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The Three Principles of Grammar in Modern Language Learning

by Freddie Tubbs

When you are new to a language, learning new and completely different grammar rules can be stressful However, grammar should not be seen as a barrier to learning but as a great tool you can use. Learning about grammar can help you understand how the language is used and its particularities and also help you to feel confident about expressing yourself in a new language. Here are three must-know principles of grammar for learning a new language:

1. Grammar is not everything

Language learners understand that grammar is the glue that holds language together but it’s not its principal component. Phrases, vocabulary and conversation are the key ingredients in language. Grammar is important and it matters for clarity, but you don’t want to have to think about it all the time. Try to look at grammar as a tool to achieve better conversation and combine all components of language to communicate. Once you get into it, grammar will become common sense to you as it is to native speakers. The use of good grammar is a skill that you can continuously perfect throughout your life. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes because this is how you’ll learn and perfect you language skills.

2. Conversation is key

When you know and use a language everyday, you know about the grammar mechanisms without thinking much about them, it is inbuilt into the language as you learned it. In conversation with people you can always tell when something does not “sound right”. Even though there is a difference between conversational grammar and academic grammar, just because something is not grammatically correct in writing, doesn’t mean you can’t say it in conversation.

The key to learning grammar is to relax, stop thinking about written rules and know that conversational grammar is still an acceptable form of grammar to learn. It’s absolutely okay to say things the way natives say them even if writing that way wouldn’t be acceptable. Often when learning a new language you are tempted to force grammar lessons on yourself and try to speak “by the book” and as correctly as you can by following grammar rules. However this can actually prevent you from engaging into real conversations. Overthinking about grammar makes conversation sound too formal, forced and unnatural. By engaging into a lot of conversations - and doing it so in real contexts - you will actually learn the structure of a language. And by knowing the structure, you're further able to engage in conversation.

Another important thing in conversation is to understand the importance of verbs. You can create a jar of vocabulary, labelled by a verb in first and second person, and you can have an instant conversation in any new language. All the vocabulary in the entire dictionary doesn’t mean anything without its being contained in time and context using a verb. Key verbs such as be, have, go, do, like, want, need, be able to, and try to - each as a jar, labelled in first and second person, past present and future, each filled with its respective vocabulary that you think you’ll need for your life situation, results in pretty much anything you need to say in a language. Use this jar process in real conversation over time and you will end up mastering a new language.

3. You don’t have to know it all

As soon as you master one element or aspect of grammar, another one will immediately pop up and so on. Like any other convections, grammar rules can change over time, so if you learn all the new elements that pop up, then the first one you learned will have changed because languages constantly evolve. Therefore you should accept that you don’t need to know all the elements, all the rules of grammar and that you should see grammar as a journey, not a destination.

Grammar is really not about memorizing rules and cases and applying them without thinking about if you’re being clear, if you’re getting your message across. Grammar is more about intrinsically understanding how language works and how it is used today. You learn as you go. Don’t be afraid of make mistakes along the way and try to take a relaxed approach towards grammar in whatever language you are learning.

About the writer

Freddie Tubbs is an eLearning project manager from Fort Myers, Florida. He works as a language researcher at Grade on Fire and is a contributing author at The Atlantic and UK Top Writers.

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