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.

My Techniques

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

Related posts

3 Steps for Effective Translation to Learn Any Language
How to Conjugate Verbs Like a Pro (in Any Language)
The Absolute Best Way to Learn Grammar (No Matter Your Target Language)
  • Hi Luca! I’m also a keen language lover! I’d like to learn Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. I speak English and French. Which one of those three languages (Es, It, Pr) should I pick first so that it would be the most helpful when studying the other 2? I’ve heard that Spanish and Portuguese are quite alike but what do u think?

  • None of the three at the moment. You will mix them up. Try another one totally different like Russian, Turkish, Arabic or Japanese.


    First thank you for providing me with the correct scientific terms how to call theses approaches. I knew before that there are differences but I didn’t know before how to categorize these approaches. And I like your mathematical example very much! 🙂 I had so much maths at grammar school that I understand the formula well.

    I favourize the analitical grammar approach because for myself I have to understand the the grammatical structure of a foreign language from the very beginning. It’s wouldn’t help me to learn some phrases by heart. That doesn’t mean that I read grammar books. I normally don’t but I learn almost all my grammar from textbooks and workbooks and I use grammar books very seldom only for reference. I find my own approach (which is of course different from yours!) very helpful when I now have to read native level Danish texts from a novel a and i succeed in understanding the structures of these sentences even If I – even with the help of my dictionary – don’t understand every word. There may be idiomatic expressions in these texts, which I can’t understand, if they are not quoted in my Gyldendal Dictionary Danish – Dutch. Otherwise I would feel lost with this high language level and my – only – two years of studying Danish.

    As a contrast of this, thank you for presenting your approach of dealing with grammar in your language learning process!

    Best wishes,


    • Thank you very much for swinging by Fasulye 🙂

      As I said before, I don’t diss grammar at all. I think it is a foundamental part of a language. The video just deals with my personal vision on how we acquire things in general. After 20 years of learning languages, I figured out a method that works very well for me. It does encompass/include grammar books, but I tend to use them a little bit later, and I do it according to a precise schedule. For the details, a bit of patience 🙂

      That said, I think that everybody should do what they like doing. If you like starting learning a language by using grammar books, then, do it. Once again, we learn more effectively when we enjoy what we are doing 🙂

      Hou je taai! 🙂


      PS: Volgende keer kan je wel in nederlands schrijven, ik zal echt blij om je in deze geweldige taal te antwoorden 🙂

      • In common with Fasulye, I like a grammar-based approach. In common with you, I agree that people should use the method that they like. I have CEFR qualifications in four languages, from (one A2, one B1, one B2, and one C1), so I can prove that it works – for me, but I would never urge it upon anyone else if they didn’t like it.

  • oh btw, what do you think of using phonics to learn a language, as in English or pinyin in Chinese?

    • Hi; I seen your question to Luca and thought I’d give some advice too – hope you don’t mind?

      I’m British myself and have recently started learning/teaching myself Chinese (Mandarin) and pinyin is useful for learning how to pronounce things in the correct tone; but I would honestly say – learn the scripture too – if you have an iPhone there’s an application called pleco – which is a Eng/Chi dictionary and it tells you what the character means, what words it is in and has really helped me so far – otherwise invest in the Collins dictionary or other books; but I honestly think the best way is with scripture also 🙂

  • Luca, ik denk dat jouw taalleermethode wel goed werkt. Ik weet bijvoorbeeld ook van Loki op You Tube dat hij een deductieve aanpak gebruikt. Bij hem kan ik in zijn Turkse videos heel goed vaststellen dat hij de grammatica beheerst, maar hij heeft mij persoonlijk geantwoord “Ik leer nooit grammaticaregels.” Dus kennelijk laat zich grammatica ook assimileren, maar ik zelf kan dat niet. Ik moet gewoon logisch nadenken over taalstructuren, anders gaat het bij mij niet. Maar ik gebruik geen grammaticaboeken, want dat is mij een te droge koek. Het leuke is dat verschillende polyglots verschillende methodes hebben ontwikkeld en ik lees graag hoe anderen met de talen bezig zijn en welke ideeën ze daarover hebben. Ik volg dat mee bij Steve Kaufmann, bij Loki, bij Richard (via zijn blog en Skype) en bij jou dus ook.

    Leuk dat ik hier ook in het Nederlands mag schrijven – in Parijs krijg je waarschijnlijk niet zo veel Nederlands te lezen.

