Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why Grammar Doesn't Matter

A few days ago, I chatted with my Russian friend who lives in the United States and teaches English as a second language. She told me about her student who insisted on practising grammar, but couldn’t build the simplest sentence when it came to real conversation.
- She asked me to practice in complex object, but couldn’t ask me if my daughter was sleeping while we talked.
- Hmm, could you please remind me what is complex object? - I replied, feeling slightly embarrassed with my ignorance.
- It is like “I saw her standing there” or “I expect taxes to increase next year”.
I sighed with relief. Of course I knew it. I use it every day. I learned it from practice. This is why its name was new to me, but the structure itself wasn’t.

It brings me to the question of what do we really learn when we study a new language. Knowing a language means being able to speak grammatically correctly. However, the key word here is “to speak”. It is quite possible to learn a grammar rule not even realizing that it is a grammar rule. The opposite situation is also possible and not rare. One of the first English grammar rules I learned in school was adding -(e)s to verbs in the third person, singular. I know this rule very well, but I can easily forget to add the right ending to a verb. So, knowing grammar rules and speaking correctly are two different skills.

The Russian grammar is overcomplicated, as a matter of fact. Does it mean that Russian is hard to learn? Well, not harder than any other language. Don't let the Russian grammar scare and discourage you. Everything is a question of practice. If you practice in speaking language, you'll improve your speaking skill. If you practice in doing grammar exercises, you'll improve your performance in doing grammar exercises, that's it.

I would not suggest anyone to ignore grammar rules completely. It is indeed helpful to understand how grammar works. It is necessary to a mature brain to see some logics (patterns) behinds things. But if you commit a few hours a day to your language practice, you’d rather read, listen, write and speak than learn grammar. It will bring you to the desired results much faster.

Photo by Sancho McCann