In Defense of (Learning) Grammar

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about people, it is that they love to complain. I’m no exception – you should hear me in airports. I complain about anything and everything when I travel because just about everything seems to annoy me.

the scary monster that is grammar

One thing that people love to complain about when learning foreign languages is grammar. For some reason, grammar strikes fear into the hearts of many language learners and would-be language learners. The most common complaints I hear is that grammar is boring, hard, or (most often) both.

Instead of telling people to have a stiff upper lip (I feel so British after typing that!) and just learn grammar gradually, a new trend has sprung up in recent years in the language-learning communities of the internet. This trend can be summed up in two words: ignore grammar. These people advocate learning vocabulary and speaking with people – and completely ignoring the study of grammar.

the reasoning

I find the reasoning behind this to be quite ridiculous. They say that since people learn their native languages intuitively without explicitly studying grammar, so why should a foreign language be any different? The grammar of the language, they argue, will be intuitively picked up as one learns the foreign language.

My answer to that: They are wrong and that reasoning is rubbish.

why they’re wrong

I did not truly begin to perfect my English until I learned grammar rules explicitly. For example, in sixth grade, we had to learn the different cases of pronouns in English and when to use them. Pronoun case taught me why sentences such as “Send an email to Lisa or I” and “Make sure you tell Dan or myself if you are going” are dreadfully incorrect. In the first example, “I” should be “me” because the objective case (me) is always used when you have a preposition. In the second example, “myself” should also be “me” because objective case is also used for direct and indirect objects. I am not sure what the grammar rule governing the use of “myself” is called, but I understand what it dictates: “myself” is only used when the subject and object of a sentence are the same, such as: “I was angry at myself.” It is also used for emphasis: “I knitted that myself!”

This may seem obvious, but I have seen many, many poorly written emails from educated people that have wrong pronoun use. It is really the little details like this that show whether you are an educated speaker of a language or not – and there is no better way to refine your linguistic skills than by learning grammar.

it’s not scary

You see, grammar only looks scary when you pick up a grammar book and start reading. If you try to learn it all at once, then it does seem like an impossible task. But do you know how long it took me to learn the six cases of Russian? Months! In my class, we spent weeks just learning one case. After we had mastered that, we would move on. When you move through grammar slowly, it is not nearly as intimidating.

I do not find grammar to be boring, so I am not sure what I can say to those who think it is. If you truly hate it and find incredibly boring to study, the only advice I can think of is to just study it in small increments.

I know that grammar is not the panacea to becoming fluent in a language. You obviously need to learn enough vocabulary so you can read native texts and converse with native speakers. But grammar cannot be simply ignored and swept under the rug. It, too, is important in language learning.

What do you think? Have you studied grammar, either of your native language or a foreign language?

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4 thoughts on “In Defense of (Learning) Grammar

  1. The other day (Saturday night, to be more precise) I was comparing Russian, Polish and Croatian verbs, and I was truly enjoying myself while doing so 😀
    I have studied the grammar of all languages I’ve studied (unfortunately I slept through most of the English classes). I agree that it ‘s important, because it gives the language its structure and meaning.

  2. I do believe grammar is the foundation of foreign language learning – what actually paves the way to fluency. Vocabulary acquisition by memorising lists of words and expressions will not help much unless the learner masters the grammar structures that allow connecting lexis into meaningful and beautifully-flowing sentences. Whoever has learned at least one foreign language and reached a satisfactory level of fluency knows that ‘grammar be hanged’ is a dangerous approach, to say the least…

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