learning with steve: how should we study grammar?

study grammar

If I want to achieve fluency in a language, do I need to study grammar?

Grammar is very important. However, it is very difficult to learn the rules of grammar, and the various declension and conjugation tables, and other such details, the first time we come across them. We often don’t have enough experience with the language to make sense of these grammar explanations. Certainly it is difficult to remember them, because they don’t refer to something that we are familiar with. However, we all want to speak as correctly as possible. Reading grammar books is one of the things that we can do in order to improve our ability to speak correctly.

If it is so difficult to understand and remember the rules of grammar, how should we study it?

I think it is important to adopt what I would call a floating, or meandering, or grazing approach when we study grammar. Try to get an overview when you start in the language, without worrying about whether you covered all aspects of the language. Don’t expect to remember or even understand the various grammar descriptions that you read. Even the many examples that are often provided in grammar books won’t make much of an impression on you. I resist doing grammar exercises and drills. I know that if I simply continue listening and reading, and exposing myself to the language, the next time I read the grammar explanations they will make a little more sense and be a little easier to understand.

So that is what I do. I spent the greater part of my time listening and reading and building up my vocabulary. I try to look for examples of some of the grammar issues, when I am listening and reading. Then I go back to the grammar book. A good grammar book should have lots of examples. Gradually these explanations and examples start to make sense, because they start to refer to things that I have already come across in my listening and reading.

Do you think we should buy a grammar book when we study a language?

Yes I think it is extremely important to buy a grammar book, or at least an introductory book to the language. This is a small investment. It will help get you started, and it will be a reference that you will return to many, many times. The important thing is to recognize that you will not learn or master each chapter as you go through it. You will not master it the first time, nor the second time, nor the third time. However if you keep coming back to your little grammar book, and combine this with massive listening and reading, you will gradually achieve your language goals.

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