Don't Think Grammar Is Important? Think Again.

I'm noticing a troubling theme in the language-learning and language-blogging community: people who are looked to as subject matter experts, time and time again, encouraging their readers and followers to forego grammar.

I'm deeply troubled by this.

A common piece of advice I see from many sources is, "Don't waste your time on all that frustrating grammar, just learn the words and the grammar will work itself out. Besides, you don't have to speak perfectly... people will understand you."

I'll ignore the massive sense of arrogance in statements like that, because I think that's obvious enough that you can all see just how offensive it is. Instead, I'll just point out exactly how wrong that statement and advice really is.

How important is grammar?

If you're speaking one of the trendy European Romance languages (Spanish / Italian / French / Portuguese / etc.), the risk is moderate to low. The two most troublesome grammatical features are noun gender and verb conjugation, though there are occasionally other details to consider.

For example, the Italian word fico is of the masculine gender, and refers to that delicious fruit we know as a fig, but if you accidentally use a feminine ending on that word, you will have used a very vulgar term for a certain part of a female's anatomy.

In Spanish, you might think you can say ¿Cómo te llamo? if you want to ask What do I call you?, but the person to whom you say that is going to hear Oh, how much I love you!. The grammatically correct question is ¿Cómo te llamas?

Also, in case you think it's okay to leave off tildes, you might want to reconsider. If you say Tengo veinticuatro anos, you're telling people you have 24 assholes. Año means year, but ano means anus.

Sharpen your reflexes?

Reflexive verbs can occasionally have a very unexpected and different meaning than their non-reflexive counterparts.

The German word ausziehen means to move out, but if you slip up and say Sie mussen sich ausziehen, you won't be advising them to move out, you'll be asking them to undress.

Baltic and Slavic languages also have a special possessive pronoun that must be used when referring to the subject: savo (Lithuanian), swój (Polish), свой (Russian), svůj (Czech), etc. If you use this adjective incorrectly, bad things can happen. When talking about your friend in Polish, if you say on kocha jego żonę, you're likely to get some raised eyebrows, and questions about just exactly whose wife he loves!

Cases make it worse!

In noun-declined languages, the endings of words change to indicate their role in the sentence. This is often a very difficult and strange concept for native English speakers, so it's no surprise that they use the nominative case for everything, depending on word order as they would in English. But this isn't as easy for natives to understand as you might expect. The ending of a word tells its role, and when the ending is wrong, bad things can happen!

For example, in spite of how it looks, Ивана съел doesn't mean Ivana ate, it means I ate Ivan! A tiny mistake with one letter changes everything. Instead of saying кто-то ест еду, you're saying кто-то есть еда. (Instead of saying someone eats food, you're saying someone is food!)

Of course it works in English, too

I have often had foreign friends pop up on my chat window and ask me if I'm "working hardly". Technically, their grammar is more correct here, and it's English whose grammar is wrong, but nonetheless, I'm being asked if I'm slacking.

And then there is the classic example of the difference one comma can make: Let's eat, grandpa! is a much different statement than Let's eat grandpa!

Grammar matters

The bottom line is that grammar is important. It's not something you can just ignore, and hope to "pick up along the way". You may think people will understand you even when you make mistakes, but you'll be surprised to learn that quite often they don't. Most of the time, when people don't understand a foreigner, they just nod their head and pretend to understand, because it's easier.

In most cases, the meanings probably wont be as entertaining as the examples I've given above, but they will often have enough difference in meaning to make it very hard to understand you. And frankly, even if you can be understood, do you really want to make other people work so hard all the time? Why not just learn to speak properly so you can be a pleasure to be around, rather than a burden?

The truth is, grammar isn't nearly as bad as people make it out to be. What's important is your attitude. If you allow yourself to get sucked into that "grammar is boring, I hate grammar" mindset, then you will have a miserable time. But if you remember to stay positive and excited about learning a new language, grammar is an easy thing to get excited about... like when you're assembling a jigsaw puzzle and you can start to see the image.

