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There are many theories about effective ways to learn grammar; most of them are generally true. However, students often complain they tried these methods and made little to no progress. This is also generally true because everyone learns differently; it’s important to know your learning style before you decide how to learn a new language.

There is one strategy that doesn’t rely on any particular learning style, whether you’re learning grammar, spelling, or anything else. That strategy is to focus on the English and native language (L1) grammar differences. Students learning English often impose their L1 grammar on English without realizing it. They won’t notice until the grammars disagree; when this happens, the L1 grammar usually wins.

So, when studying English grammar, look for the English and L1 grammar differences. For example, simple English sentences are “noun + verb + noun.” Another language might use “noun + noun + verb.” Someone who speaks this other L1 might try to say, “I visit you,” but will say, “I you visit” instead and wind up sounding like Yoda.

Cultural context

This strategy can be applied to idioms. A popular British idiom is “knock you up” (“I’ll come by and knock you up in the morning”). It means the speaker will come to your house and knock (or ring the doorbell). In North America, “knock you up” means to make a woman pregnant. You can clearly see how North Americans might misunderstand British people who say this.

English learners often translate English words, matching them with L1 words that are similar but not identical. Cultural contexts can have an effect similar to L1 grammar; an English word that is thought of as positive or good might be translated into an L1 word that is culturally bad or even taboo.  For example, most Westerners think of dogs as loving and obedient; they see dogs as a positive item. Other cultures might not agree, especially in countries where wild dogs run freely in packs and are considered dangerous. The L1 word for “dog” in this context would not be considered something positive.

Identify the differences, focus on them, and you’re less likely to make mistakes. If you do, you’re still one step ahead. This can also make you more comfortable and motivated, which is the most important point of all.

EnglishEnglish Grammar

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