    Nog veel plezier met het maken van video’s en met jouw log!


    • Hoi Fasulye,

      bedankt voor je reactie. Ik vind dat iedereen op z’n eigen manier en met z’n eigen leermethodes iets moet leren. Vooral als je van grammatica houdt, heb je het recht om gebruik te maken van een grammaticaboekje aan het begin, ik doe dat gewoon later. Eigenlijk houd ik erg van grammaticaboekjes, ik vind het gewoon erg handig wanneer ik een goede basis van de desbetreffende taal heb en ik even een kijkje terug wil nemen om te versterken wat ik geleerd heb. Ik ben het er mee eens dat het leuk is om in het Nederlands te schrijven.

      Daarnaast is het waar dat ik hier in Parijs de kans niet echt krijg om Nederlands te spreken. In meer dan een jaar heb ik amper 3-4 Nederlanders ontmoet, maar ik spreek de taal af en toe op het internet (ik heb een geweldig Nederlands meisje on-line ontmoet) en ik lees de Volkskrant. Natuurlijk zijn er momenteel overweldigende dingen gaande, maar ik vergeet nooit om op z’n minst één keer in de week wat tijd aan mijn Nederlands te besteden.

      Hou je taai! 🙂


  • Hello Luca!I’d like to ask you one question.How do you learn the new words?Are you trying to memorise them or you just pick up them through the listening and reading?What do you find more efficient-memorising or just picking them up trough reding and listening?

  • Hello Luca, i knew you’d make a book and i patiently wait for it. Your philosphy of learning languages is very inspiring. I one day decided to apply it to my learning of mathematics and the results have been amazing , things staying in my mind , recognition of when to use formulae improved and most importantly patience.I thank you for such wisdom. ( e porque é que escreves o português incorrectamente? isto é a ortografia). Your fan Sam

    • Interesting. If I may, I’d be curious how you would apply it in mathematics where the process and the results must be rigidly guarded to achieve the right answer.

    • Hello S.P., I also would like to know how you have applied this to mathematics! It would be very interesting!

  • Caro Luca,
    ti seguo da tempo ed a proposito di imparare le lingue, mi piace molto come “vedi” le cose; l’esempio di Fibonacci e’ veramente illuminante. A proposito potresti darmi qualche ulteriore esempio pratico su come “assimilare” regole grammaticali con tale intuitiva maniera? Io studio inglese per piacere e da solo. Ho letto che pubblicherai un libro . Sara’ in italiano o quale altra lingua? Si può avere qualche anticipazione? Ringraziandoti per tutto il lavoro che fai ti saluto cordialmente
    Mario Goffredo, Trieste

    • Ciao Mario,

      grazie per i complimenti

      Sì, il libro sarà in inglese ed in italiano, e, se dovesse avere successo, ance in altre lingue. Mi dispiace non poterti fornire troppi dettagli pratici ma li sto inserendo nel libro, il cui contenuto verte appunto sul mio metodo, come e quando applicarlo, nonché sulla mia “filosofia” di apprendimento, nelle lingue come nella vita in generale

      Un abbraccio,


      • Ciao Luca.
        Il libro, non ho capito, sarà un download?
        Ancora grandissimi complimenti per tutto (in primis per la persona che sei).

        • Caro Mark,

          la risposta è sì, dovrebbe uscire come e-book e quindi si può scaricare. Ora come ora sono travolto (come al solito) da cose da fare e viaggi da preparare, ma spero di riuscire a scrivere un post sul blog per spiegare quando uscirà il libro e in cosa consisterà 🙂

          Un abbraccio!


  • Hi Luca.
    I am Italian but I’m going to be writing in English so that other readers can understand.
    First, thank you for all the help and advices you give to us all that want to learn foreign languages.
    With regard to the topic of the article, I totally agree with you. I believe that grammar is an important part of the study of another language, but to me that’s not the “most” important. When I learn a language, I do it because I’d like to be able to communicate properly with people from different countries; and I prefer studying languages by reading or listening to something interesting written or registered in that language than using lots of grammar rules (than in many cases end up being useless). Of course you’ll have to learn them too, but I prefer putting in a first place the pleasure and the fun of just being able to express your ideas and feelings in a new language.
    And that’s what I am currently doing with my Portuguese: I started learning that idiom because I liked its sounds and also for its similarity to Italian. The first thing I did was looking for podcast and articles in Portuguese, not buying a grammar book. I’ve got to say that now I reached a point in which a grammar book can be useful, but I honestly believe that, even without knowing the most of the rules of that idiom, I can have a conversation or chatting with Portuguese speakers.
    That’s my point of view.
    Thank you for reading.

