Why study grammar?



Our guest post today comes from Joel Baker, the foreign language tutor at Dreaming Spires.

Think of a car. If I lift the hood/bonnet* what do I find? Lots of Things: Things that do things that make the car work. You may have noticed already that I am not a mechanic. I have little understanding of those Things and even less interest in them, but I want them to work, because I want to drive the car to places.

It is quite possible to drive a car (a bit) without even knowing that there is anything underneath that metal lid at the front end, but as a car-owner, I have discovered that it is really helpful to know at least a little about those Things - and even how to do things to help them do what they're meant to do, so that the car keeps working. For example, I have often needed to jump-start the engine by giving the battery a boost, to top up the radiator reservoir with anti-freeze and water and the engine with lubricating oil.

I won't go any deeper into my analogy because I'm getting bored of it! I am much more interested in the inner workings of language than I am in that of cars. As with cars, so with languages: you can speak a language without having any idea what's going on underneath the bonnet/hood, as it were: in fact, most people in the world do just that with their mother tongue.

I do not expect you to share my nerd-like fascination with the inner workings of languages, but just as it is useful for a car-owner to understand some things about how cars work and what to do to help them keep working, it is very useful for a language learner to understand some of the things (the main things) that are involved in the functioning of that language.

If you are not planning to learn a foreign language, it can still be useful to understand grammar, to improve the clarity and style of your writing, for instance, and, of course, it can be a genuinely fascinating object study, since it is something that you use every day without knowing what exactly you're doing or why! However, it is for learners of foreign languages that the study of grammar is particularly helpful: to supercharge your learning by giving you insight into what to do to improve your linguistic ability; by enabling you to ask the right questions and to find their answers; and by helping you to correct and avoid mistakes. 

Essentially, you become conscious of how you are using language, and that is very beneficial indeed. A student who doesn't understand essential grammar can never be a truly independent learner of languages. It is to equip you as an independent and successful language learner that I have devised this little course.

*Bonnet is British; hood is American.

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