Boring English Grammar or Cool Fiction – Make Up Your Mind!

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.

English Grammar or Fiction

All foreign English learners, improvers, grammar enthusiasts and bookworms – this blog post is for you ❗

But first – a couple of words about me and my relationship with reading.

I love reading! No – seriously, even though some of my blog posts might seem to be promoting spoken English exclusively, I do it for the sole purpose of encouraging foreign English speakers to speak. After all, this blog is dedicated to those who struggle with English SPEAKING and I’ll never tell you to read plenty of English literature and print media in order to improve your SPOKEN English because… it’s lies 😯

It’s big, fat lies told to you by traditional English learning proponents simply because they don’t know any better and also because they studied English at school following the very same methods. They still believe you can soak in all the English material you’re reading like a giant sponge and then start speaking and use all you’ve learnt and read.

Folks, it just doesn’t happen that way, in order to speak you need to speak!

However, it’s worth noting that I haven’t said a single word about English reading being bad as such. And I never will, because I’ve always been reading a lot throughout my life. Since I reached complete English reading fluency, I’ve been reading mostly historical fiction and fantasy in English, and I must tell you – I’m loving it! 😉

OK, I’ll get back to today’s story, so let’s cut the rant and get down to what I wanted to tell you!

So one fine day I had brought my wife and daughters shopping. While women were busying themselves with choosing new clothes I spent about an hour in a bookstore. I guess my women don’t get it the same way I don’t really understand how one can spend so much time in a shoe shop!

Anyway, I walked into the bookstore and followed my usual pattern. First of all I looked at the bestsellers section, followed by sales items, and then I moved along the aisles checking various categories – fiction, self-help, travel guides and all sorts of other books. I was picking up several books as I moved along, spot-reading them and waiting for that feeling – “Yes! I definitely want this book!”

One of the sections I looked at happened to be the language learning section. Among French, Irish, German and Spanish learning courses, grammar textbooks and dictionaries there were plenty of English grammar textbooks, and my attention got immediate drawn to them. It happened completely subconsciously and I just found myself picking up one textbook, then another and marveling at how cool they were.

For a person who’s been into traditional English studies for quite a good while seeing nice, good quality grammar textbooks is like hungry person seeing a tasty, succulent Double BigMac. You’d start salivating, and I was definitely experiencing some sort of “mental salivation” while looking at those English grammar textbooks. You know – those “Cambridge University Press” ones, they’re really good quality and unlike so many other English grammar books authors of these ones have tried really hard to make them interesting.

Also the structure of “Cambridge” grammar textbooks is well thought through, and you can choose whether you want to study all lessons one after another, or you can look at separate lessons to gram up specific areas of your English knowledge.

So I picked up one of those English grammar books – it was “Advanced English Grammar in Use” or something similar. I opened it up and scanned a few lessons. They were good. Really good! This particular book wasn’t dealing with the usual English grammar stuff, no; I was looking at hardcore English grammar explaining intricacies of the English language down to the very detail. I thought to myself – “Well, Robby, you’ve got to have this one!”

I’ve plenty of videos up on my YouTube channel explaining that you can’t expect to improve your English speech by studying English grammar.

I’ve said it countless times that the best way of learning and improving one’s English is to learn naturally occurring English speech patterns where natural English grammar would already be in so that you don’t need to study grammar rules separately!

And I’ve also pointed it out many times that traditional English teaching methods which focus mainly on teaching grammar and building vocabulary by memorization don’t work. You can’t speak or write in English by sticking separate words together because the resulting language is going to be unnatural. Most likely you’ll produce sentences that are more or less close translations from your native language ❗

Anyway, there I was standing and holding the advanced English grammar textbook in my hands and wondering if it wouldn’t be cool after all to refresh my grammar knowledge. Despite the fact that I’m spending most of my time during the day speaking English with co-workers, I still tried to persuade myself that it won’t hurt to gram up a bit.

And then the realization struck me suddenly.

“What on Earth am I doing at the English language learning section when there’s thousands upon thousands of REAL English books around me?”

It’s not even that it was a realization in the sense that I wouldn’t have been aware of it previously. Of course, I knew it all along the way that I don’t need to waste more time on English grammar studies after years wasted for that purpose.

Before I found my way to English fluency I was constantly wasting my time and efforts by utilizing all possible means of improving English the traditional way. I was learning huge English vocabulary lists, I was cramming grammar rule lists in my head and I was studying through heaps of the best English grammar books.

And here I am standing in the middle of a bookstore holding yet another English grammar book in my hands and contemplating how cool it would be to…

Hold on? What EXACTLY was going through my mind while I was thinking about buying the advanced English grammar textbook? Was I still being delusional that it might help me with my English improvement?

