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4 Hacks To Make Learning Grammar Less Stressful

When I went to school and took German classes, I did pretty well in my oral exams, but I completely flunked the written tests because of all the grammar rules. This made me build up a complete intolerance to grammar; I honestly think I am allergic.
The same happened in my French classes and now because I can’t stand grammar, I try to avoid it at all costs. But I have come to a point in my Spanish studies where I feel like perhaps I should at least think about it!
Do you HATE grammar like me, or are you a grammar freak?
The ideal way to think about grammar, according to Steve Kaufmann, is that we should look at it from time to time. Peek at the tables, look at the rules, but by no means should we expect to learn it by heart.

Grammar takes a long time to learn and to me it is not something that is easily done. I like the idea of learning a bunch of words first, and then slowly integrating basic grammar.
Hopefully then it will fall into place bit by bit, and things will become clearer. In my experience from learning other languages – even English – I found that it was impossible to predict what part of the grammar was going to be difficult to learn and what part was going to be easy.
I am easing myself into grammar slowly using the following grammar hacks:

1 – Forget About It

I know this is a bit of a paradox as this is about grammar hacks, nevertheless it may help calm your nerves to realize that grammar isn’t the most important thing when learning a language.
Many of the esteemed polyglots who have made names for themselves online agree that you don’t even need grammar until you are at least at an intermediate level. Until then you can get by learning  basic phrases or not speak at all – as is Steve Kaufmann’s advice. But, if you want to start checking basic grammar, keep reading.
Take Away: Forget about grammar in the early stages.

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2 – Combine Grammar & Input

My second hack is to deal with grammar in combination with a lot of input (reading and listening). This way the grammar explanations relate to something that I have already seen in my lessons on LingQ. Also I may see certain structures that make me curious and I want to find out why certain things are said in one way and not another.
A good example of this are the words tener and haber. They both mean ‘to have’, but are used very differently. So when do you use what and why? Haber is not used in the sense of “to have as in to possess”. To have as in to possess is the verb “tener”. Haber is often thought of as a supporting or helping verb. It is also found in idiomatic uses like “hay” as in there is (exists) or there are (exists). Tener tends to be the verb used to indicate ownership or possession.
Haber Tener Grammar Hacks
I looked this up because it confused me and wouldn’t have known the answer otherwise. There’s a very good chance I won’t remember this rule, but at least I am now aware of it.
So the next time haber and/or tener comes up in a lesson I will remember that there is something about those words, and I will be more likely to go look at the rule in a grammar book and understand the explanations. The thing with grammar is if I have nothing to relate the explanations to, I won’t understand them. If I see certain things several times though eventually something will click.
Take Away: Combine input activities with learning the grammar.

3 – Cheat

I go to the answer section at the back of my grammar book and read that instead of reading the explanations and trying to understand why things are the way they are. The examples at the back of the grammar books are usually about the same pattern and they reinforce the rule.
Ideally a grammar book is not too heavy on the explanations, but has tables and LOTS of examples. When a table is introduced it comes with lots of examples of how the tenses, pronounce or whatever are used.
Take Away: CHEAT – Go directly to the answer page

Cheating Grammar hacks

4 – Ask For Help

You can submit a piece of writing on the LingQ Exchange and ask a tutor to correct your mistakes, explaining why something is the way it is.
For some people, myself included, it is easier to understand grammar if it is explained by a real person using an example that you have come up with yourself. Also, if you are not worried or shy about speaking to others early, you can sign up for discussions with a tutor.
During the conversation your tutor can tell you when you are making mistakes. Or he/she can give you some of the sentences you struggle with in writing. You can import them into LingQ and practice them to get better, while hopefully not making the same mistakes again.
Take Away: Ask a tutor for help

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Grammar is scary, but it is important, although I don’t think it should be the main focus. To me grammar is stressful by default, so I try to make learning less stressful by using these hacks. Luckily for me and other Spanish learners there are some great online Grammar hacks sources:
Spanish Dict
Or this lovely site Grammar Check
If you have any other grammar hacks to make everybody’s lives easier – please share them below. I, and anyone else struggling with grammar, would really appreciate it!



  • Carol
    April 7, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    I think I am a bit of a grammar geek, bit I agree with Steve that it really slows down your learning. I really enjoy learning on LingQ without grammar because it is like a game. I love playing with the different colors of words. It is great to have no pressure to learn things correctly. I love structure too, so sometimes I enjoy going back to a simple book that has all the explanations. The key is to keep it simple though.

    • Lykke
      April 7, 2015 at 4:15 pm

      Hi Carol – Not going to lie, I envy grammar nerds. I wish I was one, but to me it really takes the joy out of learning. With this list I am trying to think of ways to make it easier for people like me. Luckily with Steve’s approach and other polyglots they tell you to forget about it for a while. That I can definitely do, but I do feel like I need to look at the grammar books from time to time, maybe that is something I picked up in school 🙂

  • Dwight
    April 7, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    I rather like grammar (and “grammars,” the books!), but I can heartily agree that tables and rules don’t stick. So don’t even try to learn them. But learn the examples thoroughly and make sure you clearly see that the example is a valid application of the rule or tabular data. It also helps to play with the examples by changes that you are reasonably confident are still valid applications. Make sure that you can imagine a circumstance where the example is a reasonable thing to say or at least think. I like rules and table because they give me an overview and provide comfort that I am not going to be hit over the head by yet another tense of mood that I wasn’t expecting.

  • 347
    April 8, 2015 at 4:03 am

    I dunno why the difference between “tener” and “habar ” impressed you that much. It is similar to the difference between “to have ” and “have to “

    • Lykke
      April 8, 2015 at 9:11 am

      Guess I am easily impressed 😉 But I was mainly confused about when to use what and why. Have to and to have are still the same words just in a different order.

  • FlyingFrog
    April 8, 2015 at 6:33 am

    If you want to learn a language without having to learn grammar, you should learn Chinese! I love the Chinese grammar, there are absolutely no conjugations whatsoever, not even a plural! To think that there can be a language without a plural, that’s wonderful! And they still get along pretty well and get their message across. Well… there are some other complications in Chinese, though, but let’s just forget about that now…

    • Lykke
      April 8, 2015 at 9:10 am

      No grammar? Are you serious 🙂 That sounds awesome – but I predict other issues SUCH AS AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SYSTEM OF WRITING 😉 But I might give it a whirl. Thanks for the tip.

  • Agnieszka Karch
    April 11, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Grammar is one of those things that puts language learners off very easily, especially if they don’t get something at the very start. I had this exact thing happen to me when I first started learning German. I gave up because I was struggling with a couple of grammar points. I then took it up again after a couple of years and once I got over the first hurdle and stopped stressing out about making mistakes, getting over the next obstacle was so much easier.

    • Lykke
      April 13, 2015 at 3:09 pm

      Maybe I just give up too easily 😉

  • John Beckett
    June 24, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    My favorite method is to check out a few grammar points, then inundate myself with examples (written/audio), write a few posts trying them out, then starting over with new grammar points. The more examples you can hear the better. ^^

    • Lykke
      June 25, 2015 at 9:16 am

      True, true and thank you 🙂 I am all for suggestions 🙂

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