How should we learn grammar?
Do we even need to formally learn it?
There are many opinions within the language learning community on the part of teachers and learners regarding grammar.
Some people believe that a grammar-based approach is key to efficiently learning a language. They claim that a thorough grammar study is necessary for understanding the structure of the language. They insist that without understanding grammar, a language would be a jumble of words difficult to decipher. Some go as far as to say that they first need to have a good grasp of grammar even before starting learning the language. I call this a purely analytical approach.
On the other hand, others believe exactly the opposite: that grammar books are an unnecessary obstacle that slow down the learning process. Grammar rules should be exclusively inferred by the language and not vice-versa. According to this vision, a student should start “attacking” the language as soon as possible. Massive exposure and deduction are key factors here. I call this a purely inductive approach.
A definition of Grammar
I found a rather interesting definition of grammar. Grammar is “the structural foundation of our ability to express ourselves. The more we are aware of how it works, the more we can monitor the meaning and effectiveness of the way we and others use the language. It can foster precision, detect ambiguity and exploit the richness of expression. This can help anyone, not only language teachers, but all teachers of everything”.
What struck me was the phrase: The more we are aware of how it works. I don’t think we need to be aware of how it works. We just have to make it work. Once a language flows and is accurately expressed, we have learned its grammar. Five year old kids are not even conscious of the word grammar, and yet they are able to string together full, correct sentences in their native tongue They have internalized it unconsciously.
Breaking the code
Our goal is to communicate. We are not seeking to do well at grammar exercises and related matters . Grammar will be internalized if the learner works in a truly efficient manner.
I view languages as codes. Each language has a different code. Languages are ways which human beings “encode” sounds and words to convey a message. If we communicate efficiently, we have broken the code.
In order to break a code, we need to figure out its patterns. That’s the key.
Once you have broken the code, the language unfolds and everything gets easy and enjoyable.
How to break the code?
The main question is, how to break the code? How to find a method to put all this into practice?
Let me give you an example of analysing and inferring.
Let us consider the following sequence of integer numbers, called the Fibonacci numbers :
0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13…
Instead of giving you the explanation, I can give you a hint: there is a precise and simple pattern between adjacent numbers, considered in pairs. Did you figure it out? If you didn’t, try again, it is well worth the effort.
Ok, have you found the solution the solution? Don’t you feel a sense of satisfaction?
Now, imagine that I had simply given you the following definition:
The first two numbers in the Fibonacci sequence are 0 and 1, and each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two. In mathematical terms, the sequence Fn of Fibonacci is defined by the recurrence relation:
Fn= Fn-1 + Fn-2
With seed values F0 = 0, F1 = 1.
With this, you will only have to insert the numbers the initial seed values and obtain the sequence. You have learned the notion of the Fibonacci series, you have been told how it works. In the first case,, instead, you have figured it out by yourself. If you did, the brain will have made the effort to find a pattern. That effort is important in that it causes neural networks to form. Inferring things with a little help from the outside is important.
I am very goal oriented person, and I make 100% sure that I can comfortably communicate in the target language.
In order to do that, I cut out all the fat and only concentrate on what is necessary to use the language. I simply choose texts which suit my interests and intuitively try to understand the grammar by observing the actual language of native speakers. I am calm and relaxed because I am aware of the fact that very single sentence contains all the grammar I need to know to express a particular thought, just as the Fibonacci sequence contains the key to its encoding in just a few numbers. Less is more in my method.
For anyone of you who is interested in using it, I can show you exactly how to achieve what I have achieved over many years of successfully learning languages by “coaching” you throughout the whole process.
The details will be in a book I am currently working on, which is tentatively scheduled for release by June, 2013.
Written by Luca Lampariello