When and Why Grammar (Is/Can Be) Important

As a something of proponent of grammar-based learning, I should admit that I’m biased when it comes to whether grammar is important or not. When my peers and I learned English in elementary school (which ironically is called grammar school everywhere else, for a reason), we were told that good grammar was important because it showed that you were educated. But when I’m at school, there are still some people who speak with minor grammar infractions. But why is that? It could be that grammar in speech is not enforced as much as it is in writing. We see this in a lot of places; while the sign of a business may be written in good English, the people running the establishment may have less-than-perfect speaking skills.

But you may be wondering what this has to do with foreign language. There are numerous people who give up on foreign language because they have trouble grasping the grammar. But this is not their fault; it’s not a question of studying enough. Some people simply don’t learn that way. Many respected linguists and teachers of foreign languages have said that grammar shouldn’t be stressed as much as it is in most classes. And that is true; grammar can be overwhelming if you’re not interested in it. However, this is not to say that grammar shouldn’t be taught at all. Now, I’m going to discuss reasons for whether grammar is a necessity.

Better Reading and Writing

This is a bit of a given. The written form of almost any language is expected to be flawless for the majority of the speaking populace. Again: grammar-wise. The actual written content and the mechanics of the language used to convey it are separate. Good grammar is essential to not be only understood but also show yourself as an educated, intelligent person. I realize that there are people who may view educated writing as pretentious, but I feel that is more a product of word choice and actual content. Good grammar knowledge also enables you to understand more advanced texts, because certain meanings and nuances are conveyed by more complex grammatical structures, some of which include different moods and cases.

Enhanced Understanding of Nuances

As I said before, a good grammatical understanding allows you to get certain nuances of the language. This is especially relevant when the language that you’re learning is not at all connected with your own, meaning that you have no foundation to work up from. When Romance language speakers use the subjunctive, certain uses suggest a notion of uncertainty, doubt, hypothetical conditions, etc., in a way that English doesn’t. When Korean speakers shift between the “modes” of formality and politeness, this provides certain undertones to the speech. Memorizing phrases and substituting words is no better than memorizing lists upon lists of vocabulary and rules. I think it’s important to encourage synthesis, rather than mechanical/robotic repetition.

Stress Undermines Motivation and Appreciation

As you’re probably very aware, an overt stress of grammar is detrimental to learning. It creates the impression that language is just grammar rules and words. This is not only hugely demoralizing, but also a huge underestimation of the power of language to convey the human experience. Each language is unique in its capacity to express the history, emotions, and experiences of a people.

Narrowed Understanding of the Language as a Whole

Not everyone says the same thing the same way. This is a fact of life. As much as knowing the grammar lets you make your own sentences independently, it also limits your ability to understand other dialects and expressions. Whatever you’re taught in a class or grammar book is the standardized version of the language, which not everyone speaks on a daily basis. Sometimes, the standardized version of the language is seen as pretentious, arrogant, uptight, or downright unnatural. Granted, the remedy to this requires that you go to various regions where the language is spoken, so that you can get exposed.

I hope you got something out of reading this! Please share this with your friends and feel free to leave any comments!

The Importance of Language

No matter where we come from, language is an important part of our lives. It permeates everything we do, from our habits, our personalities, and identities as people. By learning other languages, you can link yourself with others in a way more profound than any other form of communication. As human beings, it is pleasing to hear another speak our own language. People who speak other languages understand others on deep levels, being able to connect with others in their mother tongues, the first and best form of communication.

When I was a child, I was unable to speak my mother tongue, Kannada, as well as I should have, due to a speech problem. It became apparent to me at an early age that language was important, and not being able to speak in Kannada affected how others saw me, behaved around me, and spoke to me.

Now, I am significantly more proficient in Kannada, after years of practice with my family. I have learned Spanish to a reasonably advanced level, and am continuing to study, because Spanish is a beautiful language, and is also widely spoken in my state of California. I also started learning Italian some time ago, as well as Hindi and Korean. Hindi and Italian are still works in progress, but I gave up on Korean some time ago, because of I found its grammar system confusing. However, I recently compiled my notes from these three languages into individual learning guides, in the hope that others might be able to utilize them. I have yet to publish my most recent and hopefully my best version of my book on Italian, due to having to wait for my KDP Select contract to expire. My Korean book is currently under revision by my Korean colleague, and my Hindi book is beginning the polishing process. At the moment, my first Italian book, Impariamo l’italiano!, is available on the Kindle Store for $4.99. Eventually, the better version, with more vocabulary, exercises, and information will be available on the iBooks Store, called Scoprendo l’italiano! On this blog, I will be posting links to the audio exercises that will accompany the text, when I have finished them, and the book is released.