When you're learning about masculine and feminine nouns, don't say, "aw, gosh, why do they have to have different genders on the nouns?" Instead, say to yourself, "wow, it's really interesting the way you can use gender to refer to different members of a sentence." And instead of complaining about how hard noun cases are, just think of how amazing and efficient a language can be when you don't need a bunch of extra noise words to tell you what a noun is doing.

Grammar is as fun or as painful as you make it. Just remember, if you don't make it fun while you're learning, others will be having all the fun later when you're trying to talk.

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Author: Yearlyglot
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  • 110% agree. I don't mind people who say grammar isn't important and don't focus on it, but I hate it when they degrade my techniques because I like grammar. I think grammar is interesting and I don't mind sitting down and looking at grammar charts, reading grammar rules, or doing grammar drills. It just feels so much more satisfying to say/write something correctly. I think Czech really opened up my mind to "stranger" types of grammar.

  • I would only partially agree with this article. From my own experience dedicating too much time to grammar does more harm than good.I am learning Polish and presently live in Poland. I spent a lot of time studying grammar before I came here, doing hundreds of exercises, practicing with a tutor. But when I had to actually talk, I spent more time thinking about which case, gender, preposition, etc to use, that I ended up feeling pressured and made more mistakes. I could read well, listen and understand, but when the time came to speak, I felt completely lost. My conversations consisted mostly of very long "errrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm"s.As I started speaking more, and being more immersed in the environment, I started to pick up phrases without even realising it. From listening and repeating the same phrases and making other sentences from them, I started to be able to create complex sentences without worrying about grammar. The point here is that I knew what sounded right and what didn't without having to think about it. When I do make mistakes, I get corrected, and then I learn not to make the same mistake again. Later, when I go back and look at the grammar behind what I've learnt, it's more interesting, I can relate to it and more importantly I actually get more of the exercises correct.Dedicating your time to just talking (Preferably with someone who is willing to correct you) is by far the most efficient method for me. I've also found that no matter how bad I might initially say a sentence, I can often get understood and then corrected. The next time I need to say a similar sentence, I will make less mistakes. If you make an embarrassing mistake, which you most certainly will do at some point, you can laugh about it, and move on. The other person will most likely understand.

  • Of course you can give some examples that would lead to embarrassment, but this scare tactic is a great exaggeration of reality. Listing examples like those as if they will happen every second sentence does nothing but scare learners into learning their grammar perfectly before ever trying to speak.Also, the ano vs año thing is a vocabulary issue, not a grammar one. Spanish speakers tend to leave out the tilde when on international keyboards and would write anos without offending one another.This idea that you must have perfect grammar totally ignores context and the fact that the natives you are talking with are not totally stupid with the slightest bit of imagination. I can't imagine most of your examples actually leading to confusion when the native is aware of the fact that you will be making mistakes. They would know I'm not eating a person or counting my anuses.I'm happy to tell people not to be so scared of grammar, but listing reasons why they'll be hung for making mistakes is not helping... To speak a language, just speak it and stop getting so scared of making mistakes. If you make a mistake it's not the end of the world.I personally don't tell people to totally avoid grammar, but to learn it when you are already into the flow of speaking. When the language is alive to you, then the grammar you learn is actually cool and fun and you realise why people say things you have already heard many times before.

  • Calling it a scare tactic is rather dismissive.And I never said you have to have perfect grammar.But I can tell you from a great deal of experience in talking to very intelligent people... there are some mistakes that people immediately recognize and correct as you talk/type/etc, then there are some mistakes that are confusing for a moment but which a smart person can figure out... but then there are also the mistakes that change the meaning of what you're saying, and because they are conveying a legitimate meaning, they are not recognized as mistakes.As I pointed out in the post, there is low risk of this in romance languages, but once you introduce noun declension, everything is different. My hispanic friends have always understood me through any mistakes I've made, but my Russian friends have had to completely stop conversations to figure out what I'm talking about and give me a grammar lesson when I've used a single wrong ending on a noun.

  • It's interesting that you say your Russian friends give you a grammar lesson, because most of the people here (Poland) don't understand why it is so, they just know what sounds right, and not necessarily why. I don't think I've ever been in a situation where I was completely not understood. e.g. I once said "I will give the book to Tom" as "Tomek dam książkę" instead of "Tomkowi dam książkę (Correct, Tomkowi is Dative). I was still understood and corrected, and after a few similar mistakes, using the dative case now seems more natural to me.

