Why Doing Grammar Exercises and Memorizing Rules Don't Work
How did you learn grammar in school?
Did you get drilled a lot in from young doing assignments and getting ready for tests or exams?
Or did you learn it by memorizing grammar rules and exceptions?
Or did you simply learn grammar indirectly by reading and speaking to people, where you have an intuitive sense of grammar but don't exactly know what these rules are?
For those who learn grammar by doing lots of exercises and assignments, do you love the process? Do you want to continue doing them?
And for those who memorize grammar rules, do you find these fun, or a chore?
In my experience, doing grammar assignments and drills was a huge pain. I hated doing them.
Memorizing grammar rules was even worse. I felt that I only learnt superficial parts of grammar even though I spent lots of effort memorizing those rules and exception.
That was my experience. Let me tell you in detail why doing grammar exercises and memorizing rules don't work.
Makes learning grammar boring
What's the first feeling you have when you think about 'learning grammar'?
Excited? Happy? Boredom?
If you find grammar the most boring part of the English language, I don't blame you.
Since young, we have been learning grammar by doing lots and lots of grammar exercises and drills.
These are boring stuff.
We just want to get it over and done with, so we can play afterwards.
Memorizing is worse. It takes up a lot of effort, but in the end we are force-feeding boring rules into our brains.
No wonder most people, including me, perceive learning grammar to be boring, after years and years drills, assignments, and memorization.
Makes learning grammar tedious
Not only does memorization and doing grammar drills make learning grammar boring, it also makes learning grammar tedious.
A lot of effort has to be spent to learn grammar rules using these methods, and results are paltry compared to the effort put in.
Learning grammar doesn't have to be tedious, but learning using conventional methods makes learning grammar tedious.
Makes students learn grammar for the sake of passing exams
Many students, like you and I, would have given up and done something more fun, if not for the threat of failing exams.
So they study hard, learning grammar through these conventional methods, because these are what they are taught in schools.
And after exams, they promptly forget about what they learnt, like you and I.
This is not real learning. This is studying in a hard way for the sake of passing exams.
Lets students only have a superficial understanding of grammar
Memorizing grammar rules and exceptions may have its place sometimes, but in most instances doing this to remember important grammar rules is self-defeating.
For example, many teachers teach students to recognize the verb that comes after the word 'to' is always 'present tense'. We have to always remember this, without knowing the deeper meaning of the 'to [verb]' phrase.
Well, the 'to [verb]' phrase is an infinitive, and it plays a role in describing other words in a sentence.
Few students know the fundamentals. But knowing them gives you great power in constructing great sentences.
If you don't know these fundamentals and only understand grammar at a superficial level, you are stuck in writing in ways you are comfortable with, not knowing when you can be creative in constructing amazing sentences while remaining grammatically correct.
Makes students unaware of when they can break the rules
Some of the best sentences ever written are erroneous grammatically. But they are amazing because they are wrong at the right place.
A grammatical mistake is well worth the sacrifice if the meaning and beauty the sentence conveys far outweighs the need to be correct.
But this requires the writer to understand grammar at a deep level, and know exactly when to break its rules.
If you know how to break grammatical rules the right way, conveying beauty and meaning in the process, and there is no way to construct the sentence better while maintaining its quality, you become a professional writer.
If you don't understand grammar at its fundamentals, you will be stuck at being an amateur, having little room to be creative in the way you express yourself in your writing, since you can only write within the confines of your present understanding of grammar.
Most exercises only touch on a few, but not all aspects of grammar.
Despite all the grammar drills and exercises we have done in school, we did not learn everything we have to know about grammar, even the important bits.
When I was in school, I learnt about tenses, subject-verb agreement, active and passive voices, and so on.
But I knew nothing about sentence construction, which requires understanding of phrases and clauses, until I was in university!
These are basic concepts. And in most of my life I wrote sentences using my intuition, not actual knowledge about what works.
Most of the time I wrote sentences correctly. But there were many instances where I made grammar errors, but I didn't know what they were.
Without conscious knowledge about grammar related to sentence construction, I did not know how to find mistakes in my sentences and correct them.
And I couldn't be creative when writing sentences, since I could only rely on what I knew to be grammatically correct.
Are you experiencing similar issues as well?
Do you have a grammar 'blind spot' that your school somehow failed to teach you?
Do you feel frustrated about certain concepts you thought you understood, but realize that you didn't at all, because your teachers have pointed out the same mistakes over and over again?
There's a way out.
Like me in the past, if you are unfamiliar with grammar related to constructing sentences, you may consider getting my free guidebook 4 Ways to Improve Your Grammar.