Do I need to know grammar to learn a language?

Many potential language learners are put off by the thought of having to study the grammar of a new language. What are the reasons?

– You have never been trained in grammatical terminology, not even in your own language. Verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs are all one and the same to you. If you have been to school in the UK in the past twenty or thirty years, it is quite likely that you have not had much instruction in grammar, neither in your English classes nor in a foreign language class (that is, unless you have had classes in Latin or old Greek – in that case, you will certainly know your verbs and nouns!).

– Or, you HAVE been taught grammar. You have been taught it until it came out of your ears, until any creativity and joy of language was squeezed out of you. This is more likely if you didn’t go to school in the past thirty years, or if you went to school abroad.

So should you study grammar if you want to learn a foreign language? The answer is: well, maybe!

If you are studying the language  solely for basic communication – and by basic, I mean basic (predictable situations such as ordering a hotel room, buying a train ticket, introducing yourself to others, small talk) you can get a way with no or very little grammar. In these cases, it doesn’t matter if your grammar isn’t all the way correct. It is much more important that you are understood. Moreover, you can much relay on so called formulaic expressions or junks, i.e. set phrases that don’t change.

The situation is very different if you want to do a bit more with the language, for instance if you want to write texts that need to be accessible to others, and if you want to engage in any conversations in which you react flexibly to what others are saying (e.g. professional negotiations). In these cases, junks are not enough. Grammar will give you the building blocks to express, in speaking or writing, what you need to express.

If the thought of grammar still makes you sweat, don’t despair: this blog will, at times, take up different grammar topics and introduce you to those verbs, nouns and adjectives. And the adverbs. Also, good language teaching doesn’t treat grammar in isolation, but embeds it into meaningful communication, either oral or written.

 

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