Why learning perfect English Grammar is bad for your speaking fluency

If you strive for perfect English Grammar you may pay the price with your speaking fluency.
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What is perfect English grammar?

Traditionally, grammar is understood to be the backbone of a language, the rules of both how and why we create sentences and communicate the way we do.  

Perfect English grammar is therefore, the ability to communicate in English as though you had an English grammar textbook installed in the operating system of your mind.  An instruction manual ensuring that your verbs are conjugated correctly, your sentence syntax is arranged properly and your punctuation is applied no more or less than is exactly appropriate!  It sounds so…. mathematical. 

The reality is, however, that far from defining how to speak correctly, good grammar is defined by how people speak and this changes over time.  You just need to read the Bible, Shakespeare or another historical text to see how the English language has changed over time.

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Why learn grammar?

Let’s start by giving grammar the respect it deserves.  It’s undeniable that in any given time and place, there is a generally accepted way to write and speak English.  Understanding how to say something is understanding grammar.  We can’t just chuck that out of the window.  

Maybe a better question than ‘Why learn grammar?’ is ‘How much Grammar should I learn?’  or ‘How much time should I spend learning grammar?’ or even ‘How should I learn grammar?’

Let’s continue and address some of these great questions as we go.

How to learn English grammar

In the UK, when we think of grammar, many people would think of a strict, traditional school teacher with a black robe and cane, forcing bored children to read dusty old books line-by-line.  We don’t think of our own experience of learning grammar.  So why is that?  Well, it’s because nobody in the UK has any experience of actually learning grammar at school!  

There are really two ways to learn grammar. The first option is, you can learn it from a textbook as a mathematical equation of how to construct a sentence and try to apply each equation every time you open your mouth (not recommended).  Or the second option is, you can learn how to naturally communicate and build your language in a flexible way that you can apply on the go, improving your understanding as you get more exposure and experience of your target language.  

This second approach is the normal, natural way to learn a language.  It’s the way we learn as children and it’s the way we should learn as adults.  Let’s consider a simple example.  If you are a Spanish speaker you would naturally want to say ‘Car red’ when speaking English because that is the order of the words in Spanish.  It’s very simple to learn that in English, we do it the other way around.  We say ‘Red car’.  There isn’t really any need to know that an adjective comes before a noun in English, or even that one word is an adjective and the other is a noun!  It’s so much easier to understand and apply flexibly when practicing your English in real life.

How long does it take to learn English grammar?

There is no answer to the question ‘how long does it take to learn English grammar?’  It depends on a number of factors, like, how much time you give to your own learning, how much you concentrate on accuracy, how well you adapt to a new language, etc.  

It’s worth remembering however, that much like your own native language, there are many native English speakers who do not use grammar perfectly.

Can you speak fluently without learning English grammar?

Absolutely you can speak fluently without learning English grammar.  Almost every 5 year old in the UK and USA can speak English fluently.  None of them have learnt any grammar and are unlikely to even know the basics, like what is a noun, verb, adjective, etc.  

So you don’t have to either.

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Why is there so much focus on perfect English grammar in ESL?

Historically, English language teachers were language scholars first, and teachers second.  The original approach to teaching English was written by people who loved to understand the technicalities of the language and revelled in the detail.  

English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, however, were people who wanted to speak English effectively and fluently in practice, not theory.  There was a mismatch in desire between the people who wrote the textbooks, and the students who were supposed to learn them.  

Thankfully, a lot has changed since then.  However, there is still a strong focus on grammar.  A large influence comes from the learners themselves who may not have access to native speakers to correct them in the natural way that children learn and improve.  Therefore, ESL students have to rely on textbooks and mathematical grammar equations to understand what is correct.  Unfortunately, this approach isn’t very good for retaining what you learn over the long term or using language fluently in the real world.

Why learning perfect English grammar is bad for your fluency?

The traditional approach to grammar learning focuses on WHY YOU SAY something correctly (through detailed grammatical explanation) rather than WHAT TO SAY using natural examples. This approach will quite simply tie you up in knots!

Being natural and flexible in your language learning will allow you to recall and manipulate your language in a fluent way.  Think about it like maths.  When you were a child you likely memorised your times tables by learning through repetition until they became second nature.  The answers became intuitive and immediately available. E.g. 

 

– Three threes are nine. 

– Four fives are twenty. 

– Nine fives are forty five.  

If you know what these sums are intuitively, you just know what the right answer is.  The ones you can never remember you have to work out in your head and so you cannot produce them fluently.

While the comparison with maths is not a perfect one.  It does serve to show us that if you learn perfect English grammar in a mathematical way, it will never allow you to be fluent.  You have to practice the flow of sentences and the feel of a language so that recalling WHAT TO SAY is fluent. 

You can then build on your flexibility and application through practice, speaking with others, and building your exposure to language through reading, watching films, listening to the radio, etc.  Just remember to make notes when you learn something new and refer back to them over time to help you embed your learning.

How to become an expert in English grammar

If you are wondering how to become an expert in English grammar, it’s the same as becoming an expert in anything – practice!  

As a native, becoming an expert in English grammar is achieved through reading, writing, listening and speaking.  Getting exposure to correct English is the first step and this is best done in a fun and engaging way that will compel you to continue your learning journey.  However, that is only the first step.  Secondly, you need to practice producing language through writing and English speaking practice.  

It can be hard to get the immersive English learning experience that we know is so important.  One that allows you to practise what you know, and hear real-world English in use.  Thankfully, we have the answer for you.  With our courses and our committed, engaging community of learners, you have everything you need.

Our students are taken on a language learning journey, using cultural observations and building real life skills.  They are given the reasons and space they need to practise communicating in English.  They are also asked to undertake writing, reading, speaking and listening tasks that they share with their learning peers and teachers.  Each lesson typically includes video, reading exercises, case studies, interactive exercises, and assignments to complete and submit to the ELAN Community

Change your accent and work on your ESL accent in the conversation club

Practice your English Grammar in our Conversation Club

We have built a bespoke community that has been designed to meet the needs of our students.  Joining any course will give you access to this exclusive group of language learners, or you can join the ELAN Community on it’s own.  Joining the ELAN Community gives you access to new and past live lessons that you won’t fnd anywhere else, the Knowledge Base and you can also participate in our Conversation Club for speaking practise.  

The Conversation Club is where you will have the opportunity to have real conversations with people from all over the world.  The sessions run regularly and are facilitated by our Head Teacher, Anna, or one of our expert team.  You’ll be given pre-reading on a general knowledge subject as well as questions to help the conversation flow.  The conversation groups are small, between 2 to 4 people, and you’ll have a natural conversation about the topic set and whatever else may come up.  There are only two rules – very important rules… 1. Speak in English.  2. Have fun talking to your fellow students.  With all these important opportunities to exercise your English speaking muscles, you’ll find that your ability to speak fluently improves rapidly.

Now watch the video below to hear 10 points of reference that will help you judge your own level of English fluency.

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