"I'm so afraid, I'm so afraid, I'm so afraid... I'm so afraid I have wrong grammar. "
My student today was so afraid about his grammar, that even after expressing his worry multiple times, he still made errors.
Here’s a secret: learning to speak English fluently is not so much about grammar as it is about confidence.
What is grammar? It is the system or structure of language that allows us to understand each other.
The way I see it, grammar has two purposes. The first is to help us understand each other by correctly conveying meaning; the second is style.
Forget number two for now. It’s something that takes a long time to develop, and honestly the best way to do it is by reading a lot of good books.
When you’re studying English, however, it helps to focus on grammar in the context of clearly conveying meaning. Beyond that you need to let it go and focus on conversational fluency.
Here’s an example of how a basic understanding of grammar is necessary for conveying meaning:
I go to the mall on weekend.
Are you going to the mall this weekend, or did you go last weekend?
Correct variations of this sentence are:
I went to the mall last weekend. I'm going to the mall this weekend. I want to go to the mall this weekend.
Here’s an example of grammar for what I will call style, with no effect on meaning:
I live here for six years.
Anyone will understand what you mean here, even though the correct sentence is:
I've been living here for six years.
Not confident with the present perfect tense yet? Keep it simple and focus on getting people to understand you clearly.
Here’s another approach. Let’s take a look at the following sentence:
I want to go to the mall.
If we underline the words in this sentence that are critical for conveying meaning, we have only two: go and mall. If you say to someone, “go mall”, they will understand that’s where you want to go. If you say it with a question mark and the appropriate gesture, they will understand that you’re asking if they want to go to the mall with you.
Of course you'd want to sound a little more literate than “go mall”, but let's focus on the essentials first.
Step 1: Get out there and speak as much as you can.
Step 2: Read well-written books, news article, and blogs to improve your use of grammar and idioms and develop style.
If you have a class with me, you’ll see that I focus on fluency first. I don’t want to discourage you from talking comfortably by making you worry about your grammar, and I don’t want to spend too much time studying the infinite rules of the English language either.
I will help you learn the things that matter most, and we will absolutely work on improving your grammar and style, but we will do so through casual conversation and not tedious grammar lectures.
Let’s talk today! Remember, don’t stress about grammar.
Vocabulary: convey: verb; communicate context: the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed critical: having crucial importance in the success or failure of something infinite: limitless or endless; impossible to count tedious: adjective; too long, slow, or dull: tiresome