Learning grammar can be very overwhelming for non-native speakers of a language. Each and every one of us comes with our own grammar, that has its own rules, structures, and patterns.
So learning new rules – and there are so many, right? – can really make us take a step back. But also, as speakers of a second language, the grammar of that language often clashes with the grammar of our first language. It is most common when we get to speaking.
In writing, we have more time to think about what we want to say and how we want to say it, to recall certain grammar rules that we already know, or look for explanations online about rules we’re not so sure of.
Nowadays we even have tools online that allow us to tweak our grammar and be more accurate (I’ve added some of my favorite resources below!). But that’s not the case when it comes to speaking. And that gap can be very frustrating.
This is why today’s episode is all about grammar. You can watch the video lesson on this page or listen to it as a podcast episode HERE.
Hey, welcome to the InFluency Podcast. I’m Hadar, and this is episode number 174. And today we’re going to talk about improving your grammar.
Hey, what’s up, everyone? Thank you so much for joining me for another episode. A quick update: today is Friday. This episode is supposed to be aired on Tuesday. And when this episode is going to be aired, I’m going to be in Rome, which is so incredibly exciting.
So, two years ago, back in 2019, before the pandemic, we spent a month in Italy and a few weeks in Rome. And it has been such an incredible experience. And, you know, since then I’ve been dreaming about that place. And finally, we had an opportunity to go – just my partner and I, Gil – for four days to Rome. And we decided to seize that opportunity.
So, as you will be learning about grammar today, I will be drinking espresso somewhere. Just saying. So you can right now, as you’re listening to this, if you’re listening to this on the day that this was released, then know that I’m right now drinking an espresso somewhere.
‘Drinking an espresso’ – that’s like the present tense, right? Which is a nice segue to talk about today’s episode, which is about grammar. I am not a fan of grammar. You’ll hear me talking about it when I actually start the lesson today. But I’m not a fan of grammar. I love grammar, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important – grammar.
But it was really hard for me to get it for many, many years. I had this resistance in me for anything related to grammar. By the way, this was also in third grade, when we studied Hebrew grammar. And I would just not get why I need to learn all these weird fancy tenses or forms, that no one actually uses. In Hebrew, there’s also this punctuation that is basically the pronunciation of the words. And yeah, that was also really tiring because no one uses that when writing.
So there’s the concept of the language, right? How the language needs to be used. And usually when we speak, we only use a part of it, of all the things that we learned. So, no wonder I had this resistance toward something that is not 100% practical. Now, that’s just me, right? It doesn’t mean that it has to be you. I know that there are a lot of people who are in love with all those, you know, rules and structures. And it helps them understand the language so much better. It’s just not me.
So, when I teach how to improve your learning strategies and language acquisition, I try to give you new ways, that are a little different from conventional teaching. Because if conventional teaching has helped you, then you’re probably not here, listening to this podcast. Because something hasn’t worked well for you and hasn’t been adapted to how you learn and understand and thrive in a second language. And I’m offering new methods and ways to learning things that might be more suitable for you. Because I’ve discovered that they are more suitable for me and my students.
So, in this episode, as you’ll hear in just a few minutes, I talk about grammar and how you can improve your grammar. So, if you’ve ever struggled with grammar and with not understanding why, even though you know this tense or you know that you need to put ‘an’ before apple; or you know that you need to say ‘had’ instead of ‘have’, but still, what comes out of your mouth is a little different than what you know, this episode is for you.
Because I’m going to teach you a method to help you overcome and bridge that gap. While drinking coffee in Rome. I’m kidding. I’m only going for, you know, four days. And probably by the time you’re hearing it, I’m back in my studio, recording videos for you and episodes, podcast episodes for you.
So, this is probably not going to be relevant. I might need to change the tense to the present perfect, rather than the present continuous. It was a grammar joke. Did you get it? Okay, my friends, I think it’s time to listen to the real lesson here. And that is, how to improve your grammar? Let’s go.
I don’t love grammar. I don’t like grammar. And I don’t love teaching grammar. I don’t like grammar in English. I don’t love grammar in Hebrew, I even resent it – Hebrew is my native language.
So, when it comes to grammar, I totally understand the struggles that most of my students face. Because here is the thing, grammar is this entire universe that is comprised of many algorithms and rules and equations, in a way. And to me, that I find myself to be not very analytical, and I don’t like going into details. So to me, that feels a little overwhelming and it’s not aligned with how my brain works. Right? I don’t like systems, I don’t like, you know, paradigms. And that’s what grammar is about.
So, I had to figure out a way to understand grammar intuitively, and also, to teach it intuitively. I don’t teach grammar, you know this. I always tell you that if you have grammar questions for me, I’m not the right person. But, sometimes, I get a subject, and I’m able to explain it because I have found an intuitive way to understand it and to teach it.
