Cutting up the ugly green grammar monster

“We all OD´d on grammar at school … just make it as simple as possible and leave the rest.”

(From this blog, dialogue between Italic and Bold, two months ago)

 This is the way a lot of people like to learn languages these days. The trend is to learn through conversation and set phrases, trying to keep things interesting for the learner. But it could be that we are missing something here. Maybe we are finding interesting ways of getting into the house, climbing in through the window or the chimney, when it could be easier in the long run if we had the patience to do something boring like getting a key cut.

Grammar is the key to the patterns of the language. Understanding the patterns helps you predict which word will be used. We do this automatically in the end.

When you begin to learn a language it seems that there are thousands of words to learn and the way they come at you seems to be fairly chaotic. Gradually you come to see that “why” questions are answered with “because …” and “when” questions have an answer which involves time. This realization comes long before we ever hear the expression “interrogative pronouns”. It comes even if we never hear the term.

Writers of grammar books find it convenient to gather these question words together and stick a label on them. But if someone calls things by a label and you don´t know what the label means, then the whole things sounds more confusing than it would have done without the label. Writers of grammar books try to be helpful by giving you piles of information to cover every possible way you might ever need the word and end up sizzling your brain wiring.

So how can you get at the patterns, or the door keys, without fusing your electrical system?
One way is to accept what the grammar book gives you, photocopy the relevant page or quarter-page and show it who is in charge by cutting it up and putting it back together again like a jigsaw puzzle. The “puzzle” may be a simple one like this:

or it may be an ugly green monster like the one below. However big the page is, you can slice it up one segment at a time until you can re-assemble it confidently.


About Fun with languages

Blogging about learning languages, making it fun Hobbies: paragliding, cycling, reading, BBC radio 4.
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2 Responses to Cutting up the ugly green grammar monster

  1. This blog just keeps getting better and better Jenny. Keep up the great work. I think I may even get over my fear of learning a nw language with the insights you keep providing here.

    • Jenny Sayell says:

      Hi David
      Having the encouragement of readers like you makes a lot of difference. I´m glad you like the ideas.
      From being a paraglider pilot I have learned that courage has a tendency to get depleted by a scary incident. Slowly it trickles back up to a higher level. If you then have a good flight (or other positive experience), that can give you a huge boost and the confidence to set off again.
      Wishing you all the best with your courage-building phase and I hope you can launch yourself into a Spanish-learning adventure when the time is right. Or you could choose a language you had never even considered before … The world is your oyster.

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