Should I Study English Grammar? Is It Worth My Time?

Every language learner eventually reaches this point of “English grammar is wasting my time! I just want to talk to people!” Funny thing is, we all know that simply stringing vocabulary words together is not going to cut it.

Long answer short: yes, grammar is worth your time and energy. BUT, I’m not talking about proper English grammar. I’m talking about acceptable English grammar.

Before I can explain what acceptable English grammar is, we’ve got to break down communication.

What Does Communication Mean?

Communication is a message successfully delivered and received. A message successfully delivered, but not received is not communication. If a person understands a message not delivered, then it is an assumption, not communication.

So what does communication consist of? Communication requires at least three parts. Because we like word pictures, let’s call these parts of communication the three legs of a stool: vocabulary, grammar, and paralanguage (things like inflection, body language, and other fun stuff). 

It’s natural for one of these areas to be stronger than the others, but you can’t completely cut off one and still hope to communicate.

For example, if you only learned vocabulary, then you would sound like a bad computer translation. No nuances, inflection, or structure through which to convey meaning. Hence, your ability to express yourself would be severely limited.

Successful communication requires the right words in the right order spoken in the right way.

Should I Prioritize Vocabulary Over Grammar?

Do not put learning vocabulary over grammar. Even if you learned the 20-25,000 words that most Americans recognize in the English language, you would struggle with communicating meaning. 

Words carry meaning, but their meaning is lost if not put in the “right order.” When playing the guitar, you can play all of the chords to a song, but it won’t sound right until you play the chords in a certain order. The same is true for language.

Successful communication requires using the right words in the right order.

But, what does the “right order” mean? You may cringe at the thought of drilling strict grammar rules from boring books into your head. Let me stop you right there.

If you think you NEED proper English grammar to communicate, think again.

The Problem With Proper English Grammar

Proper English grammar is arranging the correct form of words in the correct order. English is a subject-verb-object language (S+V+[O]), so a noun must be the subject, a verb must be the verb, and another noun must be the object (should one be needed): “Josh throws a ball.”

That’s all good and well until the beginner English language learner realizes that he or she cannot pair just any noun with any verb: “Mixer hails dirt.”

Here, we see proper English breaking down. Though “mixer hails dirt” is perfect in English’s S+V+O pattern, it is totally unacceptable in meaning. Mixers don’t hail anything, and dirt cannot be hailed.

You see, we can only pair certain words with other certain words. Yes, a noun “verbs” another noun, but we intentionally pair specific nouns with specific verbs, which again impact specific nouns.

Vocab Prob

So, here’s the thing: if you focus solely or primarily on learning vocabulary, then you may put words that don’t make sense together and cause confusion.

The English dictionary has over 170,000 words, but the average American only recognizes 20,000 – 25,000 of them. Moreover, that same average American only uses about 10,000 of those words in daily life. WHAT?!

This is why many English benchmark exams consider reaching a working vocabulary knowledge of 10,000 words “fluency” in English.

However, how do you know which 10,000 words to study? And how do you learn to pair them in acceptable combinations native English speakers understand and use themselves?

What is Acceptable English Grammar?

Acceptable English grammar is the combination of words into phrases that native English speakers understand and use themselves. English speakers do not define acceptable English by proper grammar rules, but by the need to convey meaning.

There is no formula out there that can tell you exactly what kind of nouns and verbs connect with one another acceptably. Even if there was, that list would be extremely long, with tons of exceptions, and have to update on a monthly basis. English is a living language adopting everything that it touches.

Acceptable grammar evolves as the English language evolves. It is best to learn acceptable English grammar by listening to native speakers.

For more on the difference between acceptable English grammar and proper English grammar, check out our video on YouTube: How to Know the Difference Between Acceptable English and Proper English.

How Can I Study Acceptable Grammar?

The key is to study grammar, vocabulary, and paralanguage together. To focus more on one is to miss out on the whole meaning. Then you need to listen. Listen to native English speakers as much as possible to absorb their natural patterns, word combinations, and ways of speaking.

If you are not living in an English-speaking country, then go to YouTube and watch videos from English speakers in the country you’d like to learn about.

A quick note here: movies and music are great listening practice in moderation. You need to know how normal people speak English. 

Music and movies are heavily scripted for a purpose. Americans don’t speak natural English like they speak in Marvel movies.

Different regions have strong accents. We slur our speech, drop assumed objects, and mumble. Slang differs between cities, cultures, educational and religious backgrounds.

What Came First: Language or Grammar?

Humans love patterns. As such, there is a unique natural order to every language that determines meaning. We created grammar to mark those language patterns. Language came first, then grammar.

Grammar standardizes language. Not too long ago, people from one town to the next had vastly different ways of ordering English words and pronouncing them. It was rather difficult to understand one another back then.

Standardizing English’s patterns and teaching them in schools that children attended put boundaries on how wildly English could get out of hand. 

In other words, thanks to standardized English grammar, we don’t have a Shakespeare in every generation screwing with the language.

Does English Grammar Change?

Try as grey-haired grammarians might, English is always changing and evolving, which means grammar too must update. Technology in the last 30 years alone has had a massive impact on our language.

In ‘95, we talked about sending E-mail messages, but now we simply email each other! And don’t get me started on all of the transliterations imported into English (or vise versa) thanks to globalization. That fun can be had another day.

Is Studying English Grammar Worth My Time and Effort?

Studying acceptable English grammar is worth your time and effort, but studying proper English grammar is probably not worth your precious time.

If you need to pass a test in school or attend an American university, then studying proper English grammar will help you engage in English grammar classes and perform academic writing.

However, if you are an adult who needs to communicate in English efficiently and effectively at work or while living abroad, then traditional grammar textbooks and classes are just going to waste your time.

Instead of investing time and money into traditional grammar classes, you should observe acceptable grammar as it is actively used by native English speakers and writers.

That’s why Josh and I started waiguofriendsenglish.com. We start with natural American English conversations and then break down the grammar. Useful grammar from unscripted conversations gives you exactly what we say and why so you can speak just like an American. Check out one of these free acceptable grammar lessons: Do, Does.

Americans don’t talk like a textbook. Take note of the terms and phrases you hear, the context in which they appear, share them with a fellow English learner, and imitate them. Follow this simple 3-step process to avoid getting stuck in English: Feeling Stuck in English?

Wrap Up

You need to study grammar to understand basic sentence structures, but you should not learn all the intricacies of English grammar and word origins as an intermediate. Intermediate-level English learners should be learning more from observation and practice than a textbook because we don’t talk like a textbook.

Until you begin hearing or reading these more complex patterns and recognizing them, you should focus on more functional grammar spoken and written by native English speakers to make life and communication happen on a daily basis.

Amber
Amber

I am the wife of the man I adore, the mother of two brilliant kids, an English teacher to many wonderful students, and a writer of helpful content for the world. On any given day, you can find me outside working with my hands or sitting in a comfy chair with coffee and my Bible. I love learning languages, creating handmade items, and teaching my kids.

Articles: 12
error: Our content is protected!