What should I do? Studying grammar is hard

"I want to learn English but I don’t want to study grammar." As a teacher I have heard this countless times. But can you learn to play tennis without practising the different types of shots first? Can you invest your money without knowing the basics of finance? Can you run without being able to stand up on your feet first? If you have answered "no" to any or all of this, then you may well agree that you cannot speak a language without learning its grammar. 

I do agree that grammar-only lessons can be tedious or uninteresting, and that is why, as teachers, we work to avoid that. It is also true that grammar can be difficult and problematic for students... Here are two very popular problems that students tend to face: 

1. "I keep making the same mistakes"

The fact that your teacher has corrected your mistake in class does not imply that you have automatically rectified it. A good set of steps to follow with recurring mistakes is the following: 

  1. Learn why it's wrong. 
  2. Hear and read a few examples. 
  3. Make a few examples of your own. 

Repeat steps 2 and 3 daily until you feel that your tendency to make that mistake is gone. 

Embedded errors do require that extra effort on your part—this is often compensated for by other grammar points that you may find easy and effortless to learn. 

2. "I find grammar extremely difficult"

If this is your case, try to understand as much of a new item as possible—be it a new tense, a type of structure such as conditional sentences or simply how to form a grammatically correct sentence in English. You will certainly have a very hard time using it if you are not comfortable with notions such as “why it is the way it is,” “how (to form a certain tense, for example),” “what meaning or meanings that item may have” and “in what context(s) it is used.” 

Also, make sure you get enough input. This means: read or hear as many examples of the item you are learning as possible. There are several ways to do this, but a very straightforward one is to Google the word, phrase or sentence and see what your search results in. You may find a number of newspaper articles or blogs where it is used, and even videos on YouTube or similar sites. All of them are valid sources of input for you to sophisticate your understanding on how the item you are learning is used in context. 

Next, practise: at first, it is certainly beneficial for you to work on grammar exercises from a textbook—or a website. Even if these exercises are lacking in contextual information, they are useful for you to automatize the use of a new item. These often allow for self correction—you can then bring any questions to class for your teacher to clarify. Do as many exercises as you feel necessary before you actually move on to the next step: setting out to use the new item when you speak or write, as much as you can. You may write examples down on your notes and use them as you speak to your teacher in class, or even just include a reminder on your notes for you to use that item in the next few lessons. At the beginning, it may not sound natural to you. However, this is what will later on help you assimilate it and use it naturally and spontaneously in the future. 

Finally, do know that you just might not be ready for a certain grammar point. In that case, move on to other grammar points and come back to it later. You might find yourself understanding something you didn’t a few months ago. Learning grammar may certainly have gained the reputation of being dull, problematic, challenging and burdensome—but it is certainly not impossible. Consider the ideas discussed here and you may not only find a way but also even take a little pleasure in it!