Of all the debates in language learning, this seems to come the most frequently: do I need to learn grammar right away? I say it’s a “debated” issue because learners tend to fall into two groups: those who want to focus on grammar right away and have become experts at making tables and charts, and those who put away the grammar books until they have already had enough vocabulary and exposure that they’ve been communicating for quite some time. Now, if I had to put myself into one of these groups, I would put myself in the first one, but there has to be some middle ground between the two methods.
Why learn grammar?
I’m probably pretty safe in saying that most people hate grammar because of bad experiences in learning languages at school–where they only went over the same rules using the same vocabulary. Grammar is much less boring if it’s seen as a means to an end: to communicate clearly with other speakers.
For me, I don’t know how easy it is to truly become an “intermediate” speaker in a language without knowing some grammar. Perhaps it depends in part on the languages being learned, but I would really like to see a spontaneous conversation in Polish where somebody really doesn’t know what a case is. I’m sure it’s very possible to do it, but for me, I don’t want to find out one day that I’ve been saying the same things completely incorrectly when all it would have taken was extra time to learn the grammar properly. At the same time, creating tables isn’t going to help much if all you do is write out case endings without associating them with actual sentences or words.
Creating the middle ground
Like I said, I don’t think it needs to be such a clear division between one method or the other. There are two very obvious points: grammar at some point needs to be learned, and you need vocabulary in order to use grammar. This is where I’ve found music to be helpful.
Music can be very beneficial in learning languages, because sung language tends to be slower and repeated. Most people have little difficulty in remembering words to songs. You can incorporate songs into your grammar learning by printing out the text and making a note of a certain concept. This is how I’ve recently started to try and remember my cases in Polish. For me, the best thing about using songs to learn grammar is that it gives you an opportunity to see the grammar being used in context. You don’t have to ask a speaker to slow down or explain it, all you have to do is hit “repeat” until you’ve heard it enough times.