Don't Study Grammar or Vocabulary - It Kills Motivation

I’ve recently posted a video regarding the idea that Grammar & Vocabulary study can kill your motivation at a very early stage.
After learning German and Spanish and dabbling in a few other languages, I found that especially as a beginner my motivation and progress dropped rapidly because of ‘traditional’ methods. What do you guys think of this? Did you have a similar experience?


I remember In Ukrainian having a teacher explaining me different constructions. My reply was limited to “OK” as I didn’t know what else what I could say. It was quite boring. I remember in a text book that a lof of vocabulary was intoduced in each chapter. It ended with me being lost with too many words I have not acquired. I remember I was abble to terminate assimil method in Japonese. But I had to restart the method numerous time. Pace at which I was progresing was slower than the pace of the method. Also when you get your vocabulary from small texts, you have no way to review words often. I was restarting to review those texts. I agree also with you about flashcards. You loose a good part of the context needed to retrieve meaning with flashcards. And I really hate vocabulary list. I plainly refuse to work with them.


Quite good just to skim the basic grammar to have the loose pieces of the puzzle somewhere back in the head. I have a 300 page grammar book and I just read a few pages in it now and then when I feel for it not actively trying to memorise or repeat anything.

Then when reading and listening to other more interesting stuff the brain will now and then pick up a piece and put it right.


I know my opinion is probably an unpopular one, but I for one love grammar :). If I don’t learn the basic rules early on, I get extremely frustrated–Why does that word have an S at the end sometimes and other times not?!? What is this “subjunctive” thing you speak of? When does the direct object come before the verb?!?

Just playing devil’s advocate here because I think it’s fair to say that everyone has different learning styles–for me, learning grammar and some basic vocab up front makes it a lot more fun and less confusing. Other people would rather eat slugs. Similarly, some people work best in front of a computer or textbook, others prefer to listen to a podcast while jogging. Some think better in the morning, others at night.

I think the only safe generalization is: the only effective method is the one you will stick to, so, whatever that is… do it! :smile:


I’m on the same side as you—I enjoy learning the intricacies of language and how all the parts work! I’m perfectly happy spending an afternoon reading straight from a grammar.

That being said, I still can’t actually hold a conversation in any of the languages I’ve studied outside my native tongue, so I’m a terrible authority on what actually works to learn (acquire?) a language. :sweat_smile:


Grammar should never be studied individually, but through context. For Grammar, it is highly effective to not study it and invest more time in comprehensible input.
For Vocab however, comprehensible input is extremely slow. If you have a lot of time, sure. But just 10 Minutes a day to study vocab through mnemonic associations and 5 for review, you will see much more results. Is it as fun? No. But it is the better and more effective way. The journey to Fluency is unfortunately not always fun. Just persevere.


I agree, it’s true for me.
Several times I’ve started to learn English, and each time I started with grammar, and each time I quit because I hate learning grammar.
When I haven’t seen any sentence constructions in a language and I try to learn it beforehand, it’s terrible. I just hated learning a language overall and quit several times.
Now I’ve decided to immerse myself in English, and maybe after some time I’ll look at a grammar book, but not now. I’ll quit again, it’s exhausting to try to learn grammar for me. I hate to memorize things by force. I prefer to slowly understand something by trying, by practicing (in all life activities) rather than trying to nail down that damn ‘theory’ with almost no practice. I’ll check grammar after some time when I feel it’s appropriate.


It’s so funny how differently people’s brains work :smile:. I studied Spanish from 7th grade through college, achieved a minor in Spanish literature, lived in Spain for three months, lived next door to Mexico all my life, and never got comfortable using the subjunctive moods.

Determined to defeat this with Portuguese, what did I finally resort to? Memorizing EVERY rule for when the subjunctive moods are used, one at a time, making an effort to use one of them at a time per day, like, all day, talking to myself in Portuguese and repeatedly using that mood in that context. Now I can use the subjunctive moods LOL. I still have to put some thought into it, and won’t pretend that I can use them fluently, but I’m a LOT farther along than I ever was with Spanish.

I mildly hate my friends who just pick up grammar from comprehensible input :rofl: :joy:


The title “Don’t Study Grammar or Vocabulary - It kills Motivation” sounds like a click bait title but also an excuse not to put in the necessary effort to improve. Do I love Grammar & Vocabulary? Eh… NO! I hate it with a passion BUT I understand its importance. I keep forgetting what nouns, verbs, prepositions, conjunctives, etc are and I of course lose motivation, who wouldn’t!

Grammar & Vocabulary are the girlfriends or boyfriends who left you in the lurch and tweeted, facebooked, etc this fact just to embarrass you but we need to get over it by taking very small steps. So I suggest spending a few minutes every other day and learn one “small” simple Grammar & Vocabulary fact. The more complex aspects can wait until you have built up the basic knowledge or you find you REALLY need this information. Also, perhaps someone has already produced a YouTube video explaining what you need in simple terms.