  • Totally agree. I hate the way people demonize grammar.

  • "Spending too much time" doing anything is bad. That's an irrefutable position, perfect for arguing with someone on a blog.

  • I think one noteworthy difference between Russian and Polish is that Polish has a constant stress pattern. From woda to wodę to wody, things stay pretty much the same, but if you get the case wrong in Russian, the whole word is different: вода sounds like "va-DA", but воду sounds like "VO-du".Water, of course, is still easy to figure out because it's not animate. But if you're dealing with an animate noun, i.e. a person, subjects and objects get easily reversed or muddled.Another notable difference is that your example, "I give the book to Tom," is a very simple scenario with little room for confusion even if you make a mistake. The same is not true if you're saying "Give the book to Jaroslawa", because a failure in your declension changes the meaning to "give me a book by Jaroslaw."

  • Whether you consider these things scare tactics or not, you have to understand their value, don't you? I think it's polite to learn grammar. If you put your mind to it, just like any other aspect of a language, it's easy (as you've said in your most recent post) and it will be more convenient for the people you speak with. I don't know if you experience it as much in the other direction because you spend a lot of your time producing a target language, but listening to ungrammatical English is very difficult and it's not always easy to decipher what people mean. Plus, grammar is a good thing to study if you want to devote some time because you can't be out speaking because you can't leave your country to learn languages for three months at a time ;). I sort of disagree with just doing what "sounds" right. I hate when people say, "just go with what sounds right to you," and maybe that's just the type of person I am, but I like to know it's right. If I can't explain why I'm doing what I'm doing in a language, I need to find out.

  • I'm not sure if maybe I inspired this with my recent post (How much grammar and syntax terminology do I need to know?) or not, but I want to make clear that I'm not saying that you don't need to know grammar, I'm saying that you don't need to know FORMAL grammar terminology and syntax. You do NOT need to even know what a preposition is to be able to properly apply it in a language that you are learning. As I said:"When you speak English (or whatever your native language is), can you actually explain everything you say in formal grammar and syntactical terms? No, very few people can, but you and every other native speaker can still speak, read, and write at a very high level of fluency with very few if any grammatical errors, right?"Also, you will learn the grammar of the language as you go along, even if the way that you learn it is via total immersion with absolutely NO formal instruction whatsoever, which is precisely how you got fluent in your native language, right?I'm not saying it's useless, I'm saying that to learn Spanish (or any other language), you don't need to be able to look at a sentence in Spanish and name all the various parts of it using the correct grammatical terms, you don't need to be able to tell me whether the verb is in the present tense or the preterit. You do, however, have to know how to use all that stuff properly.Look, it's the same thing with English (I use that as an example because most people reading this are native English speakers, as am I), 99% of the population can NOT explain, using the correct grammatical and syntactical terms, what it is they're doing when they speak or write English, they essentially know nothing of formal grammar, yet they ARE fluent and many of them speak and write superb English without knowing anything about grammar.It's sort of like a pitcher in baseball knows precisely HOW to throw a kickass fastball but he couldn't even begin to explain the physics of it to you, and it's ridiculous to think that he needs to be able to. I think that's really the best possible way I could explain it, with that analogy. Does that make sense?Cheers,

