5 Ways to learn gramar without a grammar book

If you want to speak accurately and confidently with native speakers then grammar is an important part of language learning. However if you are like me, whenever you have gone to study grammar in the traditional sense, either from a grammar book or through exercise drills, shortly after starting I find myself, fed-up, bored and wanting to find anything else to do.

I find the whole approach in general, a very unnatural and just not very fun way to learn. So here are five alternative fun ways in which you can learn and practice grammar, as well as practicing and improving other skills as you go.

 

1 - Input

This is probably something most people don't associate with learning grammar, but the best and most valuable way by far is just by absorbing content. By spending time with the language, listening and reading you are naturally exposed to all of the correct language and constructions used, as well as building up your comprehension and understanding of the language while you go.

Research by Stephen Krashen has shown that the only way we acquire a new language is through comprehensible input. This means listening and reading to material that we can make sense out of. At a beginners level this will be short dialogues, with transcripts and wordlists to help us make sense of it, and as we get better we progress onto more interesting and demanding content.

While listening and intensive reading reading are both valuable ways of picking up grammar, probably the most powerful form of input for this is extensive reading. Reading content you are comfortable with and enjoy, and exposing yourself to large volumes of material you will be exposed to the correct constructions over and over again. Unlike listening we can take our time and notice more, see the structures in front of us and with enough repetition to let all of the structures  sink in naturally.

 

2 - SRS Flashcards

This might seem like an odd activity to associate with grammar, especially considering when a lot of people think of flashcards, they think of learning single words out of context.

Well this is a mistake, we should always be learning from context and whenever we transfer words over to our flashcards we should always make sure to take the entire sentence or at least the phrase. Otherwise we run the risk of memorizing a ton of words, and not being able to use any of them or even understand them in context.

So how do flashcards help with learning grammar? Well, this depends how we use them. If we add loads of sentences to our decks, with our target language on the front, and an English translation on the back. Similar to extensive reading, we will get exposed to the correct structures over and over again. This is better for learning specific, more difficult constructions, as we get exposed to the same sentence many times through our deck.

The other alternative, which is what I recommend doing in the earlier stages, is to put English on side 1, and your target language on side 2. This way, we see the English and practice recalling the sentence in our target language from memory. If we get the word order or conjuration wrong, we instantly see the correct version straight after. Recall, followed by instant feedback, built into the SRS system is a very efficient way both to learn new words and improve grammar at the same time.

However there are limitations to this method. For one there are multiple ways to say the same sentence, so although what you say may be right, it might not necessarily be the answer on your card. Also, past the Beginner and lower intermediate stages, there is only so much exposure you can get through flashcards, which is why this should supplement and not replace our listening and reading.

 

3 - Keeping a diary

Keeping a diary is probably my favorite option on this list. Not only can we learn words that are relevant to us by writing about things we are interested in, but also we can pick up grammar as we go.

When we write stuff down, compared to speaking the whole process is much slower. Combined with the fact that seeing the words down in front of us makes us a lot more conscious of how we word things, and a lot more conscious of our mistakes.

The main problem with writing, is that it can be hard to get feedback, and without feedback then we won't know what our mistakes are, and won't be able to improve our grammar.

If on the other hand we get it corrected by a native speaker, we can compare the corrected version with the original and easily identify our gaps.

We can easily post entries online to be corrected for free using websites such as lang8 or italki, and all we need to do in return is correct texts from our native language. Using this in combination with other items on this list, such as putting the corrected sentences into flashcards, or speaking about the topics with your teacher will really help to take your learning to the next level.

 

4 - Speaking

Speaking either with a tutor or with a language partner online is a great way to improve our grammar. If we make a mistake we can get feedback instantly, help get rid of bad habits and improve as we go. Additionally we build up our speaking ability and listening comprehension.

Again here, the key is feedback. Similar to writing, just output alone won't be enough to improve if we are not getting any feedback from our mistakes, so it's best to find a partner or teacher on a website like italki, or an app such as hellotalk.

Another key thing to point out is here, is that in the initial stages the main focus should be on communication and not grammar. Therefore the teacher correcting every single one of your mistakes could harm your confidence and be counter productive. Everyone has difference preferences and learning styles, so it is important to communicate to your tutor exactly what it is you want, so they can help you better in your lessons.

If you want to focus on grammar, then be sure to ask them to correct your mistakes, and to go a step further what I find really helpful. is for them to make a note and send it to you at the end of the lesson. This can easily be done in the chat box over skype or with tools such as google docs. And if they send you example sentences, then you can also combine this with flashcards to get the repetition we need to learn.

 

5 - Apps

There are a lot of apps available for free on smartphones now, such as Duolingo, that you can use to help you learn a language wherever you go. While these apps by themselves are very limited, there are a few exercises to help you practice output, and word order.

By utilizing a spare few minutes here and there throughout the period of a day, this can be a fun way to get some extra exposure and improve your grammar without needing huge time commitments or investments of energy.

 

Conclusion

 

Language learning is a holistic process, and we shouldn't be practicing single skills in isolation. If you look at the recommendations on this list they either fall into one of two categories. Getting exposure to the language, or output followed by feedback.

Taking this approach to learning grammar we can build up all of our skills at the same time, while also improving grammar as we go.

A quick caveat to end is that when first starting out learning a language, we shouldn't let learning grammar slow us down. What I mean by this, is that the most important aspect is communication. If we freeze every time we go to speak, worrying about word order, and verb endings and so on, we will never get to a point where we are confident at speaking.

We will always make mistakes, even when I use English, so striving for perfection will only slow us down in the long run. If you follow these five steps, you will not only improve your grammar, but your listening, reading, writing and speaking will all improve at the same time.

Do you like studying grammar? If you don't, then what approach do you take? Leave a comment and let me know!