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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