  • Hi Luca

    Are you familiar with the Duolingo project? Any thoughts? Seems like a pretty interesting concept and in a way it’s pretty close to your methods. The guy behind it was earlier responsible for the now widely used and probably hated by many but very useful and clever Recaptcha.

  • Luca, piensas que es buena idea estudiar mas de un idioma al mismo tiempo? o debería estudiar uno a la vez?

  • I studied French in high school, only to graduate without being able to speak it. I was humiliated and determined to learn it anew from a different point of view. I got a condensed grammar, a book of vocabulary, a book on idiomatic usage, a good dictionary and a 501 French verbs book. And then I studied ENGLISH grammar until I got the code!
    When I learn a new language, I listen to it as I would music. If I listen to the radio, I don’t try to pick out meaning, I listen for lilt, pronunciation, for emphasis, for voice placement and sounds that occur between sentences.
    Almost all languages have vocal indicators of questions, exclamations,of sarcasm, etc. If I am in a room with the language speakers I look at body language, too.
    You can’t believe how helpful this is.
    Finally, I read newspapers and magazines. When I engage in conversation, I make sure I have the vocabulary to explain that I am self-taught. That I am a mother, a baker, that I have four children, their ages, their children, how long I’ve been married, my hobbies, where I was born, what my parents did for a living, whether or not they are dead or alive. In other words, all the information you would share with a complete stranger in English.
    And most importantly, I ask what this or that thing is called. It’s an excellent way to get extra vocabulary.

    • Hi Jewel!

      – When I learn a new language, I listen to it as I would music. If I listen to the radio, I don’t try to pick out meaning, I listen for lilt, pronunciation, for emphasis, for voice placement and sounds that occur between sentences –

      Exactly 🙂 These are all things that I teach my students. Learning how to listen is one of the most powerful tools one can teach an eager language learner 🙂

      – Finally, I read newspapers and magazines –

      This is extraordinary for picking up new words, idiomatic expressions and..all the rest

      Thanks for the excellent contribution 🙂


    • I’d surmise that no one learns a language in a classroom. I mean an hour, a few times a week? You’re hardly learning anything. I think self-study is superior.

  • I know a mid-age w/ kids family friend who speaks terrible Spanish, but I think it could be her lack of effort (“I just want to communicate in adequately”) style and age related. I too examine grammar when spoken and written, I’ve been busy with college and haven’t (had opportunity to try to [grasp]/) grasped fully the subjunctive, but subjunctive words do often pop out in music, spoken and written Spanish because I know that’s my focus. I find my grammar book acts as a map to know where my problems are and what to improve. So I choose the middle-ground between your path to infer and the other idea to obsess over it.

  • Hi Luca, I’m from Brazil. I was learning French by myself, through a very good book, that contemplates several areas of language learning, like listening, writting, grammar… etc. I was very satisfied with the results I was getting, but then I couldn’t study for a week, and know I feel I have forgotten a lot of things! I’m inclined by your method, though I have some doubts in my mind and I didn’t grasp fully the way it works. Could you please send me the Doc. file you mentioned in your video “An easy way to learn languages?”. Abraço!

    • Hi there. You can write “Luca easy way” on Google and you will find part 1 and 2 of the method. You will find the main guidelines there. For the details you will have to wait for my book. A bit of patience! 🙂 L

      • The service is unavailable 🙁
        Is there some other way you could send me this content ?
        And when are we going to be able to buy your book?

  • I believe that as language is about communication, learning grammar is secondary to learning the language. A foreigner being able to communicate , albeit making many grammatical and lexical errors, is this not the most important factor? When a child learns a language ,any language, it learns by listening and repeating and mechanics of the language are learnt much later………..the majority of English children who ,of course, speak English fluently have far less knowledge of grammar than any foreign ESL student.

  • I loved your videos and your blog they are really useful and interesting! But do you think that we have to learn a new language without translate it into our mother tongue or it’s better just to be envolved with the new language and try to understand by the context?

