level, but their instructors need to be physically present in the classroom with the students because they will have many questions. Precisely Sabrina’s experience. In the end, most of the students Sabrina had in her course “Writing with Style” (B2 level and higher) were either overwhelmed with all of the correction suggestions or just didn’t feel they needed it.

Students with a C1-level of English or higher who used Grammarly independently seemed to come to the opposite conclusion. In June 2021, we asked the 75 users of a Grammarly Premium license (if you get the business team licenses, you can share them) to take part in our survey. 30 participated, a number that is actually quite decent as far as online surveys go.

Here are some of the primary findings:

  • The first language of our respondents was primarily German (77%), followed by Spanish (7%), Hindi (3%), and Russian and Azerbaijani (3%), respectively. 10% preferred not to answer this question.
  • The survey respondents were mainly in bachelor programs (43%). However, about 37% were already pursuing a master’s degree, and about 20% were working toward their doctorate.
  • A quarter of all survey participants were studying in business-related programs, the second most common field of study was environmental science (23%), and the third was cultural studies (13.3%). Other disciplines included digital media (11.6%), law (10%), education (7%), studium individuale (7%), and psychology (3%).
  • Grammarly Premium was rated as very helpful by 60% of participants and helpful by the remaining 40%. 77% stated that Grammarly Premium helped them increase their knowledge of English grammar. Only 10% stated that it did not, and 13% preferred not to answer this question.
  • When asked in an open-ended question where Grammarly Premium helped the most (multiple answers possible), 11 people indicated that Grammarly helped them with clarity, while 10 people praised the grammar hints. In addition, 7 people stated that they found Grammarly’s notes on their writing style helpful, and 6 people appreciated the remarks on general punctuation.

All in all, Grammarly Premium was predominantly well received by survey participants: 97% would recommend it to their fellow students. 17% did, however, warn against blindly trusting Grammarly as not all suggestions are correct, conform to a certain subject area’s norms, or reflect the writer’s individual style. Thus, survey participants confirm the Language Center’s prerequisite for Grammarly Premium. Unless instructors want to use it in the classroom with students, EFL students should have a C1-level of English to work with the program.

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