Which is more important - communication or correct English grammar?

One question English students often ask is: Which is more important - grammar or communication? For spoken English, the simple answer is that, on the whole, communicating is more important than correct grammar. After all, the main goal of speaking English is to communicate ideas, not just to avoid making grammar mistakes. However, this certainly does not mean that grammatical accuracy is not important. In fact, whether or not a student can communicate sometimes depends on whether they get their grammar right.

All languages use grammar to some degree as a way to convey meaning, but some languages rely on grammar more than others. English is one language in which grammar makes a big difference in meaning. Consider, for example, the two following sentences:
1) I like dogs.
2) I like dog.

Both of these sentences are grammatically correct, but the meaning of the two sentences is quite different. Sentence #1 means "I like the kind of animal called dogs." (When countable nouns are referred to in general, the plural form should be used.) On the other hand, sentence #2 means "I like dog meat." (The singular form of some countable nouns may be used as mass nouns, and for many animals - such as chicken, turkey, snake, or even monkey - this means their meat.) Even though there is only one small grammatical difference between these two sentences, it makes a big difference in meaning.

Mistakes in grammar do not always result in communication problems, and English speakers are often able to understand sentences that have grammatical errors. However, grammar mistakes can sometimes make a sentence difficult to understand, or may change its meaning completely, so this is one reason why students should try to be as grammatically accurate as possible.

A second reason grammatical accuracy is important is that poor grammar may give people the impression that students aren't very smart. To a large extent, people judge how intelligent other people are by how well they speak and use language. Students who make many serious grammar errors simply don't sound as intelligent as students whose English is more accurate.

Of course, students don't need to worry too much about making grammar errors; English speakers know that it is not easy to learn English, and they generally don't have a bad impression of a student just because he/she makes a few grammar mistakes. However, if students want to be taken seriously and respected by English speakers, it helps if their English is as accurate as possible.

Word and phrase list:
on the whole: in general. Ex: There are some parts of this book that are boring, but on the whole it is quite interesting.
to convey: to communicate, to carry. Ex: He didn't say that he was happy, but the smile on his face conveyed his joy.
to result in: to cause, to make something happen. Ex: Her long hours of English study resulted in good test scores.
to give the impression that: to cause (someone) to think that something is true. Ex: The bored look on his face gave me the impression that he didn't like the movie.
to judge (A) by (B): to use B as a way to decide whether or not A is good. Ex: You can't always judge a book by its cover.
to be taken seriously: to be respected and paid attention to. Ex: If you want your employer to take you seriously, you will have to work harder.

By: Don Snow, Learning English: A Textbook for English Teachers


How To Learn English - Study Tips

Start with the basics
Be sure to have an understanding of your current level of English. You should know the basics of grammar and sentence structure before attempting anything too advanced. Learning English takes time, don’t try to learn too quickly without fully understanding the fundamentals of English. So don’t join an advanced conversation class if you still have trouble using past tenses correctly.

Set yourself goals
It is a good idea to have a realistic target to aim for. If you know why you are studying and you know how much you want to learn it will be easier to stay motivated. Set easy to measure goals: 80% or more on a certain test or perhaps remembering 100 words in a certain amount of time.

Focus on your interests
You are more likely to stay motivated if you read about and listen to things that you find interesting. Find reading texts and listening materials about the things you like. It is much easier to remember words, phrases and grammar about interesting topics rather than boring academic material.

Don't give up
Try to stay motivated even if at times it feels as though you are not learning very quickly. It is normal when learning a language to go throw fast and slow periods of acquisition. Don’t give up when things seem difficult, eventually you will make progress.

Don't worry about making mistakes
Mistakes are a necessary part of learning anything. Don’t worry too much if you make mistakes when using English, focus on being understood by the people you communicate with. Don’t try to be perfect all the time, if you forget a word try to use a different way of saying the same thing. Body language can also help you get your message across if you forget some vocabulary.

