How to Master a Language for Life
This is a common question among students of foreign languages, which generates a lot of debate, even among specialists in applied linguistics. I believe it is possible to cut through the complexity and give a practical answer to students who just want to achieve communicative fluency in a language in the most efficient and enjoyable way possible.
First off, I should say that the preliminary answer to the question is “yes and no”.
Let me explain by first considering another, closely related question: Is knowing a language’s grammar important for reaching an advanced level? The answer completely depends on the intent of the person asking the question. Grammar is the essence of language, its fundamental structure. Without an intimate knowledge of this structural essence of a language, it is impossible to communicate fluently, or even to express slightly complex ideas. If that is the intent of the question, then yes, “knowing” the grammar of a language is of vital importance to mastering it, as much as knowing its vocabulary and phonetics.
At the same time, I have often noted that understanding grammatical theory—that is, knowing how to explain grammatical rules and being well-versed in the corresponding academic terminology—does not add an iota to one’s communicative mastery of a language. I have known countless people who never seriously studied the grammatical rules of a language and yet, whether speaking or writing, have perfect grammatical command. Likewise, Brazilians traditionally study the grammatical rules of Portuguese throughout their academic careers; nevertheless, if they do not have a reading habit; if the Portuguese they listen to at home is not grammatically polished; and if they do not receive corrections of their oral and written expression, then their grammatical mastery is very weak.
Similarly, students of foreign languages sometimes study grammatical rules and terminology for years without any profit. Ultimately, it will not bring them any useful grammatical mastery of the language from a communicative standpoint. By contrast, if they do a lot of reading and listen to the language with close attention to the way native speakers express themselves, they will naturally begin to acquire correct grammar. Then, if their oral and written production is systematically corrected, over time they will develop a formidable practical mastery of their new language’s grammar.
Thus, the answer to the original question is: don't focus on the grammar rules or terminology of a language unless you want to become a linguist or a grammar teacher; instead, pay close attention to the correct use of language structures while reading, listening, writing, and speaking; as you progress to intermediate and advanced levels of proficiency, be sure to receive frequent corrections of your grammar in use and to review and assimilate all these corrections.
To make this process of reviewing and assimilating the corrections you receive more enjoyable and more powerful, The Natural Language Institute has developed a unique method of registering corrections and providing for their dynamic review, which is described in previous articles.
To review grammatical corrections in particular, we have developed an incredibly original and fun game that I will explain to you in the video below.
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