Seeing Grammar Differently

Seeing Grammar Differently cover

Do you hate grammar? Does the idea of spending long hours studying make you wish you didn't have to learn your target language? If so, this article can help by providing you with a different way to view grammar that will hopefully make it much more fun, interesting and quicker to learn.

Do you hate grammar? Does the idea of spending long, boring hours studying, maybe late into the night, make you wish you didn't have to learn English or whatever language you're learning? I know how you feel. However, I would like to discuss how I view grammar and how this makes grammar... fun!

It's mostly an issue of how you view grammar and the priority of different parts of it. Perception is a very powerful thing. Many students see grammar as boring, something to be avoided if at all possible. I personally see grammar as a wonderful tool that drastically expands my ability in a language, no matter what level I'm at.

From sentence structure to verbs and more, read on to find out how you too may come to enjoy grammar and use it to increase how fast and how well you can learn a language!

Simpler Pieces

Let's start off with a simple example. In Spanish, there are three types of verb endings: -ar, -er, and -ir:

  • amar (to love)
  • comer (to eat)
  • abrir (to open)

First, we discover that in many cases, -er and -ir verbs share conjugation patterns. This is one extremely helpful point that automatically reduces your stress because there is less work than if each ending had completely different conjugations.

Following this idea, we can take a look at a common -ar verb, am****ar. The present tense is an obvious first task for a new learner of Spanish, so how do we conjugate amar in the present tense?

  • amo (I love)
  • amas (you love)
  • ama (he/she/[it] loves)
  • amamos (we love)
  • aman (they/you all love)

We can easily see that you simply replace the -ar ending with the appropriate person (I, you, etc.). That's useful to know, but even more useful (and one of the biggest points of this article) is that now you can conjugate any regular -ar verb in Spanish in the present tense. Though there are a couple differences when it comes to -er and -ir verbs, you can use the same approach, and then you will be able to conjugate any regular verb in the present tense. Congratulations, you have taken a huge step in Spanish!

Speaking of regular verbs, another shortcut is to find out which verbs are irregular. There are always less irregular verbs in a language than there are regular ones, and in the case of at least some languages, like Spanish, many irregular verbs are based on simpler forms. An example of this is tener (to have). There are also similar verbs such as contener (to contain), mantener (to maintain/keep), and detener (to stop/detain). All of these verbs conjugate exactly like tener!

More Example Areas for Grammar

Adjectives: In Spanish, adjectives almost always follow nouns (red car > car red). In Japanese, adjectives, like verbs, are conjugated! Example: akai (red) > akai, akakunai, akakatta****, akakunakatta, etc.

Sentence structure: Some languages, such as Japanese (or to some extent German) follow a very different, but consistent, sentence pattern. In Japanese, verbs always come at the end (I read a book > Watashi wa hon wo yomimasu = I a book read). In German, we find that second verbs come at the end (I can read a book > Ich kann ein buch lesen = I can a book read).

Prepositions: Prepositions are generally a nightmare, especially when it comes to phrasal verbs in English. Even so, a basic knowledge of prepositions, even if you don't always use them right, is a necessity. I personally dislike prepositions, but because I see them as very useful for expanding my ability to understand and communicate (even if imperfectly), I'm very motivated to study them and see how they work with the rest of the language.

Have Fun with Mistakes!

Mistakes are very important. Think of the first time you rode a bike. Did you fall? Maybe. If you didn't fall, did you have perfect balance? Probably not. Whenever we learn something new, mistakes are unavoidable.

When we were young, things were a bit easier because we weren't afraid to make mistakes, especially in terms of language. Now that we're older, we're more aware of our peers (and the pressure that comes with that awareness).

Be confident! Tell yourself that you are a ____ speaker (English, Spanish, Polish, Japanese, etc.). By feeling confident and choosing to embrace mistakes rather than hide from them, not only will your language learning journey be more enjoyable and fun, but you will improve faster!

However, don't go to the other extreme by ignoring your mistakes. Mistakes are precious tools that show us how to do things correctly. So, if you truly want to learn a language (especially if you want to learn it a little faster), make mistakes, make mistakes, and make more mistakes, and don't forget to learn from them. Enjoy your mistakes even! Half the mistakes I make I simply laugh at.


Finally, we have priority. Learning a language can feel overwhelming, especially with all that grammar! Fortunately, you don't have to learn everything at once and you don't have to be perfect. So how do we choose what's most important to learn and when? This depends on your level and your interests. Things as basic as the present tense will be needed by everyone. However, if you're just a casual tourist in Mexico, or you just want to have basic conversations with a family member who only speaks French, you probably don't need to learn the subjunctive mood, for example.

But it's largely about your level. Start with the simple tenses (present, past, future) and things like sentence structure, how adjectives work, etc. Break things down into simpler parts, such as with regular -ar verbs in Spanish, instead of simply studying the present tense.

This is all common sense. However, an aspect that is rarely talked about is that not only are these the simple building blocks for more difficult language, they also more or less follow the 80/20 rule. This rule asks: what are the things that you can learn with only 20% of the work, that will give you 80% of the benefits? In other words, what will allow you to communicate faster, better, and with less time actually studying?

Another key point is that I view learning this grammar as a positive, gigantic increase from my previous abilities, and though the increase may be less with more advanced topics, it's still something that I find enjoyable because I gain more keys to unlock more doors in my target language, allowing me to express myself more accurately, naturally, and deeply in less time and with less headaches.

The point of all the above information is that once you discover the basic patterns, whether we're talking about tenses, irregulars, or even sentence structure, you drastically reduce the amount of time and effort it takes to learn the grammar and can instead focus on words and other aspects of the language.

Try looking at the pieces of a sentence or the endings of verbs like placeholders. Learning German and need to use two verbs? The second one goes last. Learning Japanese and want to say something you do? The subject is often dropped, so in most cases just forget it and begin with the rest of the sentence. By viewing grammar in a positive way like this and trying to get the most benefit out of the smallest amount of work, grammar becomes an excellent and interesting gateway to an entirely new world.

As a final word, grammar study won't make you fluent. You have to use what you learn and use it often. My purpose here is to make the grammar learning journey more interesting and motivating by providing a more positive perspective. So, what are you waiting for? Go find those golden keys and walk through the doors of your language learning journey!

Image Sources

Hero Image by Rachel Titiriga (CC BY 2.0)