So, this episode is not going to be about a specific rule or tense, but what I want to do here is to offer you a new way to look at grammar, and to learn grammar, and to understand grammar. The same thing that has helped me over the years, and even till this day. Because even till this day, if you were to ask me something specific about grammar, I’d be like, “Hmm, I don’t know. I just use it that way.” and sometimes it’s correct, and sometimes it is not. And I’m okay with it.
So, first of all, let’s talk about the problem, the real problem. The real problem is first, what I described, you know, this resistance from all the rules and structures, for some people. I mean, I know that there are grammar lovers out there and if you’re a grammar lover, let me know in the comments, and I’m going to send you hugs and ask you to send me some of your grammar energy. But a lot of people are like me, where they get a little overwhelmed with all the rules and paradigms and systems. So that’s the first challenge.
The second challenge is the gap between the grammar that we know. So, when it comes to reading and writing, yes, that could be super easy for us. Right? I know it. I need some time to process it. I can think about it. There is Grammarly, or Wordtune – I’m going to link to both in the comments – that are great tools to help you with your grammar and your writing. I’m not an affiliate, don’t worry. I’m just using both.
And there is the grammar that you actually use. Right? And all of a sudden, you discover that you make all those silly mistakes when speaking. You know, you skip the article – the ‘a’ or the ‘the’, or, you know, you say ‘these’ instead of ‘this’. And sometimes it just like slips out of your mouth, even though you know it’s not right, you know that according to English grammar, it needs to be different. Yet, you don’t know how to bridge that gap, no matter how much you’re learning. So, that’s the second problem.
And the third is, how do I know how to improve and advance? Because I’m sure that a lot of you are like, “Okay, I need to improve my grammar.” And then you’re like, “What should I do? Should I buy a book about English grammar?” And then you get a book this thick, with all the different forms and irregular verbs and all the exceptions, and all the different situations where you would or would not use a certain tense. And you’re like, “Ugh… How do we even start improving?” So, if that resonated with you, let me know in the comments as well, that this is your biggest challenge.
So, hopefully, in this episode, I will help you organize in your head what you need to learn, and offer you a method that has helped me and helped many of my students to improve the grammar that you know but you don’t use.
By the way, if you are new to my channel, then hello and welcome. I’m super thrilled to have you here. My name is Hadar Shemesh. You can find my website at hadarshemesh.com with a lot of exciting things for you to get started with me. And I’m a non-native speaker of English. But I am still here to help you feel confident, proud, authentic, and free when communicating in English. And I’m all about learning strategies and all about making the language your own.
So, if this is something that you struggle with, not feeling like yourself in English and not feeling that you’re fulfilling your potential in English, then I think that if you subscribe to this channel, you’ll discover how you can actually overcome that and do that. You can also follow me on Instagram at @hadar.accentsway. All right. So, we already talked about the biggest challenges when it comes to learning grammar. I’m sure there are more. If you want to share them, I’m inviting you to do that in the comments.
So the next thing I want to talk to you about today is how to know what to focus on. I always talk about essentialism, the 20%. What can you work on that will get you the best results? So that you don’t learn everything and not put into use anything, but you only learn the things that you actually need and you’re more likely to use, because that will get you significant results. Because the more you learn, the bigger the gap is between the English that you know and the English that you speak.
And this is why we don’t need to learn a lot. We need to learn the essential things and spend most of the time not learning more, but practicing it and implementing it. You know, if there is one thing I want you to take from this video is this idea. And I talk about it a lot – implementing the content that you learn, right? Because there is no way in the world that you would learn something new, whether it’s a tense or a word or a sound, and you’d be able to use it freely without putting in a lot of practice time, implementing that thing that you just learned.
And you expecting yourself to do that is totally unfair and does not create the best circumstances for you to succeed. And then you feel bad. And then you feel incompetent. And you have no reason to feel that. You have just not created the right circumstances for you to succeed.
So, learning something, and that is super easy. Like any basic English blog out there would teach you properly what you need to know about a certain grammar form, tense, rule, preposition, so on and so forth. Right? There is so much amazing content out there that is absolutely free. The question is, what are you going to do with it, right? So, it’s not that you’re lacking the resources or the content to learn from. You’re lacking a plan and an organized system to put it into practice.
When it comes to grammar, first, the first thing that comes to mind is tenses, right? Like all the tenses in English. The problem is that many of the tenses that we have in English may not exist in your language. And this is where the clash is, right? When there is something that happens in English, but it doesn’t happen in your native language. Maybe you have more tenses in your native language and you have less in English, and that is a clash too. Because you would want to use the tenses that you have in your native language, and you won’t have the forms to do that.
So the clash is important. Okay? Understanding the clash, where your grammar clashes with the English grammar, that is important. What’s also important is to recognize that, when it comes to tenses in particular, there are more popular and frequent tenses – they’re more important – than tenses that are important more in writing than in speaking. Meaning, if you make a mistake and not use those tenses properly, probably no one is going to notice really. In writing it’s more tricky, but right now we’re only speaking about speaking.
