|Grammar police (the_munificent_sasquatch)|
When you're in the early stages of language learning, you tend to be pretty limited in what you can do grammatically.
Maybe you've memorized a few basic sentence structures, some conjunctions, and some basic verb tenses.
Here are two examples at the beginner level in English:
I like pizza. I like pasta. I like beef.
I like television. I like walks. I like ...
I go to work. I go to movies. I go a restaurant. I go ...
You get the point. Sometimes more interesting stuff happens:
I like go walking.
I like pasta - no salad.
But most of the time it's more like Example #1. The learner knows that what s/he is saying is correct and is comfortable with the sentence patterns.
The problem with staying in the 'comfort zone' is that you really don't get the opportunity to grow your grammar skills.
I've spoken to beginning and low-intermediate learners who know that they're in a rut, but can't figure out how to go about moving beyond the few basic grammar forms they're comfortable with.
For you learners who are stuck, but who tend to be open to ideas on how to get better and who are willing to try something new, think about approaching grammar strategically.
A great strategy to try in this situation is to make a grammar goal. Here's the perfect situation where goal setting can help you focus and improve your grammar skills.
Start by making a list of grammar forms you know you should be using, but are not. Maybe you use them in your writing. Maybe you've covered them in class - repeatedly. Maybe you recognize when native speakers use certain forms, but can never manage to use them yourself.
Next, pick one form that you want to work on. Generally, my advice would be to pick one that you're comfortable with conceptually and know that you should be using.
For example, most learners are aware of when another learner at their level starts using a new grammar form. If you see other learners at your level using a particular form, perhaps start with that. Otherwise, select one that you more or less understand how to use.
Finally, make a goal for yourself to try this new form out in speaking every day (or in your writing if you don't have the opportunity to speak in-language).
Keep track of when you use the new form. Depending on the context, ask for feedback from the person you're talking with on whether or not you used the form correctly.
Example: "I went for walking. This is correct?"
After practicing with the new form for a while, you'll begin to use it automatically (and correctly, for the most part). At this point, you should go back to that list you made and pick a new form to focus on.
Interested in learning more? Erin N. O'Reilly is a language coach specializing in second and foreign language learning strategies, helping learners at all levels reach their potential. You can learn everything about how to learn another language here: http://www.strategicl2.com.
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