Spoken Grammar

I know what you’re probably thinking - grammar again?? But trust me, what I’m talking about here is nothing like the ‘rules, memorising, writing exercises, repeat’ process you’re probably thinking of. In fact, I’m going to insist that you learn your grammar without reading a single grammar rule!


What?!!! Learning grammar with no rules?

Damn straight.

You see, most people think grammar is a set of rules that tells you how to use a language. On this picture, grammar is prior to language, meaning that the language is a result of or an expression o the rules of grammar. But this is back to front.

in actual fact, it’s language that comes first, and grammar is simply a collection of rules worked out by observing what the best examples of a language have in common. On this picture, then, grammar is an expression of the language, not the other way around.

This has a huge effect on how we approach both grammar and language learning in general.

Basically, if grammar comes from language, then we can see that the usual method of learning grammar first has things the wrong way around. It’s not natural, so no wonder so many students struggle and never get past this stage - it’s putting the cart before the horse. But if we learn it the way that makes sense - language first, grammar second - then things shift completely, and all of a sudden progress comes quickly.


So, down to business: how do we actually go about learning grammar? Well, there are two way that I’m going to talk about, but there’s something I need to get clear first. If language comes before grammar, this is going to affect how we actually learn grammar (and I’ll talk about that next), but it also means that we have to engage with the language without grammar first. This is why I’m so big on reading lots from day one, without grammar. If you do this, you’ll find yourself assimilating a lot of grammar naturally - just the way it should, grammar coming from language.

Once you’ve got a good foothold on the language, a little acknowledgement of grammar can go a long way to speeding up your learning. I recommend two ways to learn grammar: spoken grammar and goldlisting grammar. I’ll talk about spoken grammar today, and go over goldlisting grammar tomorrow. You can do whichever you prefer, or both!

N.B. There is a third way, probably the best in my opinion, but I’ll talk about that later because a) you can do it alongside these and b) its focus isn’t on grammar, exactly.

Spoken grammar is exactly what it sounds like - there’s no writing, and everything is done out loud. To do it all you need is any book on Latin which has exercises with the answers - you can use Teach Yourself Latin, Getting Started in Latin, Wheelock’s, Gwynne’s Latin, or any other Latin book whatsoever. You can even use online resources. It doesn’t matter - the only thing that matters is that it contains exercises and that you have access to the answers.

Chosen your source material? Great. Now I want you to ignore all explanations in the book (or whatever) you’re working with. Skip the explanations and the rules and only look at the exercises.

Then, go through one set or one page of exercises (depending on how many there are) and do them out loud. No writing, not one word. This helps to force you to create the language internally, a crucial step for any language.

Next, check your answers. Any you got wrong, make a little mark next to it and then you’re done.

The next day you repeat the above process with the next chapter. It doesn’t matter if there are so many more exercises in the first chapter - you’ll come back to them later. Go to chapter two and repeat. Then the day after go to chapter 3 and repeat, and so on. When you reach the end of the book, go back and start all over again, with the next set of exercises in chapter one.

But before you start the new exercises go over the ones you got wrong the first time.

And that’s the whole method!

A couple of points to note, to help explain it. Notice that this process allows the grammar to be absorbed from the language (the sentences) itself rather than memorised. Using exercises means the sentences focus on a particular area of grammar which makes it easier for your brain to notice, but skipping the explanation allows the language itself to do all the talking (pun intended)!

And why spoken? Because it forces you to create the language spontaneously, and it connects your whole body to the sound and feel of the language, helping with memory.

Remember this method isn’t for day one - it’s for after you’ve been reading a while. For me, depending on how much reading I’ve done, I’d start this around two months in, but gauge that yourself. I wouldn’t go any less than two months though!

if you go through a whole book this way, trust me, your grammar will be vastly improved!