Many students believe that studying grammar is the best way to learn English. I disagree! Grammar helps you pass tests, and at some level it may help you understand the language. But if you want to learn English, studying grammar is not the best way.
Why is this? Language is for communication. It is not a collection of rules. When you study grammar, you avoid communicating with another person, and this is why some people may know all the rules of a language…but still cannot speak it.
Bad Reasons for Studying Grammar
I believe the main reasons people study grammar have nothing to do with learning:
- It’s in the book. Some students believe that, because grammar is in the course book, they have to study it. But what book has ever taught a person to speak a language? A book is a tool, like a hammer. Owning a hammer does not mean you know how to build a house.
- It is easy to study because it has rules. Vocabulary rules are hard to define, but grammar is all about rules. You can present each rule, and mark it as complete when you’re done. This makes you feel you’re learning. Learning rules, however, is much easier than learning a language.
- It’s easy to test. Authorities love tests. Tests appear to show whether students are learning, and they rank students in order, from best to worst. Unfortunately, these tests tell us little about a students’ actual ability.
- It gives students confidence. Some students feel that studying grammar gives them confidence. I’m not against anything that improves your confidence, but the result of confidence should be that you use the language more. Otherwise, your confidence has no value.
When Grammar Is Useful
Are there times when grammar knowledge might be helpful?
- Correcting writing errors. When reviewing your writing, it is useful to look for errors: subject-verb agreement, word forms, prepositions, etc. A little grammar knowledge can help you edit your work.
- Satisfying curiosity. Some people are naturally curious about language. That’s fine. Just be aware that knowing about a language is not the same as knowing how to use the language.
Learning Correct English
If studying grammar is usually a waste of time, how do you learn to speak correctly?
- Read, read, read. The more you read, the more the basic structures of the language get repeated in your brain. Make reading a habit, and your grammar will naturally improve.
- Use the language. How do you learn to play football? You go out in the field, and kick the ball. You learn to play the game by playing the game. It’s the same with language.
- Listen to people. Notice how people answer you when you speak to them. You say, “Last week I go Lenin Park.” The person you’re speaking with answers, “Oh, last week you went to Lenin Park!” You’ve just gotten a free grammar lesson!
- Grammar games and exercises. It’s perfectly fine to spend some time doing exercises. Word games can help drill important structures into your brain. But this should be a small part of your study program; reading and communicating come first.
- Don’t worry about mistakes. Mistakes are part of learning, and studying grammar will not help you avoid them. Some students worry so much, they never open their mouths…and this guarantees they will never learn.
Students who spend more time reading and communicating, and less time thinking about grammar, feel more confident about English in the long run. They listen, speak, read, and write better. They improve.
What Do You Think?
Do you agree or disagree with these thoughts about grammar? Let us know by leaving a comment below!