The Biggest Obstacle to Learning

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Much of what I believe about learning – through experience and studies – I have already written about elsewhere (for instance in my post: ‘The Best Curriculum in the World’). But the topic regularly pops up in classes, often in connection with questions concerning memory – memorizing and forgetting – or when talking about ‘grammar’, where I still hear things like: “I hate grammar, I’m bad at grammar etc.”. Even from course members whose English is on an advanced level.

There is a great misunderstanding concerning the term ‘grammar’. Every language has its specific ‘grammar’. When we try to understand and learn a language, we try to understand its patterns and regularities, besides the meanings of words and expressions, and its pronunciation.

The patterns of a language are what we call its grammar. And when we speak a language, we ‘know’ its grammar at least partly. Maybe not as well and complete as a native speaker, but the minute we can use a language system in a way that others understand, when we are able to communicate, however rudimentary, we have internalized (part of) its grammar.

When in the process of learning a language, it can be helpful (and fun, yes indeed!) to analyse patterns, observe and identify regularities, and try to describe them.

We don’t have to do that. We can expose ourselves to as much language as possible and let our brains do the ‘analyzing’ intuitively all on its own. It’s what brains are good at if allowed a state of relaxed curiousity without negative pressure or stress.

And beware: Even if we add an analytical approach, there are no short-cuts around quantity, no magical rules to learn that will help you generate more language in a shorter time. If you want to master a language beyond the beginning stages, you have to expose yourself regularly. The more the better.

I am aware of what students mean when they express their aversion towards ‘doing grammar’…

So what is the biggest obstacle to learning? Actually, I can keep this really short: It is the fear of making mistakes.

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