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. But others have a more open definition. And if we are interested in communication, the goal is not to judge one another in terms of correctness, but to understand how people use the language.
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 really mean.
With this knowledge you can understand more of what you read and hear and form your own sentences with confidence.
In some situations grammar is about being correct, and sentences are judged on if they are correct or not.
And 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.
But 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 grammatical sentences they write are naturally grammatical.
When you for sentences that communicate well, they will happen to 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. Using English structures makes it easier for English speakers to understand you.
- Grammar provides the framework, knowing basics of what is being said 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.