    Thanks and congratulations!

  • I parcially agree with you. I think the learning of grammar rules of a language has to do with the purpose you have for learning a language. If you learn a language to communicate with others, probably learning rules is not really important. But if you’re thinking of becoming a teacher (and teach the language you’ve learned, that’s another story); then you need knowing rules in case your students ask you to explain to them. Besides, remember: Not everyone learns the same way. There are learners who understand more easily when they are taught the rules.
    That’s my humble opinion.


  • Hi, Lucas
    My first language is Portuguese and English is my second since live in USA for almost 10 years. Now, I am not sure if I would translate the German language to English which comes first on my brain or Portuguese my mother tongue. What would be your advice on that? Both maybe?

  • I agree that vocabulary matters much more than grammar to use a language. The more vocabulary a learner knows how to use correctly the easier it is to convey a thought in a language. I think grammar learning ought to be combined with conversational practice and vocabulary learning (first fixed thematic conversational phrases, and then free conversational practice on each topic with sentences based on known grammar (to reduce grammar mistakes) while still learning grammar).
    Learners can learn grammar and practice it in communicative grammar exercises with real life content (with sentences that most likely can be used in real life situations). It’s very helpful for learners to have key to exercises for self-check. Grammar exercises that contain dialogues, interrogative and statement (or narrative) sentences on everyday topics, thematic texts and narrative stories are especially effective for mastering grammatical structures. Grammar practice should include exercises in listening comprehension, speaking, reading and writing.
    Grammar exercises must help learners not only form correct sentences, but also use them correctly in context in real life situations. Contrastive and contextualized exercises give practice in form, meaning and use.
    In my view communicative integrated skills courses that practice listening, speaking, reading and writing alongside pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary are the most effective and the most comprehensive courses. Conventional communicative teaching and learning supported with adequate regular long-term practice in listening comprehension and speaking in a language yield effective results. Lack of such practice by learners produces speculations that conventional learning and teaching methods don’t work.
    Knowledge of grammar rules reduces making grammatical mistakes by learners. Without adequate knowledge of grammar rules learners often cannot create their own grammatically correct sentences and often cannot understand what they read or hear in a language exactly. In my view it ought to be effective to combine input (listening, reading) with output (speaking and writing). The question is in what order and amount (proportion) when learning and practicing grammar with accompanying vocabulary in communicative exercises with real life content.

  • The best way to learn any foreign language is to immerse completely. A language cannot be acquired in isolation; it is in fact only a part of a much larger system that includes culture and lifestyle. As a professional Spanish trainer (I blog at, I always recommend my students to surround themselves with Spanish music, Spanish videos, Spanish texts, and Spanish TV instead of Spanish grammar and phrasebooks. The key is to focus on absorbing the language instead of just memorizing or learning it.

  • I loved your videos and your blog they are really useful and interesting! But do you think that we have to learn a new language without translate it into our mother tongue or it’s better just to be envolved with the new language and try to understand by the context?

    Thanks and congratulations!

  • Ciao! Ricordo che in un tuo video parlavi di un software che a volte usi per iniziare una lingu, quale è il nome? Riccardo.:)

  • I took 5 years of Latin in high school, the last 2 years translating Classical Latin – I didn’t learn much. However, whilst in college, I decided to take a Spanish course. In fact I ended up taking 2 courses over a span of 2 semesters. I didn’t need to take any language courses because I had 5 years of Latin, but I wanted to learn a third language (knowing fluent Polish and English). And I have to tell you, I was very surprised by how much Spanish I was able to learn. We did grammar, vocab, listening, and the professor almost never spoke English to us, with some exceptions, obviously.

    I excelled in both courses, I was able to do 5 minute presentations without preparation at all, while others struggled with it. And I think I know why:
    I took the courses because I wanted to learn the language. Both professors suggested that I continue on with Spanish studies, maybe even switching my major to Spanish because of my capabilities (better than average students). What they didn’t understand is that fact that I was not smarter or better than any other student in the class, it’s that I did it for myself. I WANTED it for me. No one forced me to take the class unlike others. The programs at schools aren’t bad, it’s the fact that, students simply don’t care about it.

    I didn’t continue my studies in Spanish until last Wednesday, believe it or not. I went to a local bookstore, bought a 1000 vocab flash cards, some basic grammar books and I am getting back to work.

