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A Message for Students of English

Many people study grammar and vocabulary to learn a second language. I don't believe this is the best method. Grammatical rules and words can be used to create sentences just like physics and observations can be used to determine the path of a baseball and calculate the perfect swing to get a home-run. However, not all physicists are professional baseball players.

Unfortunately, the method a scientist uses takes too long to be useful during a game. A baseball player needs to be able to estimate the path of the ball and decide how to swing the bat in less time than it would take the scientist to get a calculator out of his pocket. Spoken communication is similarly fast-paced.

Grammar and vocabulary will enable you to read and write, but not to speak and understand at native speeds. If you try to translate everything you hear into your own language, you'll miss parts of the conversation while you're thinking. If you take too long to respond, someone else might speak before you do.

However, you can use grammar as a tool to cope with unfamiliar situations. If you do, it's important to gradually stop translating as you become more comfortable. The scaffolding a contractor uses to build a building will be torn down once the building is finished. In the same way, the tools you use to learn a language might not be useful in the long run.

I believe that studying natural conversations is a more effective and enjoyable way to learn. Parts of the conversation are immediately useful and students can learn to adapt sentences to other situations. This doesn't provide a step-by-step progression like traditional grammar, but it's much natural.

Studying conversations also provides a way to learn words in context. Memorizing words from a bi-lingual list is not only boring, but often useless. Many words have different translations in different situations and are very difficult to use correctly if you've only seen a definition or translation.

No matter how you choose to study, the most important part of learning a second language is using it. The more you communicate, the more your English will improve. Don't let a fear of making mistakes hold you back. Don't be discouraged when you forget things. And don't give up.

Chris Ross
(Entopa English School)