Don't Study Grammar or Vocabulary - It Kills Motivation

To be fair it is easier when using the actual Japanese script instead of the romanization. But otherwise I agree with you.

However, it seems that there was some misunderstanding to begin with, both in regards to the amount as well as the execution of grammar studies. What @Pr0metheus implied (studying tables excessively) is not what I have in mind nor you, as it seams.

What are “real intellectual life” and “conventional educational methods” in your opinion? I really have no idea what the first is supposed to mean and in regards to the second it appears to me that the experiences we all made during our time at school differ.

I’ve met hundreds of people whose English is not good, and understanding them is never difficult. Some people use the present tense all the time. Figuring out what they mean is very easy. The idea that such people are difficult to understand is complete nonsense.

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No one is suggesting that people can acquire a language “with no help”. The whole point of comprehensible input is that we ARE getting help - that is how the input is comprehensible - we get help from context in text, from visual clues in videos, from translations when we are first learning a language, etc. You may not understand a sentence at first, but as you acquire the language through comprehensible input, the meaning will become perfectly clear without the necessity of any grammar study.

But there’s nothing wrong with the study of grammar, if you’re one of the people who can stand to do it, and if you feel it gives you a head start. My point was that when you immerse yourself in the language, it becomes unnecessary.

Maybe this thread could have avoided some of the disputes that have taken place here if the video that started this thread off had been called “If studying grammar kills your motivation, don’t study grammar”, as I think the real misunderstandings in the thread come down to a question of preferred study style.

I’d say that understandability depends on a variety of factor. Of course some aspects might be more relevant then others. In regards to tenses one usually has additional information that makes it easier to judge when an action takes place, like context and words that express time. If I say “Yesterday I go swim.” then of course the usage of the wrong tense isn’t that important as there is the word “yesterday”, providing enough information about when the action took place.

However, you are (again) generalizing. Just because the correct use of tenses isn’t that important for understanding someone doesn’t mean that this is also the case when it comes to the correct usage of cases, conjugation or particles like in the Korean or Japanese language. And just because it is easy for you doesn’t mean it is for others.

You made the experience that you can understand others even if there grammar is bad - that’s fine. I and others made a different experience - you call it “complete nonsense”. Do you ever consider that your individual experience isn’t an universal rule?


I won’t argue with your experiences, but I have met plenty of speakers of English as a second language who are hard if not impossible to understand. I can think of two cases where I avoid or avoided speaking to them because I can’t understand them. This morning we were talking about the Lithuanian, everyone said they avoid speaking to him, which is sad.

My view, and it is subjective, is that not understanding grammar and accent stops you from understanding the language at an emotional level.

I think that is an important point which is often neglected by the proponents of CI. The social environment of a child is very different from that of an adult, so referring to CI as the natural way to learn is a little disingenuous. I would argue that an adult needs extra support e.g. occasional grammar study.

I find it an interesting question as to whether or not an adult could acquire a second language to native level given sufficient support from one or more parent figures. Olly Richards did once observe that the secret behind many well known polyglots learning one or more languages to advanced level was the presence of a native speaking partner.


The distinction between real intellectual life and the smart-sounding squawks of your time and place is something that you learn by direct experience. I admit that this is not something that is easy to define. Real recognize real.

The latter is pretty clear: conventional educational methods are those applied in those institutions that define the norm for the society you happen to live in.

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I could almost assume that there is something you are trying to say, I just can’t figure out what. Please try again.

No, it is not clear what this means to you. As said, our experiences differ. How am I supposed to know what kind of education you received? What was wrong about it? And why?

I think this phrase often refers to school teaching methods that work well for students learning some subjects, but don’t work well (according to the speaker) for students acquiring a new language. For example:

  1. one teacher, thirty students. This means that students mostly get input, and don’t have much opportunity for “output, corrected by a fluent speaker”.

  2. everyone is taught in the same order. This week, everyone learns plurals. Next, we all learn past tense. Next, we all learn subunctive. Often teachers follow a “curriculum” that dictates the order. Some language experts say that each student learn language features in a different order, not the order forced on them.

  3. Testing (quizzes, exams). This tests memorization, so students work on memorizing things, in order to get good grades.

  4. Homework. This is normally written, so it might be useful for that.

  5. Things are always changing, with teachers trying new approaches and using technology that didn’t exist 50 years ago. I think “conventional educational methods” sometimes doesn’t include those “new” methods. Sometimes.


I see what you mean, but would like to share some thoughts (I am using your numbering for reference).

  1. Isn’t this relative to what the goal of the language lessons are? Learning a language doesn’t necessarely imply learning to speak it. And a lot of input is necessary anyways. Of course, if you want to become a fluent speaker, having an individual teacher is probably better, but for most of us and especially for whole school classes uneffortable.
  2. But there is also repetition. You learn something, get on to the next topic and so on and at some point you will come back to an old topic repeating it. In that regard I don’t see that order is that important. And every teacher follows at least loosely a curriculum. You can’t work well without that sort of backbone, even though it is obviously good to adopt it to the learners. However, to some extent this is possible in a classroom, too, if the teacher is encouraged to do so.
  3. Our english exams were usually listening and reading comprehension tests as well as writing our own texts regarding a specific topic. For example we watched a movie about a muslim family in England whose son got old enough to get circumcised, with all the drama involved. We should write a text about the positions of the different actors (the parents, the son, etc…) and the situation of the son stuck between the traditions of the birthplace his parents grown up at and the place he did. That is definetely not memorization. Of course, when one is just about to start learning a new language, the tests are way simpler and include vocabulary tests. However, some tests may also include describing what can be seen at an image. We also had to hold presentations and dialogs in front of the class and had discussions.
  4. Nothing to add. :slightly_smiling_face:
  5. If the teachers really try to investigate the possibilities of those new technologies, then yes. At this point I am not optimistic, though. At least not for the foreseeable future.

I really don’t want to act as the devil’s advocate, but it appears that some people who had bad language classes at school are extrapolating the failure of their teachers onto the whole system. I am not sure this is true, though. And I may add that the students are also part of the equation :stuck_out_tongue: :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

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Sir, yes sir!!! Here is, exactly and unambiguously, what I mean:

There once was a man with a brain
Who liked to sing songs in the rain.
The people who nerd
And claimed that they heard
Were bristling and whistling in vain.

I’ll do this one with pure dialectic:

I said:

(a) I’m not defending conventional educational methods, but I love grammar.
(b) You said: what are conventional educational methods?
(c) I said: the methods used in school

At this point, I’ve answered your question. Now apparently there’s something else that you want from me, namely that I defend my desire to avoid defending conventional educational methods. But not only did I not not-defend them, but I also did not un-defend them, nor did I anti-defend them, though if you want to defend them, have at it. It seems that there are other people who are up for that conversation with you, though I, alas, am not. We’ve done that topic to death in these here parts.



I agree 100% with your video. In the context of your video and your explanation of learning grammar: absolutely won’t help you learn a language.

PROBLEM: to believe that studying grammar is a waste of time. It’s not. Russian was driving me absolutely insane until I learned how the language worked. Yes! I spent 8 weeks in language instruction that took a grammar approach. But I didn’t spend eight weeks with grammar tables. When I was done, I came home and resumed learning Russian mostly through consuming input.

CONCLUSION: I would be very cautious to say one does not need to learn grammar, but I’m with you - memorizing tables of grammar is generally not productive without a lot of real language context.

Not really. As said, what you experienced in your school at the time you attended it in the country you are living in doesn’t necessarely be the same experience I had in a different school at a different time in (probably) a different country. So I can only guess how the teachers were holding their classes.

No, I don’t. At this point you are making assumptions. Maybe you should have asked me what I’ve meant, if it wasn’t clear to you.

Couldn’t agree more. It became obvious that you prefer to hide behind rhetoric rather then actually bringing up arguments. So I assume you can be taken as a perfect example for those who are


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I do, too. My mind is made of “Why?” and curiosity. In Attic Greek (three days into which, I was translating simple sentences), grammar quickly became an active joy. The ways it meshes and conflicts with Italian, Latin, English, and the tattered remnants of German that remain in my head turns it into an unpredictable cascade of unsought gifts. That refreshes the other languages. It’s fun.

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I personally struggle with the “learn like you learned your first language” approach. The reality is it takes all humans 2-5 years to learn their first language to the level of forming basic sentences with significant errors. It’s obvious that we can learn faster than that at any age beyond infancy. I’m pushing 50 and I’m still learning faster than I learned my first language LOL.


If you’re advocating taking a grammar-focused method, the problem with the grammar-focused approach is that it tends to set up a barrier to fluency (due to the Monitor Hypothesis and the Affective Filter Hypothesis) which tends to make it harder to progress compared with people who use a method that involves comprehensible input. While it may work faster than how we learn as kids, there is a lot of evidence that suggests it’s not the most effective method of learning a new language.

No one here is advocing for a grammar-focused approach. I personally am not even sure how exactly that would look like. What was suggested is that it can be useful to look up grammar that you encounter and that you maybe spend some time studying it a bit. Some added they actually like spending some time in studying grammar, but that is personal choice, of course.

Every learning method will involve comprehensible input. Depending on how specifically you define it, it may not always be easy to find something that is comprehensible especially when starting a new language and if it is a language not as commonly learned. And similar how you can either decide to not look up an unknown word and wait until you get its meaning after having encountered it several times or to just straight look it up in a dictionary, you can do the same with grammar. This isn’t grammar-focused studying, but more the attempt to speed things up a bit or to make something comprehensible by removing the biggest question marks. And like you may not memorize the word that you’ve just looked up you will often forget the grammar, too. But after some iterations it will hopefully stick.

Considering how easy and fast things can be looked up nowadays (looking up a grammar takes me 10-20 seconds) completely ignoring the possibility for no good reason seems odd to me. There isn’t any necessity to stick to one specific learning approach and devote to it 100%. Everyone can and imho should try out different things and see that he can find a mixture that works good for him. Some might invest more time on grammar, some less. There is no problem here. However, getting the basic grammar straight is part of becoming fluent, if that is your goal. If you think you can reach this using comprehensible input only, then go on. But at least in regards to German you’ve already stated that it didn’t work out.

Btw.: A hypothesis is an assumption and therefore not really an argument for anything.


I agree fully with Obsttorte’s comments.

For me grammar is synonymous with meaning. Understanding a piece of grammar is simply understanding meaning. Why do we say Ich gebe dem Busfahrer 5 Euros ? Or J’ai demandé à la lune ? Tables of case endings are for me useless. I did many decades ago memorise French verb conjugations and it has helped, despite many here considering that to be wasted time. I don’t hear forms like Il faut que je parte … very often hence they are hard to learn ‘naturally’.

I often hear and understand words I have memorised, again this goes against the forum Zeitgeist.