My current grammar issue is learning about using Den, Dem, Des in the German Language. I read up about it in a grammar book, watched a few videos on it and it still hasn’t clicked but it will, it always does… in the end.


I strongly disagree with your click bait title, but what you say in your video matches my experience learning French and German. In other words, sometimes referring to grammar books can be an aid. I do though think beginners can benefit with a little overview of the grammar at the beginning e.g. the German case system, so they don’t get totally confused. They shouldn’t try to learn it, just become aware that cases, grammatical gender and weird verb positions exist.

As for your statement that people don’t have to pronounce words perfectly from the start, it is my belief that you cannot start to pronounce sounds until you can hear them, and that takes a lot of listening.

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When I start a new language, I need to know some grammar. The farther away the language is from English, the more I need. But how much grammar? That depends on the language. Noun cases? Conjugations? Grammatical gender agreement?

The goal is to learn enough to understand sentences, not to memorize a new system called “a grammar”.


That’s fine for you. But I suspect the vast majority of people aren’t like you. Nothing puts a damper on me learning a language than being faced with grammar rules, and no matter how distant a language is from your first language, you don’t “need” to know any grammar up front. It will come naturally as you learn, just as it does with our first language.

My experience with other language learners (and with those who have tried to learn a language but given up) tells me the vast majority of people are more like me than you.

I think the biggest problem in language teaching for the last 50+ years is this idea that students “need” to know grammar. It is an ideology that’s been forced down the throats of students in language classes for a century, and it’s complete BS. I think it’s time we had a revolution focused on dismantling that harmful ideology.

@Pr0metheus You are arguing a bit anecdotal here, aren’t you. As you state yourself, it is fine for him (and me, btw.). I neither see how you can draw a conclusion from a set of maybe a few dozen people you know to the vast majority of mankind nor how this is significant. Everyone has to decide for themself whether and to which extent studying grammar is beneficial when starting to learn a new language. What maybe can be stated is that there is no obligation to study grammar, but there is also none to not to.

In regards to your last paragraph I’d like to subject, though. Even though it might not be necessary to start with grammar studies to begin with, at some point you have to be able to use at least the most common grammars in a reliable manner, at least if you want to use a language beyond everyday chatter. Here in Germany many young native speakers have some significant issues when it comes to correct grammar usage. May it be the cases (genitive, anyone), pronouns and prepositions or the correct tense. The result is an extreme lack when it comes to understanding language where complex relationships needs to be conveyed - and therefore complex grammar is required. It’s similar the other way around when it comes to articulating complex thoughts, too.

How you learn grammar is a completely different story. But judging on native speakers grammar usage the comprehensible input approach, which is mainly what you do when learning your mother tongue, is not the most efficient way to go. Especially if a big part of that input is already floated with errors. If you use a language mainly for reading books, where the text is lectured beforehand than this may not be an issue. But that may not be what the average student does, especially the young ones.


If there are any scientific studies on the issues raised in this thread, please let us know where to find them. Otherwise, we’re all arguing anecdotes, so “tu quoque” is not really a viable counter-argument.

As for your suggestion that comprehensible input is not efficient, I’d ask you where your evidence is for that assertion. Again, I suspect we’re all basing our opinions on anecdotes. Secondly, even if it were true that comprehensible input is inefficient, I would counter by suggesting that boring students to death with grammar tables is even more inefficient - at least for most people - and comprehensible input at least has the massive advantage that it’s more fun, and thus more likely to keep people interested enough to keep learning.

If my high school studies of French taught me (and about 98% of the other students in my high school) anything, it’s that focusing on grammar is THE most inefficient way to teach 98% of people a language. But for that other 2%, it works fine. Is that good enough? I don’t think so.

I’ve been speaking German and butchering these (to greater or lesser extent) for 40 years now. Only once have I ever been corrected on my misuse of them - by a German teacher. Did she understand what I said? Yes, because she was able to supply the correct article. So she understood me, as did every other German I’ve spoken with.

No one cares whether we get the articles right, and I don’t care if people think my German is bad. I’m not going to be working as a translater at the UN, so I don’t need my German to be good - all I need is to understand and be understood. Anything more is useless to me, and gets in the way of my acquisition of other languages.

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That’s an assumption. It is my opinion based on my experience that learning grammar tables is not effective. However, I do need a basic overview of a language’s grammar, and I do need to occasionally refer to a grammar book otherwise I am totally lost. I do not presume to speak for others.

