Grammar is always a challenge when learning another language. The rules and structures may be different and there are often elements that are particular to that language. English is no different and is often the one element that most learners feel they need to improve.
A key way to improve is to become more aware of the grammar you use so that you can correct yourself and better understand when reading and listening. How can you do this? Read on for some top tips!
Before we start, let’s kick off with a challenge to test your grammar awareness!
The following text has some errors – can you spot all 10 mistakes (*answers at the bottom of the article)?
Tokyo is the capital of Japan since over 150 years and, with population of around 37 million people, is now by far the larger city in the world. It is also the most technological advanced, and the city is running like clockwork. The automated subway, for example, is so efficient that it can to transport almost 8 million commuters every day and on the rare occasions which it goes wrong, nobody believes. If you are late to work in Tokyo, you need providing written proof from the train company.
Text adapted from English File Upper-int Third Edition.
Let us now look at some ways in which you can improve your grammar awareness.
Reading helps you see grammar in action and in context. When reading, be focused and look at a couple of grammar items and how they are used (e.g. tenses and prepositions) instead of trying to look at all the grammar. You can use resources such as English File – Grammar Student’s Site to help you review and learn texts.
Also, read a wide range of text such as news articles, blogs, reviews and stories to see the different structures and tenses used. Choose topics that interest you to keep you motivated. Here are some suggestions:
- Blogs – the website Detailed has an extensive list of blogs on a variety of subjects.
- BBC – great for new articles and more formal grammar structure.
Listening texts are another fantastic resource. Below are some suggestions to get you started. As you listen, try to notice the grammar used (e.g. tenses, prepositions, gerunds). Use subtitles if you want, and then review any grammar after that you want to study.
- 50 Things that Made the Modern World – Podcast series. Fascinating 10-minute talks on history and economics).
- Desert Island Discs – Interviews featuring well-known people talking about their lives and favourite pieces of music.
- TedED has lots of great video talks to watch on various topics. Most are under 10 minutes and feature a transcript to help you review the grammar used.
- 6 minute English on the BBC Learning website has lots of short discussions and interviews to listen to. They cover different topics and there is a transcript as well.
Writing and speaking are the productive sides of grammar and allow you to put into practice what you have learnt as well as highlighting areas you need to work on.
Here are some ideas for writing:
- Write pieces about an experience, memory or a plan for the future (past tenses, reported speech, future forms).
- Write an essay with a viewpoint (passive tenses).
- Write an email to a friend or another student (past tenses, reported speech, future forms).
The process is important – ‘write, review, rewrite’. This helps you become more aware of the grammar you are using and better able to notice errors and correct them. For support, Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage is an excellent resource to review grammar.
Record yourself speaking about something. It doesn’t have to be long – 1 or 2 minutes is fine, here are some themes you could try speaking about:
- An experience
- A future plan
- An opinion on a topic
- Advice for a friend or relative
Afterwards, listen to the recording and notice the grammar you have used (e.g. tenses, prepositions, articles), then repeat the task and try to improve. Again, resources such as Practical English Usage and Oxford Practice Grammar can help you review.
As you can see, there are several ways to develop your awareness of grammar. What is important is to give yourself plenty of opportunities to notice the grammar used in texts and by yourself when speaking and writing. And by practising your grammar with all four skills, you will make your learning more relevant, practical and motivating.