  • You can relax, it's not an attack on you or your recent post. In fact, it's not an attack on anyone. (Though I definitely find people's responses to be quite revealing!) And if it was inspired by anyone's blog post, it would be .
    With that said...
    Here's the problem. The age old grammar debate is fundamentally nothing more than bullshit. That's it. It's all bullshit.
    We all agree that it's important to use words correctly. We all agree that it's important to know how to construct a sentence, or when to use this preposition or that one. Right?
    But if you call that by it's name -- grammar -- suddently a large number of people turn into assholes. And why? Because they didn't like the grammar portions of their English classes in school, and using that word evokes memories of a really boring part of a really boring class that you didn't understand and didn't see the use for.
    However... if you had known in sixth grade that one day you would grow up and try to become a polyglot, you might have paid more attention to what those parts of speech are called.
    But.... Oh well. Too late! So now we're stuck in a situation where people want to learn foreign languages but they want to learn them without knowing what a preposition is, or what the dative case is, or what an indirect object is.
    Stop and think about that for a second. Seriously... that's like saying you want to become an accountant, but you want to do it without learning boring words like amortization or principal.
    Imagine an astrophysicist not knowing what gravitation is. I would love to see the look on his colleagues faces when he said, "I can't tell you why the path isn't straight, but I just know that it's going to bend toward the big object."
    Seriously... why the hell can't we stop demonizing grammar? It's nothing more than a handful of what... a dozen, maybe two dozen words that describe the roles of various words in a sentence?
    Why is it okay to know what a sentence is, but it's evil to know what a preposition is? Who decides which terms are okay and which terms are evil?
    And about your baseball pitcher analogy... I beg to differ. I've actually gotten some amazing physics lessons from baseball players. A kid might stumble onto a great pitch, but I promise you, nobody gets to the top of the game without ever having learned how it works. So... sorry, but I'm not buying that.Try finding me a pilot who doesn't know how aerodynamics work.

  • For the beginner, it is important to get talking right away. An over-emphasis on grammar at the outset is an impediment to getting out there and talking. Mistakes are going to happen, it's unavoidable, and we learn a lot that way. But folks are fairly understanding, both literally and figuratively: they understand what I'm trying to say (eventually), and they're very forgiving. Plus, now we all have stories of cultural gaffes and embarrassing moments to share.I advocate learning sentence patterns and using them as templates. There's some basic grammar involved, but one doesn't need to know all the arcane rules that make the sentence grammatically correct. As time goes by the rules will become apparent, or at least you'll develop a sense of what sounds right.

  • "An over-emphasis" on ANYTHING is an impediment. That's not a good argument against learning grammar.Sure, over long periods of time, patterns become apparent. But why stumble along like a fool for long periods of time when a concise grammatical rule can set you in the right direction from the start?

  • Speaking about grammar, "fewer mistakes" is grammatically correct, not "less mistakes". ;-)

  • When learning German, people would often not correct me because they thought it was "cute" and I hated that. I didn't want to be "cute"! When someone would finally point out a recurring mistake to me, I found it extremely difficult to correct mistakes I had been making for months because by then, they were ingrained in my brain.When learning subsequent languages (such as Arabic and Italian), I then found it extremely difficult to utter a sentence that might possibly contain a mistake. Our Arabic teacher would tell us to just say something, regardless of whether it was correct or not. So, this meant that I usually reverted to simplified sentences instead of trying out something more eloquent, or that my sentences also contained long "errrrrrmmmm"s.I think that people's view on the grammar discussion mainly depends on whether that person is a perfectionist or not. Personally, I belong to the pro-grammar fraction. This exemplifies why one should be careful about what one says or writes:

  • This may be the case, but not always. A friend of mine often has problems in Germany when he says something that is not 100% correct. Some audiences are simply unimaginative and their brains cannot decipher the meaning.Also, great misunderstandings can occur. Once I worked at an international congress where this Japanese man walked up to me and tried his best to communicate something in English that was hardly intelligible. I thought the poor man was referring to the fact that my name was not on the list of people allowed to eat dinner, he was actually asking if he could return his headset the following day.

  • if some language learners are willing to go without grammar, or with little grammar, AND it works for them, i'm not going to condemn them.however, i guess i'm a similar type of person as you are since i like to know if what i'm saying is correct/right. when i see a new sentence/phrase, i like to stop for a minute and think about how it's constructed, what word forms (including case names) are used, etc.i also believe that it's useful to learn declension and conjugation types/tables. it's not necessary to know their names (e.g. hey man, it's a noun of type 55!), but being able to recognize words and recall their inflection is what makes me feel "safer" and more correct.for those who say that native speakers are not always capable of explaining their language patterns using grammar terms, well, i think that when you are using a foreing language for a couple of years and get more fluent in it, you will also forget some grammar points. language use will get more and more natural and automatic, and you will refer to grammar less frequently. but until then some grammar should be learned, at least in my way of learning.

