Don’t Start with Grammar! Beginners Take Note!

What, you don’t have to start with grammar? I was trained to teach it! But I found that most polyglots were saying not to study grammar, at least at first.”You pick it up as you go along,” they said. My first reaction: “Can’t be true!” Second reaction: “I’ll try it!” I started to learn Italian and actually avoided grammar lessons…and to my amazement, it worked!

Why? I had followed another piece of advice, to learn phrases rather than single words. Listening, listening , listening and then repeating out loud, ‘shadowing’. I began to notice patterns and thought “I wonder if this is the way it works.” I checked in a grammar book and, whether my guess was right or wrong, it was something I was genuinely curious to know at that moment …and so remembering was really easy.

The problem with a course of lessons based on grammar is that it’s an artificial, straitjacket approach to language. Themes and vocabulary are chosen to suit the structures being taught, and they are often pretty uninspiring. To be honest, the colours and names of fruit and vegetables don’t feature highly in my conversations, or even thoughts, in my native language… so why do I need to learn them in my target language? They’ll be easy enough to find and learn when and if I actually go shopping. It’s much more engaging to practise genders and agreements with vocabulary I actually want to use for genuine communication!

Every beginner’s course starts off with really useful stuff like greetings, finding your way around, etc. As long as your chosen course gives you mostly phrases rather than single words, with natural native speaker recordings to listen to and mimic, you’ll find yourself mixing and matching and finding what you want to say much more quickly than working out how to construct a correct grammatical sentence. Give it a try!



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