I remember seeing a post on social media which asked ‘Which is most important, vocabulary or grammar?’
If you want to communicate well in any language it’s difficult to have one without the other. For this reason, I think the question itself is somewhat misguided. Is the implication that we have to spend time alternating between learning grammar rules and lists of words?
I find rules confusing and I’m sure I’m not the only one. If I had to stop speaking to think about grammar rules I would never say anything. For example, earlier today I was preparing a class for next week which focusses on using adverbs. The rules say that adverbs usually go after the verb but that we use modifying adverbs with adjectives or other adverbs and modifying adverbs always go before the adjective or adverb. If I try to teach that then I have to teach my students what a modifying adverb is and we get lost very quickly.
Learning individual words is also full of dangers for people who want to communicate. Here’s another example. Last week in a class, I was asked what the word ‘range’ means. The student had gone to the translator app in her phone and was confused by the result. The word given as a translation meant ‘distance’ which is correct in some situations. However, in this case, ‘range’ was being used with the word ‘mountain’. A mountain range is a line or group of mountains.
So what should we do to make learning less confusing?
Remember that one language is not simply a translation of another language. They are different because they have different origins and relate to different cultures. Learning the phrases that these cultures use will help us to communicate with them much better than just learning rules and individual words.