• Ian Gibbs

Language Learning Law 6: Forget The Grammar (For The Moment)


If pronunciation is one of the most underestimated key parts to language learning, grammar is one of the most overestimated.

Although grammar is an intrinsic part of any language, it’s simply not necessary to understand it in order to have a decent conversation.


I don’t understand how search engines work to find millions of answers in a split second, but that doesn’t stop me from using one.

Understanding grammar is not a key requirement for conversation. As Khatzumoto says “Learning grammar in order to use a language is like learning organic chemistry in order to make a sandwich.”


After all, do you understand English grammar?


If the contraction of ‘Are you not?’ is ‘Aren’t you?’ why isn’t the contraction of ‘Am I not?’ ‘amn’t I?’?


You don’t need the grammar; you just need to learn the language.

Consider the basic expressions

Hello!

How are you?

My name’s Sam.

I’m studying Greek.

I’ve been studying for five months.

The first is an interjection.


The second a present simple question form.


The third involves a possessive pronoun and a contraction.


The fourth is present simple continuous.


And the last is present perfect continuous involving a verb that can be can be either transitive or intransitive.


Do you need to know any of that to have the conversation?

Of course not.

At no point do we sit our kids down, wrench the TV remote from their tiny hands and explain how to use the subjunctive or what gerunds are all about.


It just isn’t that important when you’re starting out.


I agree it’s useful to know a bit of grammar at the right time. Knowing the rules can help consolidate your knowledge.


But if you really want to learn your target language as quickly and effectively as possible, put your grammar book in the bottom draw out of harm’s way and invest your time more wisely by practising your useful phrases, vocabulary and pronunciation.

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