    Great blog by the way. I’ve been following your videos on YouTube.


  • Ten languages you speak but yet arabic isn’t one of them i recommend it, it’s the language of the holy quran(and that’s enough of a reason already) and it’s the OFFICIAL language of 22 countries which is the largest to spread, i know english is spoken in more countries but officially english is spoken in only 10 and besides stories and literature written in arabic are out of this world, the arabic language is very beautiful ask anyone who learned it, it may seems hard but that’s because of it’s value.

  • Hello Luca…you are awesome! You are helping so many poeple and I can ‘t wait to get your book! I speak English and Spanish now but I’m learning to speak Italian. I’m having trouble with some grammar though, especially knowing when to use essere/avere…any suggestions?

    di Chicago

  • I believe there is a lot of truth to what you say. I am currently learning Turkish, and whenever I ask my friends who are native speakers… “why something is the way it is”- the usual response is, “I don’t know, it is just that way”.

    In other words, they can tell me if something is correct or not, but they can’t tell me why.

  • I loved your definition of what grammar is and the idea of attacking the language as soon as possible. I’d be interested in reading more about it. Do you remember where you found it?

  • Hi Luca! I was curious as to how you cope with German grammar (such as cases and der/die/das etc). Did you do this more in an inductive way, until you had a solid understanding of the language, and then start honing in on grammar after?

    I’m focusing on my comprehension (listening and reading, pretty much Steve Kaufmann style), but since your German is too such an astounding level, i was curious how you dealt with it!

    Many thanks Luca!

  • Ottimo articolo Luca, illuminante.
    La grammatica quindi va solo consultata per verifica, non letta dalla A alla Z. L’esempio con la sequenza di Fibonacci è davvero illuminante.

    Grazie, Massimo

  • In my opinion the most important thing is intention to learn foreign language. Grammar is also singificant aspect of improving language skills. Nevertheless, if somebody do not want to learn, probably this person not develop his or her grammar skills.

  • Hello Luca! I am interested on the release of your book! When is it gonna be available?
    I am a huge fan of your YouTube videos and your blog. Thank you for the amazing tips and motivational videos.

  • Thank you very much for your tips. I am very enthusiatic about learning different languages. I wonder where your book is coming out.

  • I like the structural approach to learning grammar and writing. Sentence patterns for example and then learn all the ways words modify within these patters, which becomes learning the cumulative sentence. Here are the structures used to modify within the basic sentence patterns: single words, a series of words, phrases, verbals, clauses

    Jesus wept (simple sentence pattern- Noun Verb. Lets add the structures now: Holy Jesus wept, sincerely. (single words)
    Holy and hurt, Jesus wept, sincerely, profusely. (more than one word in a series)
    Holy and hurt, Jesus, the Son of Man, wept, sincerely and profusely, in the garden. (phrases added, an appositive, a prep. phrase)
    Holy and hurt, Jesus, the Son of Man, praying alone, wept sincerely and profusely, in the garden, while the sun was setting, and the Apostles had fallen asleep. (a verbal is added and a dependent clause and an independent clause)

    What do you think? Doesn’t that take the guess work out of grammar? Just teach the structures and they can also learn the reasons why they are called like they are.

  • You should say I feel badly when you are touncihg something and you do not do it well. In this case feel is a regular verb. I have not thought through how you feel something well. I am filing that under the good and well file.

  • A agree very much with the idea of a core for every language (“The two students’ race”). When I was young, we learnt the terminology of grammar and we knew about Subjekt, Verb, Objekt, Fälle (cases) before learning any foreign language.

    But today, my own pupils lack these concepts even at the Gymnasium. So they produce ungrammatical sentences like “j’aimé – mangé – préféré – la pizza”. It is kind of an ideographic language, totally unaware of parts of speech, as would be: 私 – 愛 – 食 – 好 – ピザ.

    So I try to train them straightforward S–V–O sentences, maybe even beginning with a theme (cf. Japanese …は): “Comme manger, je préfère la pizza.” And I hope they will get a feeling for canonical sentences. For me, this is the core: the general ideas as far as they are valid for most of the languages a European will ever deal with.

    But that is school. As they won’t need French, their interest in language learning is quite low. Probably they will not grasp the difference whether I call it objet direct / indirect or Akkusativ- / Dativ-Objekt. Personally, I could never do it without considering the rules and reading authentic texts simultaneously.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}