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Using Glossika: General
Why doesn't Glossika teach grammar?
Why doesn't Glossika teach grammar?

Like riding a bike, we think languages are best learned via direct practice.

Written by Sami Calonkey
Updated over a week ago

In this post, we'll:

  1. Explain why Glossika takes a content-first approach, not a grammar-first approach

  2. Elaborate on how we think grammar should be studied

  3. Explain how we recommend people use Glossika

Why doesn't Glossika teach grammar?

This will require elaboration, but it basically boils down to three things:

  1. Grammar is important, and you do need to study it

  2. Grammar is not the first thing you should worry about — as a beginner, you have more pressing matters at hand

  3. There are many excellent grammar resources out there already — rather than reinvent that wheel, we wanted to make an effective tool for the high-beginner/low-intermediate learner (for which many fewer resources exist)

This in mind, we recommend that you first consume a massive amount of content in your target language, and then later on go back and fill in the blanks. Glossika's sentence have been very carefully ordered to facilitate this process. It might sound counter-intuitive, but your brain is a pattern seeking machine. If you give it enough input, it will figure many things out by itself.

Your life will be easier if you first let your brain do its thing, then later on focus your attention on the specific things it couldn't figure out on its own.

  • If you can accept that, great! