Grammar focus versus input focus in language learning.

The old grammar versus input debate has flared up on one of our Forums at LingQ so I thought I would post my recent comment here to see what others think.

I tend to agree with Krashen that learning languages via too much emphasis on grammar creates a “filter” that inhibits us when we speak. We then try to pass everything we want to say through the grammar “filter” rather than just developing natural reflexes.

I do not recommend spending no time on grammar, or on some explanation of how the language works, just that we should not take it too seriously, nor expect to remember the rules and declension tables that we see.

Given that most of us have limited time available for language learning, the question is where our time should be spent for greatest efficiency. I find that spending time on meaningful input gives a better return on time expended, and it has the added benefit of helping us understand the language sooner.

Grammar is a description of usage. The rules can be easy, but very often they are not, and they are certainly not mathematical. Yes adverbs end in “ment” in French . That is easy and easily identified while reading. It is also easy to note that in Spanish masculine nouns often end in “o”and feminine nouns in “a”. But how about the rules for gender in German. Google it and see. I defy any beginner to make sense of it without already having had a lot of exposure to these nouns. Or the rules for cases like the following:

“Präpositionen mit Dativ

Certain German prepositions are governed by the dative case. That is, they take an object in the dative case. Many dative prepositions tend to be very common vocabulary in German: nach (after, to), von (by, of) and mit (with).

In English, prepositions take the objective case (object of the preposition) and all prepositions take the same case. In German, prepositions come in several “flavors,” only one of which is dative.

There are two kinds of dative prepositions: (1) those that are always dative and never anything else, and (2) certain “two-way” or “dual” prepositions that can be either dative or accusative—depending on how they are used. See the chart below for a complete list of each type. ”

In Russian things are even more complicated. It is not the simple explanation of cases that causes the problem, but the exceptions and rules governing the use of cases behind prepositions and verbs. And then you still have to remember what the case endings are!!

Even the simple rules are easily forgotten as is proven by all the Chinese people who regularly confuse “he” and “she”.

As for how many languages we want to speak, that is another question. Since each language opens up a wonderful new world of culture and tradition and opportunities for communication, I would not let grammar angst inhibit my language learning. I doubt if most of us learn languages in order to make presentations at conferences, but to make presentations you need words. So even if that were your goal, I would go with an input based learning approach.

It is not that we ignore correct usage at LingQ. I believe that saving LingQs is a great way to make yourself aware of usage patterns. You can ask questions on the forum here. And as you progress you can write, and have your writing corrected, and speak with tutors and have you errors pointed out in the discussion reports. You can achieve whatever level of accuracy you want. And I do suggest that learners keep a short grammar book around for regular, but cursory, review.

2 comments on “Grammar focus versus input focus in language learning.

I believe the focus depends on the material: mostly written material demands more definite grammar knowledge, mostly spoken material allows slackness of grammar.Too much emphasis on grammar slows study: there are practically no simple explanations and generalizations in any textbooks. Quite the opposite: lots of similar uses and exceptions, which conceal general meaning. The students are forced to learn all this, and general meaning dawns only after dozens of hours have been spent. So I think it’s better to ignore all grammar save for the most essential, and ignore rare exceptions for until later. It’s better to read and speak more or less fluently with a few mistakes than to know all exceptions to all the rules and be hesitant.

Steve Kaufmann

I was able to enjoy Tolstoi, Kreutzer Sonata my first book in Russian, text and audio book, with limited knowledge of grammar.

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