  • list of people allowed to eat
    can I return my headset the next day.This is a vocabulary issue, not a grammar one. I don't see how it could have been confusing at all if he had a good command over vocabulary. Don't think that general weakness in a language is by default due to poor grammar ;)

  • This may surprise people, based on the fact that I am probably one of those Randy is writing about that encourages very loose understanding of grammar in initial stages... but I *like* grammar. I thoroughly enjoyed studying Hungarian grammar and found it very logical.However, this doesn't help you speak sooner. Enjoying studying grammar is fine, and I am part of that group, but starting my studies in Hungarian by focusing on grammar has been DAMAGING to my mission to speak it quickly. Getting absorbed by grammar can divert your attention away from the words you need and the ability to practise using them.If people love grammar then there is little point in telling them to stop at it. However, focusing too much on it in early stages rather than vocab, confidence and practise can lead to a perfectionist mentality, which can be damaging to the language speaker outside of a classroom. Only classrooms require perfect grammatical sentences, human beings do not.

  • And yet many native speakers would never say "fewer mistakes". I would always say "less mistakes" as would most (at least) Irish people I know. When the majority or at least a vast number of people say it one way, sometimes you have to wonder if certain grammar rules exist for no reason other than nitpicking...I'd argue that a non-native saying it the grammatically incorrect way is actually a more successful learner. I go out of my way to learn street language whenever possible. In Rio I would say "tu sabe, tu vai" etc. which is a grammatical disaster, and yet that's how most people there talk.

  • :) you are so accurate mentioning perfectionist mentality here. i notice some perfectionism in myself every now and then, not only in languages but also in my work and everyday life. sometimes i don't like it as it seems to slow me down, other times it makes me feel better when i accomplish something of more quality. either way, i agree that vocabulary and practice are truly important, thus people should try to find a good balance and not commit too much to perfection.i haven't had a chance to learn a language with focus on speaking/speaking quickly. however, i've been having such idea for a while. it would be interesting to try a different type of learning and see how i am doing when i don't care about grammar, rules, writing, etc :)

  • Well, I am certainly not going to start saying "ain't" just because some segments of the population use it. I prefer to speak in an educated manner, regardless what language. Besides, I need languages for my profession. I can't afford to use street language, I'd be fired.Nitpicking has nothing to do with it, life is full of rules, whether we like it or not. Why else do they make street signs and the likes? Are you going to ignore stop signs and red lights because it's a form of "nitpicking"? And what would mathematics or physics be without rules?If languages followed no rules whatsoever, no one would understand what others were saying. So, for better or worse, grammar is here to stay.

  • 2+2 is always equal to 4 and the planets always follow elliptical orbits around the sun. These rules are just the way things work and have zero exceptions.
    "Ain't" is something that millions of people say, despite what the grammar books "recommend". Not saying ain't isn't a rule, it's a recommendation.
    To answer your question, YES I ignore stop signs. When I see a red man but there are no cars in sight, I cross the road. Call it jaywalking if you like, but millions do it and it doesn't matter when they do. Traffic lights are useful rules to follow when there are cars. Otherwise, standing around for two minutes just because some LEDs tell me to is silly to me and many others.
    Grammar rules are useful to follow if you are a professional writer. Otherwise they are good overall guides with a lot of exceptions. Calling the majority out for using these exceptions is nothing more than nitpicking, the same way someone telling me to stop crossing the road and stand still for no reason when there are no cars is nitpicking.
    I find this "educated manner" attitude to be very condescending. It's like anything - if you prefer it then great, I'm not going to tell you to speak "wrong". But if someone were to call me out on saying "less" instead of fewer when I couldn't care less and especially when I'm a native speaker too then it's nothing more than arrogance.

  • Grammar is important. But I don't believe in creating sentences in heavy-grammar languages (like Slavic) until you've practiced the sentences beforehand via input.

  • Just a note... millions of people also believe that the earth is flat, and less than 6000 years old. So the "millions of people" argument isn't exactly credible.Oh... and you missed a really great opportunity to say "I couldn't care fewer". I would have been in stitches.

