However you may feel about grammar, it’s essential to have a good grasp of it when learning a new language. There tend to be two approaches to grammar: claiming that it’s the most important aspect of a language, or seeing it as more of an obstacle.
According to some, it’s crucial for developing a good foundation for language learning. It’s undeniable that grammar is essential for language structure. Focusing on understanding grammar can be a language learning tool. This approach is almost exclusively analytical.
Others believe that focusing on grammar detracts from learning a language. They consider grammar to be an obstacle that moves the focus from where it should be. Everybody learns their native language without knowing grammar rules. So in language learning, there should be a greater focus on inference (reasoning). This encourages learners to get as much exposure to the language as possible. Therefore the second approach is almost entirely inductive (based on observations).
Love it or hate it, there is no doubt that there is a point to grammar. Without it, languages fail to have a structure. If you google the word grammar, you get the following definition:
The whole system and structure of a language or of languages in general, usually taken as consisting of syntax and morphology (including inflections) and sometimes also phonology and semantics.
The definition is rather cold and misses a couple of the finer points. At its core, language is about communication. It does reference this aspect by bringing up semantics and phonology. For example, you can use grammar to highlight your point. Intentional use of double negatives often means emphasis. This would not be possible if you did not understand the basic rules of grammar.
However, that does not mean that you have to put a lot of emphasis on learning grammar. The point when you learn a language is to make the language work when you talk with others. You do this in English without really spending a lot of time thinking about it. If you can learn a language without really studying grammar, this is perfectly fine. The fact that you know a language by the time you are five or six years old proves that you don’t have to understand grammar to learn to speak that language.
One of my favorite pastimes is learning a language. But there are many things you can consider a language – including programming. German was my second language, HTML was my third. As I was learning HTML I realized that the difference between learning a spoken language versus a computer language is a very fine line. Essentially, they are both a type of code.
Spoken language has a lot more rules, but mistakes have less severe consequences. While a coding error can break your program, messing up grammar is not disastrous. As long as you are able to communicate in a way that allows someone else to understand you, you have successfully broken at least some of the code.
As any programmer can tell you, it’s all about patterns. I have taught myself a lot of different computer languages. I realized that once you understand how one works, it’s a lot easier to determine the patterns in others. Spoken language is quite similar.
The best way to understand and use grammar is through a combination of analysis and inference. I can demonstrate this by showing you numbers in a particular pattern. Consider the following puzzle:
1 2 3 6 11 20 37 78
There is a pattern to each consecutive number, although the pattern may not be obvious at first.
As soon as you start looking at it, your mind is likely already running different scenarios. You’re probably trying to predict the next number. You’re analyzing it based on your previous experiences with number puzzles.
You cannot consider numbers on their own. You have to look at them as a whole. In case you have not figured it out, the numbers are totals of the previous three numbers – 1 + 2 + 3 = 6; 2 + 3 + 6 = 11, and so on. As you can see, it goes beyond the numbers. It requires you to think about the relationship between them.
To learn a language, you have to hear more than just words. You need to understand how people use it, and how that relies on grammar. Reading is an excellent technique for understanding a language’s grammatical structure. Everything you read contains grammar, so you’re getting what you need just through the activity.
Yes, there may be a lot of words on the page. But, by taking the time to work through them, you will learn both the words and the grammar you need.
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