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How Much Grammar and Syntax Terminology Do I Need to Know?

learn spanish grammar?Frankly? None. You can learn all the grammar you’ll ever need for anything other than passing a test on grammar via context–meaning that you’ll learn how to say things correctly simply from trial and error: speaking with native speakers, making mistakes, and being corrected; you don’t need to know what it’s called when you correctly use the subjunctive, knowing what the subjunctive is is not a prerequisite to using it properly.  When you speak English (or whatever your native language is), can you actually explain everything you say in formal grammar and syntactical terms?  No, very few people can, but you and every other native speaker can still speak, read, and write at a very high level of fluency with very few if any grammatical errors, right?  You’ll never need to know actual formal terms for the concepts that you’re learning, you needn’t know the difference between the preterit and perfect subjunctive…however, it may be worth the time it takes to learn a minimal amount of it simply so you can understand verb conjugation charts and any exercises you may do online or in workbooks if you’re trying to learn how to read and write the language–I would recommend that you know what the difference is between the present tense and the preterit tense, in other words.

A quick side note: if you’re interested in teaching yourself Spanish…

I have a short post and video (that are free to read and view of course, won’t cost you more than a few minutes of your time) on how to do precisely that with the system that I put together which allowed me to become fluent in Spanish in just 6 months after years of trial-and-error by watching Spanish-language TV shows (like telenovelas, hence the name of the system) and movies, reading Spanish books and comics, and listening to Spanish music. If this sounds interesting to you, check it out by clicking the link below (the following link should open in a new tab or window for you when you click it so I’m not asking you to leave this article here):

“The Telenovela Method of Learning Spanish” (a “telenovela” is a Spanish-language soap opera, they’re what I initially used to teach myself Spanish!)

I also include some quick and valuable tips for learning Spanish as well as a couple of the most useful free Spanish-learning websites that I recommend.

However, if all you want to do is learn how to speak, then knowledge of this stuff is the least useful, and even if you’re interested in learning how to read and write it’s still only slightly more useful.

I’ll put it this way: the best way to determine what you need to learn is to simply dive into the language and then look up anything you find that you have to know as you go along.  For example, if you’re using a workbook and they mention the ‘preterit’, and knowing what that word means is vital to you learning what you’re trying to learn, then go look it up, otherwise don’t.  In other words, let necessity dictate whether you bother learning something or not.

If you want to just quickly learn the basics, two great resources that you can get through in under an hour and continually reference are:

The Simple English Wikipedia article on Syntax, and

The Wikipedia article on Spanish Grammar

A Quick Note Before We End…

I’ve got two posts that I’ve put up that I’m recommending everyone interested in learning Spanish go read if they haven’t already (if you have, ignore this, sorry): How to avoid wasting months learning Spanish the wrong way (basically this is my “how to get started right in learning Spanish” post for complete beginners) and The Telenovela Method where I cover how to use popular media like movies, music, and books to learn Spanish. Additionally you can check out the front page for a more complete list of my best and most popular posts.

Cheers,

Andrew

Get my list of the internet's top 33 FREE Spanish-learning resources here!

I put together a list of the internet’s Top 33 Free Spanish-learning resources, my favorite language exchanges and Spanish chat rooms, and more. I’ve spent a great deal of time putting together a 3-part series of articles for you on the internet’s best free resources for the Spanish-learner that you’ll get when you sign up for my newsletter–in addition to all of what you get below, I’ll be sure to send you any updates about cool new sites, resources, and learning tips and techniques that I come up with (I’m currently putting together a whole series that will teach you in great detail precisely how I go about learning a new language):

Part 1: A very long list of my favorite Top 33 free online Spanish-learning resources (tools, references, sites with free lessons, articles, blogs, forums, etc.) that’s far too long to include here, especially with all the other stuff I’ve got here that’s available just on this site alone, and I’d like to offer it to you (completely free, you don’t have to do anything other than sign up) right now.

Part 2: I explain what language exchanges are (essentially they allow you free access to an unlimited number of native speakers to practice your Spanish with), why they’re absolutely essential if you’re teaching yourself (I’m serious when I say this: it’s impossible to get fluent without them if you’re learning a foreign language on your own), how to use them, and which ones are the best.

Part 3: I cover chat rooms which are specifically devoted to connecting you with native Spanish speakers who want to learn English so you can chat with them in Spanish (and they’ll help and correct you) and then you do the same for them with their English (these are completely free to use, but rather hard to find, but I’ll tell you where the best ones are!). Sign up below!

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  • Cainntear

    “I’ll put it this way: the best way to determine what you need to learn is to simply dive into the language and then look up anything you find that you have to know as you go along.”

    Or in other words, grammatical terminology isn’t important in and of itself — but if the materials you’re learning from rely on it, you need to learn it.

    I agree with that, but that’s not the same as saying:
    “You can learn all the grammar you’ll ever need for anything other than passing a test on grammar via context”

    Which may be true, but is it efficient? I don’t believe so.

    The thing with grammatical terminology is that it was designed to make language easier, by explaining the grammatical point… in Latin. Unfortunately most textbook writers choose to remain oblivious to the fact that this is no longer helpful to the average learner.

    Use of Latin terminology makes grammar seem arcane and obscure to the learner, and the result is that people think that conscious grammar study is arcane and obscure.

    A well-ordered introduction to grammar that uses plain-English descriptions that describe the grammar to an English-speaker in the same way that the Latin labels helped Latin speakers would be very effective.

    I’ve trained myself to understand grammatical terminology because current materials require me to know this — I dream of a future where you don’t have to learn a whole specialist jargon simply to learn the basics of a language. When that happens, multilinguism will be universal, because it will just be soooooo easy.

  • admin

    I agree that part of the problem is the Latin-based terms, and you’re also right in that current textbooks/workbooks/phrasebooks you might use for language learning will require you to use some terms, which is why I said you just let what and how much formal grammar you need to learn be dictated by necessity: if you have to look up a grammatical term to be able to understand a workbook exercise you’re doing, then fine, look it up and learn it, but don’t go and bother learning a bunch of grammar ahead of time in anticipation of its usefulness, because you’ll likely find, as I and many other language learners I know have, that most of it isn’t very useful.

    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment, and a very well written one at that.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • The Latin based terms and Latin emphasis make it even worse when studying languages that are very different from Latin, leading to misconception that they don’t have much grammar, or pointless facts that this word can serve as a noun an adjective or a verb depending on blah blah blah (a forced admission that you don’t have an appropriate way to describe it using a Latin based grammar model).

    I am not a great fan of grammar this way either. Some people get hot under the collar when you tell that grammar is not important but you have to look at the context, have to look at the difference between implicit and explicit knowledge, the difference between learning a language and learning about language.

    http://chris-thai-student.blogspot.com/2010/06/grammar-go-home.html

  • admin

    “the difference between learning a language and learning about language.”

    That was perfect, Chris, I’m going to use that from now on when I’m explaining this to people, thank you.

    Thanks for stopping by, by the way. Cheers,

    Andrew