When learning a new language, at what point do we start to learn grammar (our arch-nemesis)?
Here are some tips to help you learn grammar. Unfortunately, there is no method or ideal approach since everything depends on the objectives, time and preferences. I’m not claiming that these tips are the most effective, nor the best, but they are helpful in one way or another, especially when we start to learn grammar.
I previously spoke about grammar in another article about when and how to learn grammar but I wanted to delve in further and share my positive experiences and the approach I used to learn grammar with the last 2 languages I learned, Romanian and (mostly Brazilian) Portuguese.
The Basics for Learning Grammar
- Choose the right moment: in my opinion, it’s best to start to learn a language by listening, memorizing vocabulary, repeating loud sounds, words and sentences. I’ve never actually studied Romanian grammar. But this hasn’t stopped me from reaching a level that allows me to express myself and to easily understand the language. It’s only now that I feel the need to structure my speech, and apply grammar rules, such as the formation of the future, for example. I think it’s more suited to learn now, and not in my early days when I wouldn’t have been able to laugh at my own mistakes with my friends!
- Learn what is necessary, at least in the beginning: I always like to apply the Pareto Principle when I learn a new language (i.e. 20% of the things that will be needed in 80% of cases)… For example, in English I find it unnecessary to understand the difference between the present perfect and the present perfect continuous…
Conclusion: It’s better to focus on the most important rules, and perhaps learn the rest later.
- Studying a rule when you feel the need to: honestly, when I was learning Spanish, I really didn’t want to remember when to use “por” and when to use “para“, as instructed in textbooks… No, I opted to study the different nuances and uses, in different sentences, which allows me to use them with much more intuition. Without having to stop and think “OK, this is where you want to express cause or reason, so you use por …”
- Using grammar to understand and not to know it only for it to be a hindrance to speaking: I’m not going to lie. Grammar really is a powerful tool for understanding the mechanisms of a language and to learn to master sentence structure. But sometimes, especially at first, when you learn grammar it can be a real drag when learning how to speak. There is nothing more counterproductive than waiting to speak a language until you feel you’ve fully grasped its syntax… The best time to jump into a language and learn from your mistakes is through trial and error and by simply jumping into it.
My experience with Brazilian Portuguese
It’s been a while since I first started to learn Brazilian Portuguese, and I’ve reached a level that allows me to express myself without too much difficulty. Here’s how I approached Portuguese grammar:
- At first, I learned phrases and the most useful conversational words from conversation guides and the MosaLingua Portuguese apps. And that, for example, is why I feel more comfortable with my pronunciation, although it wasn’t simple. It’s only in case of doubt that I take a quick look at the rules of pronunciation. Today I’ve memorized more than 3100 flashcards with the MosaLingua app, and it’s helped me tremendously!
- Instead of studying particular sentences, I try to use my instinct, which I’ve found to be an effective method only with Latin languages, and afterward I check whether I’m right or not with applicable rules of grammar. It’s easier to remember when to use the masculine “o” and the feminine “a”.
- I also read a lot of news in Portuguese, although I may not understand everything. This helps me memorize new vocabulary words and I only take a look at grammar rules only when I have problems understanding a phrase. This approach, in my opinion, is much more dynamic and fun.
- When I participate in conversation exchanges with Brazilian natives, I always ask them to correct my grammar so I can learn sentence structure and grammar rules by not having to study.
I love speaking in foreign languages and now with my Portuguese, I can speak with Brazilians while enjoying this language I love so much. And it doesn’t matter if I still make mistakes. That’s part of the process, and it doesn’t stop me from improving my language skills and learning grammar.
Finally, take a look at my video where I speak 6 languages and talk about my approach, how it worked for me and how you can use it to learn a new language as well as how it can help you learn grammar.
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