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Best Ways to Learn English Grammar Step by Step

By Dr Norman

There are two main approaches to teaching and learning advanced English grammar that I want to share with you today. One main approach is called the “skills based” approach. In this approach, you learn grammar by learning and practising the rules. This is probably an approach that you have seen in lots of books, websites, on English or ESL forums, and in videos.

The second main approach is to learn grammar by using language in context. In this approach, you try to use everyday English just like native speakers do. This approach is similar to the natural way that children learn their native language. It involves using English as much as you can; all the time if possible. It also involves a lot of ‘trial and error’, where you speak and write as best you can in the situation, and get feedback.

So what’s the best way to learn English grammar step by step?

There is no doubt that both approaches can make a difference to your learning, but when you combine them, you get the best of both worlds. This can really ‘power’ your grammar learning, helping you to achieve your goals quicker.

How can you take advantage of the power of both of these approaches to ‘super-charge’ your progress?  The answer to this question depends on three main things: (i) the approach you are currently using or have used, (ii) your current level of English, and (iii) what is available to you. Let’s look at each of these, so that you can optimise your learning and learn English grammar step by step.

1.      Which approach to grammar have you been using?

The first step is to work out which approach you have been using, and to see how you feel about this approach. Some people like rules. They like to know what’s right and what’s wrong, and they like to analyse what is going on. The skills based approach suits them well. Others prefer to ‘get a feel’ for the language. They like to hear it and get comfortable with it. They are happy just to get their idea across. They are not too worried about making mistakes. Immersing themselves in English and ‘trying it out’ suits them well. Of course, many people like a mix of these approaches.

Once you understand how you have been learning and how you feel about this, look at how you can better use both approaches. If you have been predominantly learning your grammar by trying to speak and write ‘in context’, then add some skills. Focus your skills study carefully. Make sure that you get an understanding of the overall structure for grammar before you start learning specifics such as a particular tense or word form. This includes understanding the structure of the sentence, the paragraph and the essay. Then look at your own speech and writing. How can you incorporate or use the skills you are learning? See if you can use them to edit or correct your own work. See if you can get your sentences grammatically correct on your own before you ask for feedback.

If you have been predominantly learning through a skills-based approach, then increase your ‘learning in context’ or use of everyday English. Many skills-based approaches focus on the sentence. So it is very important to apply your understanding of grammar rules in extended language, such as stories, newspaper articles, and films. Read and listen to extended language, and then look closely at the English used. Apply your analytic skills. How were the rules of grammar used in real English? How did the grammar affect meaning? What does this mean for your own speaking and writing? Don’t be frightened of trying and making mistakes. It’s can be a very useful way to learn.

2.      What can you do in English and what do you need to improve?

Different approaches to grammar can suit different stages of learning. Beginners often start with a ‘language in context’ approach. To help them learn the grammar, teachers often give them examples of sentences that they could use. However, once beginners start getting serious and want to develop to an intermediate level of language, they need structured skills-based practise as well as lots of examples of real English in context. By the time students reach an advanced level and are quite proficient in English use, they may still need grammar instruction on specific points of grammar as they use and improve their English in real-life.

You can see that at different stages of learning, you might need a different balance of approaches: a bit more of one and a bit less of the other. Look carefully at your stage of English development. Consider what you need to learn. Are you at an advanced stage with a good grasp of English grammar? If so, you may just need to check specific points of grammar in books, on videos or in online forums. Are you at an intermediate stage, able to generally express yourself, but consistently making errors and having some difficulty expressing complex ideas? If so, you may need to incorporate both approaches more equally.

3.      Which services are available to you?

Finally, you need to look at what you can do on your own through reading, writing and using freely available resources. Also consider where you may benefit from expert guidance. Expert guidance can ease the load and help you to make progress in good time. Such expert guidance can come in the form of a tutor, course or program. An expert can structure your learning so that you learn English grammar step by step and gain knowledge efficiently and effectively. See my blogs on selecting the Best Teachers and the Best courses for extra help in getting the best expert guidance you can.

By matching the right balance of approaches with (i) your stage of English development, (ii) your style of learning and (iii) the available services, you will find the best way for you to learn grammar.

19th  February 2016

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