How should you learn grammar in a foreign language?

How should you learn grammar in a foreign language?

There are many people who don’t like the idea of learning grammar because they find it difficult, so they look for a different way of making sure that they know the grammar of the language that they are learning. If you are one of those people who hates reading grammar rules and learning them by heart, in this article you will find some easy ways to learn grammar in a more effective and enjoyable way.

It’s important to learn grammar but not study it too much. Vocabulary, conversation and comprehension are essential along with grammar. I find it quite intriguing how a lot of people place a lot of importance of learning grammar when studying a foreign language even though they don’t really understand the grammar of their own language. They can use their native language, but they don’t fully understand how it works, so why are we so fixated on learning the grammar of another language? It is probably because we think that if we read the rules, we will be able to use the language naturally and we will become fluent more quickly. Truth is that learning a foreign language is quite similar to acquiring your native language. When you are a child you are surrounded with language: you listen to it, you hear the same words and structures over and over again and somehow, they get solidified in your memory.

So, there is something we can learn from this process when learning a foreign language. The first thing I recommend you is to try to familiarize with the structures of the language you are learning and get a feel for the grammar rather than actively learning grammar first. Before you even start studying the grammar rules, you should read a lot and listen a lot and you will be able to identify the different structures, to see how sentences are made and the ways in which words go together, without necessarily learning the rules. The more you listen to and read the same words and sentences, the more familiar you become and begin to see patterns in the language.

The next step can actually be about reading the grammar rules and when you study them they suddenly make more sense because if you just picked up a grammar book without knowing anything of the language or being exposed to it in any way, you might read them and ask yourself how you can use them in context. Whereas if studying the rules is the second step after getting a feel for the grammar, you are kind of familiar with the language already so you will find it easier to understand how the rules work in practice.

The second thing I am going to recommend in addition to familiarizing yourself with spoken and written language is learning phrases. Obviously, every phrase you learn contains grammar, just like everything you say in the foreign language includes grammar even if you don’t know exactly what it really is. You need phrases to be able to speak. Communication is usually the primary aim of learning foreign languages and you shouldn’t wait with speaking until you know a lot of grammar to be able to construct sentences, You can definitely learn sentences without knowing the rules behind them. That will allow you to speak more quickly. After these two steps you are ready to open your grammar books and move on to the “formal” rules.

So, my advice is to learn grammar from language, not language from grammar by exposing yourself to lots of interesting, progressive and comprehensible content and by focusing on the language instead of focusing on the grammar, and learning grammar will become a consequence of that.

Getting a lot of input through interesting and compelling dialogues with grammar notes is great, but the magic starts happening when you make it personal and put them to use in a real conversation with a real person. So, use what you learn by communicating with another human beings, tackling topics that you are interested in.

It is important to choose material that has a lot of dialogue and real language. Children learn through and from real language, used every day. They learn from the context, from the interaction between themselves and other human beings. So, make sure that whatever material you use is full of dialogues in which people use everyday language to communicate.

Make sure that the content is convincing and visually interesting. The material that contains the dialogues is great, but make sure that the dialogues are interesting, real, simple, and engaging at the same time. Also, the visual aspect of the material plays an important role in the long run, because the material you like to hold and watch forces you to use it every day, this is the number one secret for successful language learning.

Use grammar notes only as a reference after you have exposed yourself to the content. Now, it should be clear that you cannot learn grammar by stipulating grammar rules in your head. So, a feature that every good resource should have are some grammar notes that explain obscure grammar points in a simple and straightforward way. You should make sure you read these notes without having to remember them. In other words, examine them once and then move on. Go back to reading them once you have a more solid knowledge of the language, and you will be amazed at how much clearer they have become after a little more exposure to the language.

Getting a lot of input through interesting and engaging dialogue with grammar notes is great, but the magic starts to happen when you make it personal and put it to use in a real conversation with a real person. So use what you learn by communicating with another human being, addressing topics that interest you.

There is a difference between conversational grammar and academic grammar. Just because something is not grammatically correct in writing, does not mean that it is "wrong" to say it a certain way in the conversation. In fact, speaking a language in a perfect academic grammar scheme will give away your "foreign status" faster than an accent. The key to learning grammar is to take a break and know that conversational grammar is still an acceptable form of grammar to learn. It is okay to say things the way the natives tell you, even if writing that way would not be acceptable. Traditionally, language students would force grammar lessons on themselves, then try to speak the way academic grammar requires. This makes the conversation seem forced and unnatural. Modern language students relax. They converse comfortably and accept conversational grammar as an acceptable form of grammar to be used in everyday practice.

Finally, remember that grammar (or at least some parts of it) keeps changing because languages are constantly evolving, so you may realize that after you master one element of grammar, another one will pop up and if you learn all the ones that pop up, then the first one you have learned will be changed.

Do you and your language exchange friends give a lot of importance to grammar when learning a foreign language or do you prefer to focus on learning words and phrases that you need in your daily life? Let us know in the comments if you enjoy studying grammar more in textbooks or through real-life conversations.

Written by: Martina Sassi, Staff Writer Language Exchange

Learning Languages