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Many students worry about how to learn grammar. Of course, you can study grammar books, take practice tests, use translation programs, and get corrections from native speakers.  Of course, these things can help you! Here are some “holistic” ways to think about grammar, to learn grammar as a whole system, not just a bunch of small pieces.

1. Learn language in chunks.

Grammar is a relationship between words.  When you learn vocabulary, don’t just remember individual words.  Try to remember “chunks” or phrases that the word is in.  For example, not just “celebrate”, but “Let’s celebrate tonight.” Or “celebrate my birthday.”  And not just, “shocking”, but “The news was really shocking” or “shocking news”.   When we learn in chunks, we naturally acquire grammar.  Keep a notebook or make your own Quizlet account (quizlet.com) with free flashcards to study.

2. Shadow

We often miss small pieces of grammar because we’re not listening closely.  Shadowing is a way of practicing listening where you repeat the exact words you’re hearing – in real time.  (You need to use headphones and some audio or video recordings for this!) Choose a famous speech or poem or song, and put on your headphones.  Try to repeat exactly what was said.  Do this several times with each piece, until you can match the speed of the speaker.

3. Use audio books

Try reading-listening to one audio book per week!  Start with easy books.  There are a lot of choices out there – try xreading.com for a subscription! When you read and listen at the same time, you mind starts to process the grammar smoothly.

4. Try to “think in English”

When you’re using English, try to think in English.  If you keep translating back and forth – from your native language to English and back again – you mix up grammar systems.  This is not healthy for your grammar!  One way to “think in English” is to use “self talk” every day.  For example, when you’re walking around, try describing the scene you see (to yourself) in English.  (“I’m walking down the street.  It’s about 8 a.m.  It’s crowded.  A lot of people are going to work, maybe.”) Just use simple English – say what you can say.

5. Practice paraphrasing

One way to increase your grammar knowledge is by paraphrasing – saying the same idea with different grammar.  For example, say a sentence about yourself, like: “I go to the gym 3 times a week.”  Then say the idea in different words: “I go to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.” “I don’t go to the gym on other days.” “The gym is a place that I go three days a week.”  If you practice paraphrasing, your grammar will become more flexible – and you’ll start to understand grammar rules naturally.  You can also use translation programs, like Google Translate, to give you ways to paraphrase interesting ideas.

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