learning grammar does not make you fluent

With the strong movement towards multilingualism, there has been an uprising of language teaching apps, programs and websites that promises to make you fluent in a language. And gradually, many users flock towards these new sites with the hopes of attaining this goal.

However, it has been shown that these programs mostly focus on teaching you grammar rules. And even though it is commonly believed that it is more than enough to attain fluency in a language, sadly, it is not. Because more and more proof has shown that learning grammar rules does not have anything to do with fluency.

This is such a surprising yet essential fact that you should try to understand. As it will help you better maneuver yourself and your team, if you are looking to learn a new language online. So in this post, we will dive into uncovering the answers to this question, thanks to our friends at Pulse, who enlisted the help of a few university professors in the Linguistic and Second Languages programs.

So, without further ado, let’s begin!

1. There is an improvement in your grammar and vocabulary, but not much in your conversational skills.

One of the first goals of fluency is to communicate effectively with others in that specific language. That means when it comes to having natural conversations, you are able to keep up without much trouble. Complete fluency is the end goal of almost all new language learners.

But the problem arises when learners are hoping to gain fluency by using language-learning apps and websites alone. These programs mostly focus on expanding your vocabulary and teaching you the grammar rules of that language. And though these are essential to learning, they don’t translate well into excellent conversational skills. Often the apps teach irrelevant vocabulary and knowing a grammar rule does not mean you can use it in real conversation. It doesn’t hurt you per se, but it does not mean you can speak the language.

2. What does the brain tell us?

Did you know that tapping into our brains will allow us to see the most effective way to learn a new language? Thanks to the studies of Kara Morgan-Short, Professor of Hispanic, Linguistics, and Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), this exciting act is all possible!

Through her studies, with the use of electrophysiology, we can pick up electrical waves produced when our brains are processing a language, whether you are learning a new language or speaking in your native tongue.

Kara’s studies used two groups: one group was taught grammar rules while the other group was not. After which they were given an assessment, and both groups did exceptionally well. But what was surprising was that using electrophysiology, we can see that the brain waves of the group that were not taught grammar rules, were closely similar to the brain waves of native speakers. Shocking, right? Well, not to us really. We’ve ‘felt’ this since we started learning languages to be honest.

Micah, Founder of TruFluency, an online language school, has gotten fluent in 3 languages as an adult. Since learning Spanish better just hanging out with people rather than in the classroom, she decided to try learning French and Japanese in the same way: 10% grammar explanations and 90% just chatting. She got more fluent and actually ‘sounds’ more native than the other students using the same teacher for the same number of hours. They focused on passing written tests, while Micah focused on chatting.

Micah might not be able to answer why she uses a certain preposition or article, but that wasn’t her goal. She didn’t want to pass a grammar rules quiz; she wanted to be fluent! And don’t get me wrong, her grammar is awesome, but she has native-like grammar, which means she doesn’t always know why something is right, she just feels it – like a native speaker.

This intriguing experiment only proves that grammar may not play a vital function in gaining fluency.

Dr. Kara Morgan-Short further explained that when you speak in your native language, grammar rules hardly play a role. We don’t naturally conjugate verbs or focus on our grammar rules when speaking in an everyday conversation in our native languages, and many people speak their native language just fine, without knowing one grammar rule.

3. “Nonsensical” way of learning

Because there is an emphasis on grammar and vocabulary, many language-learning software fail to identify the most critical aspect of teaching a new language, which is practicing useful sentences so we can hold meaningful, natural dialogues.

Shawn Loewen, professor of Second Languages at the University of Michigan, stated that when he was carrying out his experiments on language-learning apps, he found that they tend to use “non-sensical” sentences. For example, “The cat is drinking tea in March.” Even though these sentences can teach you new words or practice grammar rules, they don’t help you in everyday conversations. Therefore, you will not achieve fluency by taking this approach.

So, what should you do?

We are not disregarding the usefulness of language-learning software, as you will gradually learn something, and when there is no one else to speak to, software is the only way we have to connect to the language. It is also a fun and entertaining way to learn a new language. However, you will have to set realistic goals. For one, by only focusing on grammar and vocabulary, you will not gain fluency. And two, your rate of learning will be much slower and you could get frustrated with the process.

So what are ways to learn faster and with a goal of fluency (ability to speak easily with others)?

If you are looking for you and your team/employees to learn quickly and more efficiently, then focusing on your grammar is not the way to go. Rather, you should fully immerse yourself by learning from a professional language tutor who can guide your team towards attaining your language goals. By practicing the correct pronunciation from day 1 and everyday speech, you will be fast-tracked towards fluency in no time!

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Interested in learning more? Then don’t hesitate to contact us for more advice on language training for you and your team. We are happy to help!