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The problem of trying to "teach grammar"

If we already know that language acquisition is an unconscious process, why do people still attempt to quote unquote "teach grammar"?

A lot of people who have spent their entire lives researching this subject say that the actual rules of the language are acquired unconsciously and what most schools attempt to teach are relatively superficial generalizations of some of the byproducts:


I couldn't agree more. I acquired my second language, English, simply by being immersed in the environment where English was spoken. I don't know what any of the rules of English are.

October 26, 2017



Not everyone who learns a language is immersed in the environment in which that language is spoken; teaching grammar is a substitution for that immersion.


Wow! I'm really impressed English is your second language. Your writing in that post displayed much better English than at least half the native English speakers on here :)


I am going to guess because it is easy to test. You either conjugate a verb correctly or not.

The kind of grammer I am running into, is things like "jamais entendu parler de" which is a way of saying "never heard of". I don't even think they try to teach these kinds of things.

I was thinking of the english phrase "get out of my face". That has to be a nightmare piece of grammer for some one learning english. You need to recognize that starting with the verb is indicating a command, that the omission of the noun before "out" means the thing that needs to be removed is yourself, and you need to realize that "my face" needs to be interpreted as as the location facing the speaker (that might be idiom rather than grammer - i am not an english teacher). Much easier to just see a translation.


I would like to airlift you to the middle east and put you in a beduin village, come back in two weeks, and you can tell me the 3 words you learned.

(You may have learned more than that, I don't subscribe to just teaching grammar but learning how to apply it, and while I like immersion, I think some grammar instruction makes sense.


Those who do not study their 'native' language may not use it effectively. Grammar teaches the rules, which may have developed naturally over time, but it also teaches why those rules 'work', how good grammar can make your language use more precise and understandable, and perhaps even more lyrical.


English is my native language but in order to teach it properly, I do need to teach grammar. Why? Because very few students have had the opportunity to learn every nuance of the language unless they are immersed in it from very young. Well, even native speakers may not be fluent in all areas of the language but we need to assure that we give our students the fullest knowledge of English as possible in the few hours a week they have to learn it.

How many times do you hear: "I will have completed the exercise by nightfall."? or "If he were to come early we might catch the train." etc. So, to boost the learning of those who do not have full immersion we need to introduce grammar to teach these items.


Some people try teaching it because some people try learning it :) I'm one of those people who doesn't bother trying to "understand" grammar - It just comes to me over time. But some people out there do try understanding it, so it's nice that they provide the information. We all learn in our own ways.


What's your first language?


Thank you! My first language is Estonian. It's a very small country in the north of Europe, but I've spent a lot of time in an environment where English was spoken and am currently living in a country where English is the official language.


Thank you for your input, guys, I appreciate it! I may be wrong, but in my opinion it's not too different from let's say swimming or riding a bike. You acquire the skill by being constantly exposed to the environment (either real or simulated) and you create your own personal interpretation of how it's done. Your personal interpretation more or less corresponds to the perceived standard way of doing the activity.

However, it's fiendishly difficult to explain by words alone how to swim or ride a bike to someone who hasn't unconsciously acquired the skill. You know that swimming is done "this way" and riding a bike is done "that way", but if you try to write a book about the rules for people who can't swim or ride a bike, it's much too complicated: "move your hand in a certain way in one situation and another way in another situation, but only if your bodyweight is less than X and the water is completely still, etc". There seems to be way too many factors involved... and you have to make split-second decisions when doing the activity, just like when you're having a real life conversation with a native speaker of the language.

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