  • Sorry, when I spoke about red lights, I meant when driving a car. In Germany it costs you 3 - 4 points in the Flensburg, a fine, temporary revocation of your license, and can cost lives. Germans mean business! As a pedestrian, if the light is red and there are no cars, I look to see if there are police officers or small children around. If not, I also cross. (If caught, they can put a point in your "Flensburg" even if you do not posess a driver's license, in addition to a fine). But that's neither here nor there and not pertinent to the discussion.Perhaps "educated" sounds condescending to you. Well, "nit-picking" and "arrogance" are extremely insulting. So, I suggest we bury the hatchet... :-)And yes, writing / translating is my current profession. I used to have a laxer view on things just like you, until I had my first real office job. There, I had one boss who almost had me boiled in oil, shot by a firing squad, then subsequently beheaded and burned at the stake for forgetting the period after his doctor title in German. This is why I learned to put so much value on perfection. My German was not as good back then and I grew sick of criticism and being berated every time I made a mistake, regardless how minute. Since I really needed the job back then, I was forced to change my tune. Maybe you'll be in a similar situation some time in the future, then you will understand.

  • That argument is silly because BELIEVING something and living something are totally different. You can be 100% wrong about believing something that is inherently not true. Believing the earth is flat or in many stupid things millions of people believe in just proves that those people are stupid or need more evidence because the fact of the matter is they are wrong and the universe itself disagrees with them. Believing it all they like doesn't change the facts.But a language is how we use it. The Academie Française and most snobby "educated" people recommend that you say "courrier électronique" and yet most people actually say "(e)mail". Are they all wrong? NO. The Academie Française is wrong. They are making up rules that few people are following.Believing inaccurate facts about the universe and using a language a way not recommended by the elite is NOT the same. Their rules are not the rules of the universe written in stone and unbreakable.I thought about saying couldn't care fewer, but that would have two problems in it and make it even harder to understand. You see, Americans say it "wrong" and say they "could care less". Perhaps it should be my position to tell them how wrong and illogical that is and force them to say it my way, the same way someone can force me to say fewer? :) It doesn't matter if it's the way an entire continent of hundreds of millions of people say it, I know I'm right so everyone should do it my way...

  • I was a professional translator for 3 years. I understand and I would always write proper English in my work because that's what they paid me to do. I once made a silly mistake and got practically crucified for it. In those professional situations I have no argument against using fully proper English (or whatever language) and I'd be annoyed if something I paid for had basic mistakes in it.However, comments on a website and words I speak with my friends do not need to go under the same scrutiny.

  • OK, well at least we agree on something. :-)

  • Speaking as an American... we really do say everything wrong.
    I hate when people say "I could care less". In fact, I stop them in the middle of the conversation and point out how stupid they sound when they say that. (Yes, I'm an asshole sometimes.)
    -"Wha... wait a second. You could care less? Yet you don't, therefore, by logical deduction, you care more. So what you're telling me is that you actually care a great deal about this thing, right?"
    -"No. I don't care at all."
    -"Oh, so what you meant to say is that you couldn't care less."
    -"Do us all a favor next time and say what you mean, so the rest of us can keep up with your story. Okay?"
    Similarly, I hate "head over heels" -- my head is over my heels in the default configuration, so that's no such a great idiom either. Well, I should probably shut up now. One day, Homeland Security is going to flag me as being anti-American and put me in a secret military prison. Then I'll have a hard time explaining why I speak other languages -- after all, that's un-American!

  • I'm sure you both agree on many things!Statements like "at least we agree on something" focus on differences, rather than the similarities. Personally, I like disagreement and I think it's healthy (within reason), but I think it's important to remember that while we're here disagreeing, we're doing it because have enough in common to have all ended up in the same place. :-)

  • Just show them this video: :P

  • I'm a native Spanish speaker and I think that I wouldn't understand "¿Cómo te llamo?" as "¡Cuánto te amo!... I don't see the relation...

  • Really?"Como te amo."