I have over many decades met countless people who speak English with poor grammar having learnt the language as an adult. One person I know has lived in England for 17 years, and we all avoid dealing with him because he is so hard to understand because of his heavy Russian accent and poor grammar. It’s too hard work. And yet he grew up in Lithuania to a Polish mother and Russian father and claims to speak all three languages. Maybe he does, but it clearly did not help him master English.

I would argue, and the evidence for it is overwhelming, that adults do not learn grammar naturally. I have my theories on why this is so, but then again I bet we all do!

Grammar is useful when introduced in context, at the appropriate time to allow the student to understand and convey meaning,

We had that revolution in England in the sixties hence I grew up not understanding English grammar. The ideal is a mid way, a Goldilocks grammar, not too much, not too little, just right.


@Pr0metheus Of course most of what has been written is anecdotal. There is nothing wrong with that per se and it doesn’t mean that there can’t be some truth to it. My point wasn’t in regards to the experiences you made but the conclusion you draw, or more precisely the generality of it.

And I think we can all agree that trying to memorize tables (I assume you are refering to conjugation and declination tables et. al.) is pretty pointless. However, who says that “studying grammar” = “memorizing tables”. When I study grammar it means that I

  1. look up a construction I come across and don’t really get what it is supposed to mean
  2. verifying an assumption I have in regards to something I’ve encountered regularly
  3. sometimes spending time working through 2-3 chapters in a grammar book, which I do only rarely and doesn’t take me more then 15 minutes

I don’t think the latter is necessary, but it is a nice way to spice things up and the example sentences provided contain unknown vocabulary, too, but not too much, so they are comprehensible input, too.

If a teacher provides example sentences featuring a specific grammatical construct and encourages the students to make up their own, then this is also grammar studies. You are argueing against grammar studies based on the worst way one could deal with it while at the same time acting as if this would be the only way to do it.

In regards to understandability. Of course you can be understood by others even if you make grammar mistakes, especially if the other person really tries to understand you. But that doesn’t mean that this doesn’t require some effort by the other person. And if someone has to deal with somebody else on a regular base who continuosly makes a lot of grammar mistakes this can become really tiresome, especially as those supplements aren’t all too easy if the mistake butchers the meaning of the whole sentence. Sooner or later people will lose their patience. However, at least in regards to Germans: they most likely won’t tell you when this point is reached (we usually avoid critizising foreigners due to our history).


Interesting discussion. I don’t propose to settle it, but I will note that so far the debate centers on utility (Do I need to know grammar to be understood/understand others? Is it tedious to have to listen to people with bad grammar?)

I love people, and so when they talk to me I try to understand them, and I don’t correct them if they don’t want to be corrected. And I love learning, but didn’t really love school, because it’s all fake and mostly disconnected from real intellectual life, so I’m not defending conventional educational methods.

But all that being said I do love grammar, though principally on aesthetic grounds. I think language that is well-structured logically and grammatically supple - packed with redundant agreements, complex periods, and expressive word order - is a beautiful thing, and I suspect that loving the aesthetics of systems of representations helps me to acquire them, in the same way that loving a person helps you to understand what he is trying to tell you.

I don’t hate much, but maybe the only thing I hate more than government schooling is a false dichotomy. And the grammar vs communication dichotomy resembles another dichotomy that is empty of significance for the true amateur, for grammar is to language as theory is to music.

He who has ears, let him hear!


That’s fine for you. But I suspect the vast majority of people aren’t like you. Nothing puts a damper on me learning a language than being faced with grammar rules,

We might not disagree. What I call “grammar” you might call “learning”. What if there is no teacher? How do you learn? When I wrote “I need to know some grammar” I meant basic stuff. A couple hours. I never suggested studying only grammar for 50 hours.

and no matter how distant a language is from your first language, you don’t “need” to know any grammar up front. It will come naturally as you learn, just as it does with our first language.

I disagree with this. For example, I can’t see text like:


and figure out, with no help, that it means “I don’t like eating ice cream”. It even happens with easy sentences. “See Jane run” is “jēngahashirunoomitekudasai”.


The way a young kid learns their first language is not available to me. The kid has a fluent adult who acts as a TUTOR, talking to the kid hours each day, using simplified grammar at first, and using physical cues to describe each word. The adult holds up a ball and says “ball”, shows a picture of a tiger and says “tiger” and so on, many thousands of times. That method would work for me, if I could afford it. But I can’t afford to hire a tutor (even at iTalki rates) for that many hours.

One alternative is CI. I found an online website teaching Japanese using CI. The teacher draws on a whiteboard: her husband, her kids, their house, their car. Then she tells a story in fairly simple Japanese, using gestures and drawings to convey the meaning. It works quite well, without any English explanation. There is even a series of videos for “complete beginners”.

That seems like it would work the way Pr0methus suggests. The student understands the meaning from the drawings. The student figures out the grammar from the sentences.