So, here is how I see it. There are the essential tenses and the fancy tenses. I’m not saying you don’t need to learn the fancy tenses, but I’m suggesting that the fancy tenses should be dealt with after you feel pretty confident about the core tenses – the basic tenses. And after you feel like you’re using them without thinking about it, you’re using them spontaneously. It comes natural to you, you get it in your body. You know when to use the continuous tense and when to use the simple tense, for example.
Here are some of the tenses that I believe are really important for you to know and to use effortlessly because they’re in frequent use. And when you don’t use them, that might create a challenge in A – your clarity, and B – your confidence. Because you would know it’s supposed to sound a certain way, but it doesn’t. Okay?
First, we have all the Simple Tenses, the most frequent ones, the basic ones. And there, we have the Simple Past, Simple Present, and Simple Future. And within that, you know, we need to know the ‘were’ versus ‘was’, right? ‘She walks’ versus ‘I walk to school every day’, right? Knowing when to put the ‘s’ for the ‘he’, ‘she’, and ‘it’. So, that includes the Simple Tense.
Then we have the Continuous Tense, right? Like an action that is ongoing. And there we have all the ‘were/was working’ versus ‘am working’ versus ‘will be working’. Right? And that is also super frequent. And within that, we also want to know how they all interact together, like what happens if there are two actions in the past: one is longer and the other one is shorter. Like, ‘I was riding my bicycle when I met my friend from school’. Right? Past Continuous – Past Simple.
So, these are probably the most important tenses that you need to feel comfortable with. You need to be able to use them freely. You don’t want to think about those tenses when you are trying to structure a sentence. Now, again, it’s easier when you’re writing, but it’s a little more challenging when you’re speaking. So you want to make sure that this does not occur, like you second-guessing yourself or thinking about it too thoroughly, when you want to use these specific tenses.
Then there’s also the Perfect Tense, but not all Perfect Tenses are equally important. So, the Present Perfect, which actually talks about the past, is probably the most frequent one. ‘I’ve seen that movie’. ‘I’ve been there’. ‘I’ve never had spicy burrito’. Not true, by the way. So, the Present Perfect Tense is also very frequent and you need to understand how to use it confidently. And what’s the difference between that and the Simple Past. Okay?
And again, I’m going to give you a method to practice in the third part of the video. But for now, identifying those elements is really important. And of course, there are more tenses. And if you feel that you’re pretty confident with all these tenses, then of course you can start elevating yourself and start working on all the other tenses.
Same thing happens with, you know, the use of articles, and the use of plural forms, and all the other things that you come across in English. When it’s a challenge, again, it means that it clashes with your native grammar. So the next question you want to ask yourself, whether it’s a tense or a different grammar form, you want to ask yourself, “Why is it so confusing to me? Why don’t I get it? Why don’t I use it intuitively? How is it different in my language?”
So, for example, if in your language, ‘in’, ‘at’, and ‘on’ have the same word, like it’s pretty much the case for Hebrew, then of course, you’re going to confuse ‘at’ and ‘in’ when you’re talking about place or when you’re talking about time. Because you translate it to the same word.
So, first of all, understanding this can be very helpful. So when intuitively you’re about to say something that in your head you would use, you know, that one word in your native language and you’re trying to translate it, we should have a light bulb going up saying, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. There’s a challenge here. You know this already”. And then you go into your kind of like deeper memory, trying to retrieve the rule. This is like a middle stage until you start using that form more freely.
So, understanding the clash, if you have it or you don’t have it – do you have, you know, the past continuous form in your native language? If not, then it’s going to be challenging for you to use it in English. And then, you want to understand what is your intuition, what you’re like about to say, and how you can shift that. You’re starting to make new connections in your brain. I know it feels hard, but it is possible.
So, that leads us to the last part of how do you make those new connections? So, learning the rule is great, but that’s just like the starting point, right? You haven’t solved the problem by understanding the rule. Understanding the rule is just, “Oh, okay. This is where I’m at”, just like locating yourself on the map. But it’s not going to help you get to the next place. You need the vehicle, you need GPS, you need the directions, right? Knowing where you are on the map is just the starting point. And that’s the case with learning a certain grammar rule or tense or form, whatever you want to call it.
So then you want to make it more intuitive and you want to build Pronunciation Confidence, which is the method I’ve developed, that is all about using new ideas or things that you don’t have in your native language spontaneously and intuitively. It’s basically all about building new speaking habits. And grammar is all about speaking habits. I actually have a video about it, that I’m going to link to it below.
