That really is the question, because few aspects of English cause new speakers of the language quite so much anguish. People who are used to clear, precise grammatical rules find the challenges English grammar makes to be both eccentric and, often, puzzling.
The fact that native English speakers themselves often have little grammatical knowledge does not really help matters, either; they are quite prepared to justify an unusual word order, a totally illogical verb ending or the vagaries of spelling with a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘Well, that’s just the way it is kind of comment.
And yet millions of students such as yourself, coming to English as a second or even a third language, have managed to learn English grammar successfully. So let’s look at some ideas that can help point you in the right direction.
o Enjoy Learning
The worst way to learn anything is to just keep on relentlessly working your way through a textbook, hour after hour. Even the most motivated people struggle to maintain their enthusiasm. One of the key things to remember about how to learn English grammar is to make sure you find some ways that let you have FUN! Yes, believe it or not, it is grammatically correct to use the word’s grammar and fun in the same sentence. There are all sorts of specially produced educational games, both for children and adults, that can help you with your grammar. These include board games, video games, games you can download from the internet, and even good, old-fashioned Flash Cards. Some of these you can play on your own and some with other people so that you can learn and have fun with other students of English.
o Begin your studies of grammar by Reading and Listening
Of the four key skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing, the easiest in terms of picking up the grammar, are those of reading and listening when you are receiving information rather than trying to give information to someone else. Of course, as in all languages, spoken grammar is not as strict with the rules as written, which makes it more straightforward. Push yourself on to more formal English grammar when you feel confident in yourself with the spoken word. Now, you will be learning about various verb tenses, types of sentences, and technical aspects of language, which can be complicated. Begin with simple aspects, though, and progress steadily and you will soon become familiar with it.
oRead, Read, Read, and then read some more
Read anything that you can in English – whether it be a newspaper, a comic book, a magazine or the instructions on a packet. What you read does not matter – the very act of reading and looking at the ways in which the sentences are structured, the tenses used and the words ordered will be the perfect way to see how the language fits together. It’s a good idea, too, to remember grammatical aspects that look confusing to you, so that you can think about them and perhaps look them up in a textbook later.
o Set yourself targets
It’s always a good idea to give yourself certain targets to set out to achieve. Give yourself some realistic targets that you can try to reach – perhaps some short-term ones, for a week, and some longer-term ones to really strive for. When you reach your targets, give yourself a little treat as a reward for your hard, successful work. Regularly setting targets and assessing your progress is one sure way of keeping your level of motivation high. There are times when everybody’s energy levels and sense of commitment drop just a little, but, if your targets are clear and you are choosing enjoyable study techniques, then you will be able to win through these battles. After all, you know it will be well worth it in the end.
Finally, my last piece of advice about how to learn English grammar is not to let it overwhelm you. A famous language teacher once said that the most important thing about communicating in a foreign language is the same as the important thing about tennis – you have to get the ball over the net. In other words, as long as the person on the other side of the net – listening to you talk or reading what you have written – is able to understand you, that’s what really matters. If you can hit a wonderful tennis shot – or be absolutely exact with your grammar – then that’s a lovely bonus, but it’s not the only thing to worry about.
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Maysaa has been an English teacher for over 20 years, beginning in her native country, and now in Abu Dhabi. She has worked with all levels of learning, both beginning and advanced, and with children as well as adults. Her site has lots of resources for English learners of all ages and levels of learning. Lots of games and activities, with tips on how to become more proficient in English.