Do you get nervous just seeing that word?
Do you think “I need to improve my grammar so I can speak English better”?
Do you spend a lot of time memorizing grammar rules but wonder why your English hasn’t improved?
Grammar rules are nice, but they should not be the main focus of your English studies.
Here are 4 important truths about grammar rules.
1. Grammar rules are easy to teach and easy to learn.
Grammar explains how words are organized in a sentence. When you speak and write, you have to put the words in the right order so that people will understand what you are saying or writing.
Rules make people feel comfortable. Learning rules makes students feel good. Learning grammar rules helps students feel confident that they are learning English.
Grammar rules help you do well on an English test. We feel proud of ourselves when we get a good mark on a test. If we get a good mark on a test, this means we can speak English, right?
Let’s be honest. Learning grammar rules is easier than listening and reading. However, it’s not going to help you speak.
If you want to speak English well, you need to know the correct order of words. You can do this by learning collocations, phrases, and sentences, not by memorizing rules.
2. English sentences don’t always follow rules.
A rule is something that you can or cannot do, or what you are allowed or not allowed to do.
You need to know how English grammar is different from grammar in your language. You need to know that there are some things that you can do in your language that you can’t do in English. English speakers say, “I am 30 years old” while French speakers say, “I have 30 years.” You can’t say, “I have 30 years” when talking about your age in English.
However, English isn’t perfect. It’s messy. It’s impossible to explain every English sentence with a rule. Sometimes the answer to the question “why?” is “that’s just the way it is!”
Don’t think of English grammar as a group of rules. Think of grammar as a foundation, the base of a building or structure that supports the rest of the building.
English grammar is the foundation of English. There are verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, conjunctions, and prepositions. These words have different jobs.
You need to put these words in the right order, but there are many, many different ways to make a sentence. You learn the right order by listening to native English speakers and by reading things written by native English speakers.
3. Native speakers don’t learn many rules in school.
If you asked a native English speaker to explain what a relative clause is or what a coordinating conjunction is, they would probably say “I don’t know!”
We learn very basic English grammar in school. I am a native English and I speak English fluently, but I had never heard of a gerund or the present perfect tense before I started teaching English. I can communicate very well in English without knowing grammar rules.
Native speakers don’t learn English by memorizing grammar rules. Native speakers learn how to speak first by listening to everyone around them. At school, they learn how to read and write. Their English continues to improve the more they read and the more they listen to people around them.
I don’t think it’s fair to expect English learners to know grammar rules that native speakers don’t know.
4. Memorizing rules prevents you from improving your English.
What happens when you see a sentence that is different from a rule that you learned? Do you ignore the sentence? Do you assume the sentence is wrong? What if you are missing an opportunity to improve your English?
What are you doing this weekend?
Did you know that you can use today with the simple past if you are speaking about an event that happened earlier in the day? Or did you learn a rule that said you can’t use present time words like today with the simple past tense?
What did you learn today?
(a mother speaks to her son after school)
When you try to learn English by learning rules, you limit yourself. It’s better to learn English by learning sentences instead of memorizing rules.
Did you learn a grammar rule in school, but later you learned that it was wrong? Tell me about it in the comments below!