“I just want to learn to have a conversation --- I don’t need all the fancy schmancy grammar stuff, ok?” Does this sound familiar? Our teachers hear this all the time. It’s understandable that if your main goal in language learning is to become a basic but effective communicator for work or travel, then grammar isn’t a priority. It’s understandable, yes, but also misguided!
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💬 Learning “Just for Conversation”
At the root of this thinking is the idea that you can be a language learner who focuses exclusively on the spoken side, ignoring other aspects. Those who do this may think it’s saving time or energy, but in fact it’s just selling yourself short on the whole experience of language learning.
Furthermore, this type of learner may also think that by focusing on speaking, they can circumvent the need for deep technical knowledge of grammar. When confronted with the many tenses of languages like French, Spanish and German, teachers everywhere would sympathize with this position. However, grammar remains an inescapable fact of linguistic life, regardless of how else you wish to limit your scope of learning.
Today we’re making the case for grammar learning.
✍️ Grammar: Language Foundation
It’s easy to get a negative view of grammar. It’s criminally dull, most of the time. It’s also hopelessly mechanical and detached from the emotional investment we make when expressing ourselves in language. You can ruin almost any romantic moment by correcting someone’s grammar --- “You’re the only one I wish to return to…” --- “Hmm, you probably shouldn’t end that sentence on a preposition, my love.”
Having said that, it’s also the very glue that holds the entire linguistic structure together. You don’t have to be a grammar fiend to see how important it is. Sentences spoken in the completely wrong tense, or using improper and unclear pronouns, or that ignore the basic notion of subject, verb and object, are harder for listeners to understand. It stands to reason, therefore, that grammar must be an essential part of your learning repertoire.
💡 Tips for More Effective Grammar Learning
Hopefully, the following three tips will help you become a better grammar learner, and will in turn help you become a better oral communicator in your target language:
1.) Start non-native, then practice with native speakers
With many languages, native speakers learn to master it without having to purposefully study the mechanics of the grammar. This means that when starting out in grammar education, a fellow non-native speaker is actually better.
They can fill you in on the details of the grammar, which you can then apply to your speaking and practice with native speakers. Where native speakers do shine is being able to point out your grammar errors, especially the major ones. They may not be able to explain the technical reasons as to why, but they can give you pointers which you can then work on with your non-native teacher.
Who knows, you might get lucky and find a native speaker with a full-blown technical readout of their language’s grammar fully loaded into their brain. That’s a rarer find than you might initially think, but it can happen.
2.) Focus on one principle at a time
In the same way that you don’t want to overload yourself with vocabulary in too short a time, you should also take grammar one principle at a time. Spend time understanding the main idea behind it, as well as learning about exceptions to the rule and when and when not to use it.
Working this way may seem slower, but it will ensure that you learn each point more thoroughly, and thus retain it better. If you keep it up over a whole year, you can actually end up learning more than those who rocket off at the beginning trying to master 3 grammar principles every day. Why? Because it’s easier to sustain at a slower pace.
3.) Use examples relevant to your own context
Finally, when you learn grammar, create examples that fit with the context in which you are learning. For example, if you’re studying a language to speak with foreign guests at the hotel in which you work, then you can use the grammar to make examples related to that job. This direct application will help massively with retention, as you’ll quickly relate it to your everyday life. It’s a great way to remove that esoteric sting that grammar study so often brings to our language learning journey.
😎 Grammar Makes You a Better Linguist
When it comes down to it, you can’t really call yourself a strong language learner if you don’t pay attention to grammar. Even if your goals are “strictly conversational,” you need to build those same strong foundations of the language’s mechanics. If you make it manageable and applicable to your everyday life, you will enjoy the learning process more. The final result will be turning yourself into a much better speaker.
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