So, this is what you want to do. First, like I said, identify the challenges, like the mental challenges. Why is it so hard for you to get it? Then you want to learn it, right? So go to a decent resource and learn about that tense. For example, the Past Perfect Tense, learn when to use it just so you have the outline of it. Then you want to look at existing examples – Google or YouGlish are excellent resources for providing you with a bunch of sentences with that specific tense. You just need to write it on YouGlish, or just Google example sentences of sentences with the Past Perfect Tense.
And then you want to look at these existing examples that were created by someone else that is not you, yet. You actually want to say them quite a few times out loud. And you want to say it again and again. Right? It’s kind of like you’re creating the illusion of using it without you actually producing that sentence. And in a way, your mouth gets used to it, you get used to it. You feel more comfortable using that strange new speaking habits/tense/grammar form.
And then, also, the back of the brain is always working. So the back of the brain, right, like your subconscious mind is hearing the sentence, is understanding the context, is recognizing the new rule and it starts processing what it is that you’re saying. But repetition is important and abundance is important. So you need to say a bunch of different sentences in many different times, not just once.
So it really is like building muscles, right? It’s like, you’re going to take a weight and you’re going to do this once, great. It’s not going to build any muscle. You’re just going to learn how to do it properly. But if you do it again and again, and again, and again, and again, a few times a day, it’s going to build the muscle. So, that’s the same thing.
Now, after you’ve repeated it quite a few times, then you want to create your own sentences. You want to start producing sentences. What I love doing is to take one existing sentence and just change the names or change the content words. So, if one of the sentences you find on YouGlish is ‘I’d booked the ticket before I realized that I lost my passport’, ‘I’d booked (had booked) the ticket before I realized that I lost my passport’.
So, if this is the sentence that you use as an example, and then you want to start creating your own sentences, you can say ‘I’d booked’, maybe ‘I’d lost my ticket’, maybe my hat, right? So you’re just like replacing the words. ‘I’d lost my hat’. And then the second part: ‘before I realized I’m allergic to wool’. Right? So, you’re like just changing or replacing the verbs and the nouns, but the structure is the same. So it’s like, you understand that there is this paradigm and you just need to change things up a little bit. And that helps you understand it better.
And then you want to create that new sentence and repeat it again and again and again and again and again. And then you want to create a completely new sentence using that new tense. Okay? So that is the work that you do on your own with yourself. And try to do it by heart and not write everything down. Because again, the idea is to produce, you know, sentences freely.
Then, what I want you to do is to think about that tense and to use it intentionally in a conversation. So it doesn’t matter if it’s a work meeting and it doesn’t matter if it’s a speaking club online. You want to have that tense in mind, so you want to be focused on it, it’s on your radar. And then when you’re speaking, see how you can organize your sentences or what it is that you’re saying so that you can use that new tense, let’s say that Perfect Tense. Or use the articles differently, or use the prepositions that you’re struggling with, or use phrasal verbs in a way that is helpful for you. Right? So, that is the idea.
Identifying your challenges, then knowing exactly the difference between, you know, how you use it in your native language and then how you would use it in English. You want to create a lot of sentences and look at resources. And repeat it out loud, repetition is really important. You want to produce your own sentences and then you want to use it intentionally when speaking.
So this is how I think the practice can become really effective. And again, like I said, use it only for the essential grammar elements. Okay? So, not all tenses, only the tenses that you still haven’t implemented or integrated into your speech, that you feel that you’re still struggling with. Even if it’s just Present Simple because you constantly put the ‘s’ in the wrong places, right? But figure that out first before you go into the fancy tenses, the Future Perfect whatever. Okay? Good.
So now I have a question for you. What is the most confusing tense for you or grammar element? Don’t say phrasal verbs, phrasal verbs, we’ll put them in a different category because I know that a lot of people want to say that. So, apart from phrasal verbs, what is one of the most challenging grammar tenses or rules or forms that you still struggle with? And then I want you to tell me what was the element that you’re skipping in your work from what I was talking about: focusing on the essentials or practicing it effectively.
All right. So, that’s it. Thank you so much for watching this. Now, listen, if you have friends or students or colleagues that still struggle with grammar – honestly, I feel we all struggle with grammar sometimes – so, those who fear the grammar police, like me and maybe you, sent this video to them, because I’m sure that they’re going to find it valuable.
And if you haven’t yet, consider subscribing to my channel so you can get a new video into your inbox every single day. And also, my website has a ton of content for you and free resources so that you can improve your pronunciation and mindset and fluency and even grammar. So, check it out. It’s at hadarshemesh.com.
Thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate you. And remember, there is no such thing as mistakes in English. It’s just you using the language and learning from everything that you’re doing and you’re saying. So don’t be afraid, speak up. Because the world needs to hear what you have to say. Have a beautiful day, and I’ll see you next week in the next video. Bye.
What grammar form do you find the most challenging in English? Let me know in the comments below.
Here are more episodes on how to improve grammar: