ESL Myth: Studying Grammar

If I want to learn English, I must learn grammar perfectly.

Many, many students think this.

It makes sense, right? If I know all of the grammar rules then I will know what is right and what is wrong, and I will not make mistakes.

But is that actually true? Personally, I do not think so.

First of all, grammar is important. Without a doubt, it is very important. It helps to explain the complex, and many times just crazy characteristics of the English language. Many times it answers the question of Why?

For example:

  • Why do we say they were and not they was?

  • Why do we say this is her book and not this is she book?

  • Why do we say fewer apples instead of less apples?

There are hundreds and thousands of questions that grammar can answer. I always tell my students that grammar is important. But how important is it? Is it the most important thing? Should students spend most of their time studying grammar?

Here is what I like to say: think of a game. Any game. It can be a sport, like soccer, basketball, tennis, golf, or it can be a game like a video game, card game or board game.

Now the first thing about a game is, if you want to play the game, you must know the rules. You can try to play the game without knowing the rules, and it might be fun. But soon, you will run into problems. It will not be organized. People can create different rules, it will be hard to choose a winner, and soon it will not be fun anymore. So knowing the rules of a game are important.

Grammar rules are like the rules to a game.

In this case, the game is communicating in English. If you want to successfully speak, write, read and understand English, you must know the grammar rules.


If you know the rules to a game it does not mean you are a good player.

Think about that for a second. Imagine if I put you in a room and made you study the rules of a game for hours and hours. Every day. You sit down and read about the rules of the game, and I ask you about the rules and test you on the rules and we work on understanding the rules.

Will that make you a better player? The answer is clearly no. You can tell me about the rules of the game, but you can't actually play.

How do you become a better player? By playing the game.

The only way to get better at swimming, is to get into a swimming pool and swim.

The only way to get better at soccer, is to grab a soccer ball, go outside and play and practice.

The only way to learn how to ride a bicycle, is to get on a bicycle. You might fail and fall down and get hurt many times, but you still must get back up and get on the bicycle and try again. Again and again.

So, the only way to get better at English is to USE English. You must speak it, read it, write it and listen to it as much as possible.

So you definitely want this:

But you also want a lot of this:

You can study techniques and watch videos, just like you might for your favorite player, and those will certainly help you. But you will not improve until you go out and practice what you studied and watched.

And finally, just like any other game, even if we know all of the rules, sometimes we still make mistakes. Just because you know the grammar rules does NOT mean your English will be perfect. Here is a simple fact that every ESL learner needs to remember: No one has perfect English and everyone makes mistakes. EVERYONE. You, me, your teacher, my teacher, my teacher's teacher, everyone. Mistakes are not always a bad thing. In fact, if you think about it, if no one made mistakes then the game would be boring. Many times, mistakes make the game fun and interesting.

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