Learn how to ask questions
The best way to learn something is to ask for help. Learn and practice asking some or all of the following questions: How do you say this in English? – What does this mean? - What's the word for this? - What's that called? - What are they doing?

Enjoy Yourself
You will learn more and remember more if you enjoy learning. Try to use word games, crosswords, songs or jokes to help you improve your English. Studying with a friend can help you relax and enjoy your lessons but don’t forget to focus on learning and not on having fun.

Be realistic
It takes most people about four years to be able to reasonably communicate in their first language. Learning a second or third language will also take time. One mistake that students often make is that they are unrealistic, they believe they can master English in a few weeks or months by studying in a class 3 times a week. Be realistic, learning English will take a lot of time and effort, the key is to continue trying to learn and improve and not to give up.

Really learn vocabulary
One common mistake that students often make is trying to learn new words quickly rather than trying to really learn new words. Make sure that when you learn new vocabulary you understand how the word is used and can use it correctly in a sentence. You should then focus on trying to remember this word everyday for 10 days after that it can be considered as learned.

Review often
After you have learnt something, review it 10 minutes later, then again 30 minutes after that and then once more 2 hours later. This gives your brain time to take in the material but not enough time to forget it. You should have a general review study session once or twice a week to go over everything you have studied that week. It is a waste of time to learn something and then not put in the effort to really learn and remember it. If you forget something it means that you didn’t review it enough.

Schedule your study time
Plan your study time and stick to your plan. Write one month’s worth of scheduled lessons on a calendar and tick them off as you study. If you are not committed to studying at a certain time you are more likely to skip lessons than if you had a written schedule. This applies to scheduled classes as well as private at home study. If you think you are too busy to study on a particular day schedule just 10 minutes of review, a little is better than nothing.

Kill time
Most people spend an hour or more a day waiting, waiting for a bus, a meeting or for a coffee to arrive. Use this time to study, practice with flash cards a notebook or just mentally try to use English. You could review vocabulary while walking to class, sing the alphabet while showering or name as many things in English as you can while waiting in an office or on the bus. Think of how many extra minutes a day you could be improving your English, using this extra time could be the difference between passing or failing your next test.

Use flashcards
One of the most effective methods for learning vocabulary is to use flashcards. Blank business cards are an ideal size as they fit in your pocket so you can take them anywhere. Write a new word in English on one side and in your native language on the other. Don’t forget to add details such as plural forms or common phrases as you learn to use the word correctly.

Be an active student
Attending a class does not mean you will learn something. Learning takes effort and action. Speak whenever possible, if studying alone say things out loud to yourself. Write answers to questions rather than just thinking about the answer. Write and speak in sentences instead of giving the easiest shortest answer. There is a big difference between knowing something and being able to say or write something.

Homework is a very important part of learning English, the work you do at home will make class work, tests and English communication so much easier. When studying in class you don’t have too much time to carefully consider or think about your English communication, at home you have more time to really learn and understand class work. Homework gives you necessary practice that is needed to communicate well in English and will reinforce the material learned in class. Ask your teacher to check things you have done for homework to make sure you are not practicing errors.

Study Groups
Meeting other students to communicate and practice English can be a good change from class or individual study. Help each other to do homework, to learn vocabulary, to study for tests, or just to practice speaking the language. Help other students with the things that you know well and ask other students for help on the things that are difficult for you.

How do you learn?
People learn differently, some people hear a word and then never forget it, some people need to see the word to learn it, other people will need to learn the word through a story or song. Find out how you learn then try and use that method as much as possible. If you are naturally good at remembering rules and grammar but poor at speaking try to focus on speaking to overcome this weakness. It will help you if you know what you are good at and what you aren’t good at. If you are usually quiet in class and try not to participate, force yourself to sit at the front of the classroom.

Source: "The ESL Study Guide" from www.LanguageSkillsEnglish.com