OK, let me do a fast rewind back to that moment…

All right, I’m back in the bookstore… Holding the “Cambridge University Press” Advanced English Grammar book in my hands… I’m looking into random chapters… The content is great… I’m actually familiar with it, but sure it won’t hurt to learn all those grammar rules… Of course I’d rather read another English fiction book that I’d enjoy but still – this grammar book looks so nice…

Damn it!

I was lured into the trap of false promises, wishful thinking and self-denial!

Having read dozens upon dozens of INTERESTING fiction books in English language I still reached for that grammar book because this stupid sentiment still lingers somewhere at the back of my head: “To learn and improve English you need to learn English Grammar from Grammar Textbooks.”

It’s wrong my friends, it’s completely wrong; following the same logic I could try to persuade you of usefulness of thorough studies of human anatomy before embarking upon jogging in the evenings. You know – you should know how the muscles work when you’re running, what forces are in action when you land on your feet and so on and so forth.

The alternative is to simply go out there and have fun jogging by ENJOYING yourself and not focusing on the technicalities!

And the same can be said about the English language – you’re so much more likely to ENJOY yourself by reading an interesting book than doing English grammar exercises. You can, of course, force yourself into it, but here’s what likely to happen:

  • you’ll find it hard to keep your motivation high because most people find grammar boring.
  • you’ll learn separate grammar rules but you won’t develop the unique “feel” of natural English speech patterns that can be picked up only by long exposure to REAL language.
  • you’ll waste your time on artificially created content for English learners and improvers while there’s hundreds of thousands of INTERESTING books out there to read!

So – get real guys! 😉

English grammar books – fair enough, but that’s artificial language. Grammar books are written with the purpose of showing you how grammar works and by and large they tend to be boring.

Real English fiction – that’s real English language! That’s language that’s enjoyable, and it already CONTAINS all English grammar in it and you’ll learn to understand English grammar at a subconscious level.

You don’t necessarily need to know grammar rules to say a particular thing in English; having read a few hundred page book you’ll have seen all possible English grammar constructions AND you’ll have had lots of fun!

Remember – to learn and improve English you don’t have to stick to boring, traditional stuff that most people associate with language learning. You can do ALL those things you’d do in your native language! You can LIVE English rather than LEARN or STUDY it!

So what did I eventually do?

Well, of course I found another brilliant volume of historical fiction – one of my favorite genres!

This time it’s “Quest for Honor” by Sam Barone – a cool novel about Sumer civilization; rivalries and wars, love and glory – in other words, the best way to be exposed to REAL English.

And by the way – if you think you’re no good at reading English fiction yet, read this blog post of mine where I’m explaining how to get on the English reading fast track even if you’ve limited English vocabulary!


P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System
  • Exactly!nnAnd it’s the damn ‘academic mindset’ that makes language learners adopt this ‘tunnel vision’ when it comes to learning a language. nnThe very concept of ‘learning a language’ automatically associates with school, and all people can think of is traditional ways – grammar textbooks, courses, and everything else that is used in controlled educational environments.nnAnd the point you made about that once you’ve acquired basics you have to continue with the target language – spot on! I can actually remember my first English books that I read and it didn’t really take that much time to progress to more ‘difficult’ ones. After three or four simpler ones I read my first fiction book and your brain literally soaks new vocabulary in as you read.nnThanks Randy for the comment, much appreciated! 😉

  • This reminds me of the “what’s the next book” phase that I experienced first with Spanish, and again with Russian. (I’ve finally wised-up, and I didn’t do this with Italian.)nnIt goes like this: I started truly learning Spanish by purchasing books and CDs (I’m not counting my classes in school). After I’d completed a “for beginners” course, I went on to an “intermediate-to-advanced” course and kept on learning. And then, after completing that, I found myself standing in bookstores mesmerized by tons of beginner materials, and a good deal of intermediate materials, but nothing for an advanced student. Oh sure, I could find books about perfecting my grammar, and books containing nothing but pages and pages of fully conjugated verbs, but there was nothing there that would make me a better speaker, listener, reader, or writer of Spanish. And actually, I believe this is the reason why I never went on to become a better Spanish speaker than I currently am. (fluent, but at a very low level).nnLast year, however, I finally figured it out. At first I blamed the fact that there were so few materials available for Russian (compared to the wealth of Spanish materials). But one day I found a Russian bookstore and asked the lady there for advice. She brought me some lesson books, but to my surprise, they were in Russian. (I shouldn’t have been surprised.) After quickly flipping through them, we were able to assess my skill and I left with the right materials. But more importantly, the lesson I learned was that after you’ve finished the basic courses, you have to continue in your new language. I had to take off the training wheels and start peddling the bike for myself.nnNow, I’m anxious do that as soon as possible. With Italian, I didn’t use any course books, instead having jumped straight into using it as much as possible.