The Grammar Myth… Debunked!

library_by_asuka111-d81a3ebThis is not the first article ever written about grammar.

And it certainly won't be the last.

But I was shocked to discover recently that, despite talking about it quite often, I've never actually written a post dedicated to that big question that kicks up so much controversy and divides opinion like Marmite: “Should I learn grammar?”

I felt it was time.

So here goes! 🙂

Should I learn grammar?

Right out of the gate, let me make one thing very clear.

Grammar is vitally important, and is an integral part of learning any language. (There, I've said it, so no emails telling me about the importance of grammar, please!)

However, as a new language learner, it's dangerous for you to prioritise learning it.

These two statements are not contradictory.

Here's why:

  1. There is an opportunity cost to everything. In other words, by spending time on one thing, you have to sacrifice something else.
  2. Grammar is very complex and learning correct grammar is extremely time-consuming.
  3. When you speak a foreign language, only 20% of meaning is conveyed through grammar. The other 80% is conveyed through words.
  4. Therefore, if you're an average person whose goal is to learn to speak your target language, it is not smart to worry too much about grammar, because you will spend a disproportionate amount of time on something that is relatively unimportant.

This is a very important insight for you as a language learner.

Grammar is a bitch

Let's put it in plain terms: Grammar is hard!

You'll study it for years and still not get it right.

What's more, the more you worry about it, the more likely you are to avoid speaking to people, because you'll be nervous about making mistakes.

(Don't underestimate this point – it happens to a lot of people!)

And all this fuss for…the 20%?

It's like learning to drive by studying the owners manual of your car. Or learning to play the piano by reading books on music theory.

It makes no sense!

Yes, grammar is important. But it's not what's going to get you results in your language learning.


You've got other things to worry about

To learn to speak a language fluently you need to worry about staying motivated more than anything else. If you lose your motivation, you'll stop learning. And then nothing else matters.

…not the 20%!

Does that make you look at grammar in a different way?

It should.

You should be thinking to yourself: “I need to be spending my time on the 80% stuff!”

And you'd be right!

You should also be thinking: “If 80% of what I say will be understood through the words alone, it doesn't really matter if I make any grammar mistakes!

And you'd be right again!

If this comes as a bit of a shock to you, don't worry. It's not your fault. After all, pretty much every language textbook and course out there wants to teach you grammar.

Why? Two reasons.

  1. It's what people expect
  2. It's something tangible that can be taught

(Think about it – it's much harder to teach someone how to memorise vocabulary or how to find a language partner!)

Textbooks, like the excellent Assimil or Teach Yourself series, can be extremely useful for experienced language learners who know how they learn best, and can be selective with what they try to learn.

But if you're out there learning a new language for the first time, all that information can get overwhelming, because you simply can't learn it all and don't know what to prioritise.

[Tweet “Just because everyone tries to teach you grammar, it doesn't mean you have to learn it!”]

Focus on other things

So all of this is why I don't believe you should spend a lot of time studying grammar when you're learning a new language.

It's just not the golden egg they want you to believe it is.

What should you spend your time on instead? Well, that's what I try to answer in every other article on the blog! I've also got a special email series that teaches you my top strategies for learning a new language quickly – click here to check it out.

So that's it, I've said my piece!

Do you agree with my views on learning grammar? Do you think I've got it all wrong? Please give this post a share on Facebook, then leave me a comment below to set me straight!

(Note: The 80% and 20% figures I used in this post are contentious. If you're interested in reading more about this, corpus linguisticscognitive linguistics and lexicology are the areas you need.)

Image1: asuka111; Image 2: manuel2k10

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