In the recent years, there has been a quiet revolution in the language learning community. The revolution has been over the importance of grammar in second language acquisition. When in traditional language classes at school, a lot of time is spent on learning and drilling the grammar of the target language, a vocal opposition to that idea has emerged in the language hacking circles which claims grammar to be a mere side thought in the language learning process.
To be clear, nobody is advocating abandoning grammar completely, simply taking a sober view into how much we really need, especially when taking the first steps in acquiring a foreign language.
What is Meant by “Grammar”?
The frequent answer to the question “What is grammar?” would be the rather obscure “It’s the rules of language”. There is certainly truth in that but, unfortunately, the answer is also quite difficult to decipher.
In general, grammar is often associated with the various rules that make up any language on the planet because it reflects the languages’ internal system and logic. Saying that grammar more or less “equals rules”, is somewhat misleading, however. Since languages are not created (except for artificial languages) but evolve naturally through human communication, there is no permanent set of rules for any language. Grammar simply reflects the reality of how any language is used at a given point in time.
Learning Grammar Can Be Useful
Grammar has been much revered through history. Along with rhetoric, it was closely studied by the philosophers in ancient Greece and Rome. While its status might have been demoted a since then, grammar is still an important part of schools’ language lessons everywhere.
Certainly, learning grammar has its benefits. Once you’ve mastered understanding how your target language works, it will be a lot easier to acquire. Grasping general principles and then applying those to particular situations is much of how any learning works – including learning languages. There are many other reasons why knowing grammar is a very good thing.
Of course, once you’ve reached a certain comfortable level in your target language, a good grasp of grammar can really help to propel you to the advanced levels. At that point, it’s important to know not only what sentences mean but also how and why – questions that grammar can really help with.
Grammar Isn’t Necessary for Starting Language Learning
However, none of this is of great importance if you’re just starting out with learning a new language. If you’re already struggling with memorising new vocabulary and pronunciation, focussing too much on getting the grammar right can be a real drawback. Grammar-heavy language lessons have had a long track record of failing miserably to produce people comfortable with using their target language. Focussing too much on the how can stop you from getting to the what in the first place. In the end, not knowing how languages are made up has never stopped a child from learning their native language, has it? So it should be no obstacle to you either.
Of course, a lot of it comes down to your motivation to learning a second language. But if your aim to speak it, then spending too much time on polishing grammatical perfection will most definitely put you off from real life conversation practice – resulting in great textbook knowledge but in an inability to actually use the language.
Conclusion – Make Grammar Work for You
Naturally, there are no golden rules about learning grammar – you need to look at your own situation and motivations. Perhaps the greatest law would be to not worry about grammar too much – it is necessary to know some of it to master your target language but starting your learning by learning drilling grammar rules will only end up in making you hate the process and lead to disaster.