Hello to Lidia and all of our World Service readers,
I hope that you enjoyed your day off, Lidia! You sound like you need to take it easy for a while to recover after all of your efforts last week! I hope you’ve had a good rest today and that tomorrow you will be ready to start again, relaxed and refreshed!
Thanks for all of the comments about today’s topic: learning grammar. Reading through the comments, it is clear that everyone recognises the importance of studying grammar. Some of you have already studied too much (at school), while others have not learned enough! Let’s think about grammar in a different way! As I have already used many metaphors to describe language learning, I’m going to use a new one today: sport!
The comparison between sport, language learning and grammar may seem a little strange at first, so let me explain! Think about a professional sportsperson such as an athlete or a footballer. To stay in a condition of peak physical fitness, an athlete or football player trains every single day. Their physical training programme involves all round fitness: strength, stamina, agility, speed. So, although a football player is famous for earning his money on the football pitch, there is a tremendous amount of training (and self-discipline!) behind the scenes that we never see. And think about this: what would happen if the players didn’t warm up their muscles properly before a match? Things that seem small and simple can actually be crucial to success!
Perhaps it is useful to think of grammar as an exercise that increases your agility and strength with language. Studying grammar on its own will not make you fluent in a second language, but your understanding of language use should be based in grammatical competence. Think of grammar as the physical exercises that athletes or football players do: regular practice to prepare you for the big game!
How to study grammar
Make the best use of your time by studying efficiently. Don’t waste time by working through a grammar book from the first page. Concentrate on your weakest areas. Some grammar books include diagnostic tests you can take to identify your weak areas. You could also try an online diagnostic test (many free ones available, use Google).
Self-study books usually divide grammar up into different sections. To maximise learning, (i) answer questions in one section (ii) check your answers (iii) try to work out the grammar rule yourself (iv) read the grammar explanation provided in the book to check your understanding. Think of grammar as a problem solving task rather than facts that you have to absorb.
Study in context
Make your study sessions as practical as possible. Do not worry about memorising every single “exception” to the rule; afterall, you may never need to use them! The best way to learn through context is by “noticing” grammatical patterns. For example, as you read today’s blog, what do you notice about the use of prepositions / adjectives / adverbs? You are more likely to learn if you are motivated to understand something (more about motivation below!).
Let’s face it, for most people, the study of grammar is quite dull, and it’s not a particularly attractive option. So, find a way to motivate yourself! This could be studying for a certificate, such as the CAE or CPE; taking part in an online community like this one; planning a trip abroad or trying to find an international pen-pal.
Choosing a self-study book
If you buy a grammar book with exercises, make sure it provides answers at the back! Also check the level of the book, as many are graded. Try to answer a few questions and see if the book is too easy or too difficult for you. Also, consider a textbook which integrates grammatical points into general language improvement. Many textbooks for the IELTS or CAE/CPE examinations adopt this approach.
Short and sweet
Finally, keep your study of grammar as short and sweet as possible. It’s far better to do ten or fifteen minutes of study two or three times a week, than to spend hours and hours trying to learn everything in the book. This will keep you motivated and may also help your long-term memory and understanding. It’s not easy to make sense of new information all at once. So, relax and take it easy! Sometimes our brain takes time to process information and form connections with what we already know. Small, regular study sessions may facilitate this process.
I hope this advice helpful!
That’s all for now,
USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
day off (noun)
a day spent away from work
take it easy (phrase)
qualities of one thing are given to another (here, sport and language learning)
physical fitness (noun)
health and ability to take part in physical activity
ability to keep going
quick moving, graceful
making good use of time or a resource
able to find problems
increase, make the most of
based in reality, down-to-earth
person to correspond with
make sense of
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