I recently saw this pocket German grammar book in a charity shop. It cost me all of £1, and it was a really great purchase!
The importance of grammar is a hotly debated topic amongst language learners and teachers. I personally think that, along with most aspects of language learning, it’s about the individual and what works for them.
Are you working towards a test, or working towards more natural communication?
I suppose it’s important to establish why you are learning the language in the first place. I personally learn languages for fun, but if you are required to learn a language specifically for the sake of a test (perhaps for work) then obviously there will be more of a reason to focus on grammar.
Deductive vs Inductive learning
When I was earning my TESOL qualification in Thailand to teach English to speakers of other languages, I was introduced to inductive and deductive learning, and it blew my mind!
Deductive learning is a very traditional style of teaching grammar. It is the introduction of rules as abstract concepts, where students then often learn them by rote, and then at some point later in the student’s development of the language they are expected to apply this theoretical knowledge. I can’t stand this way of being taught, and I suspect this is also why many people don’t enjoy learning foreign languages, often citing grammar as a common stumbling point.
Inductive learning, on the other hand, is simply where you are presented with parts of a linguistic puzzle and then you have to figure out the solution. This often involves a great deal of engagement – often with trial and error – until it easy to spot a pattern. From the teacher’s perspective, it is a lot harder to prepare activities and lessons of this style, but from a student’s perspective they are fun and worthwhile activities that stay with you.
I personally believe that inductive learning is about recreating that ‘Aha!’ moment when we are curious about something and finally figure something out. It plays to our natural curiosity.
My German grammar experience
Although I did learn German when I was in secondary school, I had completely forgotten about all grammar and technical quirks of the language. While learning German this year I’ve been heavily using duolingo as a resource. Duolingo does attempt to cover some grammar points, but at the time of writing it mostly makes you jump right into working with a language via interactive translation activities and tells you if you are right or wrong, giving hints if you are wrong.
Whenever I’m on public transport (trains, buses, etc.) I’ve been browsing through my little German grammar book and having several ‘aha!’ moments where things suddenly make a lot of sense. It’s even been kind of fun! But this is only because I already have experience with the language that I can internally reference when I’m introduced to a grammar point. I’ve basically been taking an inductive approach on a huge scale, internally forming rules and theories all along and I’m now seeing how close (or not!) I really am.
One final thing that I’d like to say is that this is just my personal experience of language learning. There are people who love to study grammar as an abstract concept; they feel it helps them to have an informed learning experience.