  • Well, I understood what you meant by your argument and think it is a valid point. And I don't know if I would really call some of the English teachers I had "elite". ;-)

  • If you try to impose logic on language it all falls apart.Take for example the perfect tense -- it's a completed action, right?So logically, "I have lived here all my life" can only be said by a newly-deceased ghost, right? Because it's a completed action, and if it's all his life, his life must be over.This structure doesn't appear in many languages except as a calque from English, and the perfect is used exclusively for completed actions. English has extended it to mean actions which are not complete, which is a very odd thing to do.If "I could care less" is wrong, then so too is "I have lived here...", so why question one if you accept the other?

  • I agree with Benny that the tone of the post was too heavy -- there are warnings and there are dire portents of impending doom... ;-)Anyway, you're quite right about the dangers of "sounds right".Exhibit A: French liaison. "Vous_allez" -- liaises. "êtes-vous allé" doesn't. But if you go by sound alone, you can end up liaising "êtes-vous_allé", because "allez" and "allé" are identical to the ear, so "vous_allé" "sounds right".

  • The pitcher analogy is a bit flawed, because there are immutable laws in physics, and you have direct observation of the consequences of your actions -- you can see the ball fly, you can see where it lands, you can see how it bounces.The effect of an utterance takes place inside the listener's brain, so you cannot see what you've done -- it's as though the pitcher throws the ball, the world goes black momentarily and when he opens his eyes everyone else is in a different position.But then again, didn't that pitcher get coached? Didn't someone tell him to straighten his arm, to hold his breath during the release, to slip his finger across the ball as it leaves his grip in order to curve it? In short, didn't he get told the basic "rules" of pitching and then simply adapt it to "context"?

  • Millions of people do not believe the Earth is flat... millions do believe the Earth is 6000 years old though...

  • No... I think it's perfectly reasonable to say that millions of people still believe the earth is flat. Probably several million.And BILLIONS of people believe it's only 6000 years old.

  • This is the best argument for grammar I've ever read. My hat goes off to you, Randy. In the post, it felt more like you were trying to scare us into accepting grammar, but here... you hit it right on the head.Congrats... I want to turn this into a T-shirt.

  • I think the point is not to argue about grammar is important or not. no matter you love it or hate it, it is always there, and only with coincidence it is given the title. However, grammar being there doesn't mean we have to study it or learn it or however you call it.Personally, the noun gender thing in Roman languages used to drive me crazy when I read about it in the grammar books. And it bothered me everytime when I tried to say a noun thinking whether I should use la or le; un or une. So I decided not to pay attention to it any more while keep listening to my podcast. And nice things happened. When you hear so many times le medcin and la verite', you just don't bother to ask why a doctor should be masculin and the truth should be feminine. I don't know whether I'm actually learning the grammar subconciously, one thing is for sure, I won't ever waste my time reading word lists about noun genders and listening to bullshit like nouns with certain endings are usually masculin or femine.

  • i can agree about not trying to memorize wordlists to learn noun genders, but i don't think it's a good idea to dismiss word endings. usually there will be just a few endings for each gender, i.e. a very small number of endings will cover most of the words for that gender, therefore i see it as a neat shortcut to learn most of the genders with little effort.

  • I agree.

  • The one thing you are overlooking here is that making these mistakes helps you to better remember the language. I knew a guy who was trying to learn Spanish, and went to Mexico. He was struggling with the language, being very new to it, and was flipping through his dictionary when trying to speak. This led him to say, "Como mucho" to a Taxi driver.The guy was overweight, and the taxi driver replied "Claro que si."For the benefit of Non-Spanish speakers, he had looked up the words "How" and "Much" and gotten the words "Como" and "Mucho". However, Como is also the Yo (I) form of the verb to eat. Since no one would ask how much something costs this way, the taxi driver heard "I eat a lot" and replied "Obviously"There was a moment of embarrassment, but he told me that after he realized what had happened he made a point of learning the phrase "Cuanto Cuesta" and would never again have any problem remembering it.The truth is, as long as you aren't afraid to learn from your mistakes, your mistakes provide very good motivation for you to learn and remember things. You need to look things up and find out the grammar behind things, but it is SO much easier to learn this in the context of things you are actually hearing and reading instead of just learning it by itself.

  • lol that's a very funny story, thanks for telling it!and yes, mistakes are a way to learn. i would prefer to make less mistakes if possible, but if a mistake happens anyway, why not try to benefit from that.

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