Why should I study grammar?
You should study whatever you can that can help you reach your goals.
For many language learners the goal is to communicate with people.
If improving your understanding of grammar helps you become a better communicator, it is a good idea to study it.
If my goal is communication, do I need to study grammar?
Many of us can communicate well in our first languages, even if we have never studied grammar. So, you don’t need to study grammar to learn a language.
So the question isn’t really if you need to, but should you.
What is grammar?
At this point we should probably define grammar. Some people think of grammar as a “correct way” to form sentences. This is the traditional way with rules as shown above.
But it’s not the only way. Instead of starting with a rule book, we can start with the language, and think of grammar as the way people form sentences in real life.
If you are interested in communication, your goal is NOT to memorize rules and judge other people’s English to decide if it is correct or not.
You want to understand English-speaking people, and you want them to understand you.
When you study grammar, instead of usage rules, you can study sentences that people use in real-life situations and what the grammar means. Being able to decode the grammatical meaning helps you understand more of what people say.
When you understand people, you can speak with them in the same way and they will understand you.
Grammar for communication
Grammar is how people put words and parts of words together.
We put our words together the way we do to be understood. So, we make sentences for the person listening to or reading what we say or write.
To do this we want to put our words together in a way that is familiar to them, and a way that is meaningful.
- familiar: When people use language in a way that people are familiar with, it is easier for them to understand. As a learner, it is important to think about how people typically use words and expressions to better understand what they are saying and to get a better idea of how to use them ourselves.
- meaningful: When we communicate, we share meaning. Meaning comes from many parts of the language, including the meanings of the words, the meaning that comes from how these words are arranged, and the meaning of this arrangement of words in this situation.
To communicate, both speaker and listener need a shared understanding of what the combination of words mean.
Understanding this meaning and how words are used is grammar.
This is a great way of thinking about grammar for language learners who want to communicate better. Through grammar study, you can become more familiar with common phrasings and gain a deeper understanding of what the words and phrases really mean.
With this knowledge you can understand more of what you read and hear, and form your own sentences with confidence.
A strong foundation of grammatical knowledge
When you look at a new language, there may be many grammatical words that seem completely foreign. Words like “the”, “a”, and “on”, or tense patterns like in “I have done it” may not exist in a learner’s first language, so seeing them appear so frequently can be a mystery.
So as a beginner or intermediate learner, you may want to consider the language logically to know what’s going on.
You may want to understand what the words mean and how the pieces fit together.
When starting out with a language, you can choose to ignore these things for now and hope it will make sense later. And for some people this is fine.
But for others, having an idea of what these basic words mean and how they are used can be a big boost to their confidence.
If you feel that you or your students would benefit from understanding the main parts of English, working through Real Grammar can help you develop a strong foundation for better understanding.
Should I study grammar rules?
Traditionally, many learners who simply want to develop proficiency in a language have been taught grammar rules and then given rule-based grammar tests. These tests often focus on syntax rather than meaning, so the content they cover may seem quite disconnected for students who simply want to communicate. In grammar-heavy classes, many of the grammar points covered (and the way they are presented) don’t seem to be relevant to the students, which leads to many students loathing the study of grammar.
There is also the issue of being judged on missing a small word, or forgetting to add an s. The funny thing is that native speakers often make small grammatical slips when speaking. And the people who judge these as being incorrect don’t have the best reputation among the speaking community. And when speaking with someone learning the language, most native-speaking listeners don’t judge them on failure to use particular grammar points. People want to communicate and pay attention to what the person is trying to say.
So, maybe rules don’t need to be followed perfectly all the time.
Do grammar rules provide a strong foundation of knowledge?
Traditional grammar teaching is good in the way it provides example sentences for students to get used to. And being familiar with vocabulary and phrasings definitely helps you use a language well.
But when you are listening you need to decode what people say, and if your basic grammatical knowledge is merely a collection of rules this can be extremely challenging. Many rules focus on when to use structures (establishing form and usage connections). But when you are decoding language you are focused on understanding the meaning.
Having a strong foundation means being familiar with common patterns and understanding what they really mean, not just remembering when they are used. So when you use the language you can make more sense of what people say and express yourself better because you are more comfortable with how people express various ideas.
When are grammar rules useful?
In some situations grammar is about being correct, and sentences are judged on if they are correct or not. So knowing grammar rules has its place.
Grammar rules can be useful for writers who need to write in a standard style. Grammar rules can help writers check if they have written things well. Writers can check to make sure all the sentences are formed well (and grammatically correct) and rules can help them consider ways of rewording their writing to make it easier for readers to follow.
These writers are already good communicators when they learn these rules, and their goal has changed. They know that they are communicating well. Now, they want to ensure that every word they write is following convention.
Most sentences they write are naturally grammatical.
When you form sentences that communicate well, they will naturally be grammatical.
Communicating well typically comes first.
3 reasons to study grammar
Here are three reasons to study grammar if you want to be a better communicator.
- Different languages have different structures. Improving your knowledge of and using English structures makes it easier for English speakers to understand you.
- Grammar provides the framework, knowing basics of what people say helps you understand vocabulary you don’t know.
- It’s a shortcut – get lots of useful examples when you need them so you can make sense of how the language works.
If you want to understand English grammar, learn grammar that will help you understand English speakers, and become a better communicator, check out our book: Real Grammar: Understand English. Clear and simple.