Eight ways to learn English grammar!
How useful is grammar for learning a language? And what can you do to improve your knowledge of it?
Grammar alone isn’t going to help you speak a language. However, learning some basic patterns can be useful. For example, if you know the negative past tense is formed with didn’t + a verb, you can produce hundreds of useful sentences: I didn’t go, she didn’t see it, we didn’t do it…” So, what can you do to improve your knowledge of grammar? There are two things: firstly, you need to learn how to form sentences; secondly, you need to know how to use the structures. Here are 8 things you can do to achieve those two objectives:
Forming basic structures
1 Verb tenses
When it comes to studying grammar, the best thing you can do is to focus on verb tenses* as this will help you communicate in English. Firstly, you need to find out how the tenses are formed. In order to do this, simply get hold of a grammar book, choose a tense and read about it. Then, do some basic exercises online or in an exercise book to practice forming the structure.
2 Verb tables
A good way to learn how to form tenses is by memorising verb tables. A basic verb table will show you how verbs are conjugated. In order to memorise the verb tables you could study them for a bit, then try to write them out yourself without looking. Having the structures firmly in your head will make reproducing them much easier. And you won’t have to think or translate – the structures will just come out automatically.
3 Grammatical sentences
Another good method is to create a list of grammatical sentences. For example, if you were focusing on the Present Simple, you could write sentences like, “Keira lives in America”, or “Jack doesn’t like it.” Then, make a recording of the sentences (or get a native speaker to do it for you). In your freetime, you can listen to the sentences and repeat them out loud after the speaker. The idea is to practise them until you’ve learnt them by heart and you can say them without thinking.
4 Grammar drills
You can also use grammar drills to develop your ability to form negatives or questions. You can do them on your own, with a friend or with your teacher. Simply say a sentence in a particular tense, then create the negative or question forms. For example: She went to the shops. / She didn’t go to the shops. / Did she go to the shops? You could use your list of grammatical sentences from the previous paragraph for this.
Understanding how to use basic structures
Now comes the hard part: learning how to use the structures.
5 An overview
The first thing you want to do is to get a quick overview of how the verb tenses are used. For example, most basic grammar books will tell you that the Present Simple is sometimes used for giving opinions: I think it’s good / We don’t like it. Most verb tenses have a few basic “rules” of usage like this that you can learn in a matter of minutes.
6 Using the language
Once you’ve got a basic understanding of the tenses, you need to practise using them when you’re speaking or writing. You also need to read and listen to lots of English so you can see the language in context.
7 Common mistakes
As you’re speaking or writing, make a note of any mistakes you make, or ask a teacher or friend to help you. Then, work on trying to eliminate these mistakes. For example, if you keep saying, “He like it” instead of “He likes it”. Try repeating the sentence 10 times a day until you’ve got it firmly implanted in your mind.
8 Reading & listening
However, the best way to improve your knowledge of grammar is by reading and listening. Children learn their first language without studying any grammar – they simply pick it up naturally by being exposed to it. You can do the same if you read and listen to English enough. In fact, the more you read and listen, the more language you’ll absorb, and the more you’ll see how the language fits together (which is what grammar is all about). So, read articles in English, watch TV series, listen to the news, read a magazine, watch YouTube videos, read a graded reader, listen to audio files from language courses… the options are limitless!
Language is all about communication – it isn’t a set of rules. And the end objective isn’t to have perfect “grammar”, it’s to communicate effectively. Grammar has its part to play, but it shouldn’t be the central focus of your learning. It’s interesting to find out about the order of adjectives, the use of articles, or the position of adverbs. However, you’ll learn much more through reading, listening, writing and speaking the language!
Copyright © 2014 by Hot English Publishing
The main verb tenses in English are: the verb to be, the Present Simple, the Present Continuous, the Past Simple, the Present Perfect, the Present Perfect Continuous, Future forms (will + a verb; be + going to + a verb), the Future Continuous, the Future Perfect, Modal verbs, the Past Continuous, Passive forms, the Past Perfect and Conditionals (zero, I, II, III).
■ grammar n = the way that words are combined or joined to make sentences
■ a pattern n = a “pattern” is the way something happens again and again or many times
■ to memorise vb = if you “memorise” something, you learn it so that you can remember it exactly
■ to conjugate vb = if you “conjugate” a verb, you create the different forms: I run, you run, she runs, etc.
■ to learn by heart exp = if you “learn something by heart”, you learn it so you can say it exactly without having to read it
■ to pick up phr vb = to learn
■ to expose vb = if you’re “exposed” to language, you hear it or see it
■ to absorb vb = if you “absorb” information, you learn and understand it
■ to fit together exp = the way a language “fits together” is the way that the words join or combine to form sentences, phrases, expressions, etc.
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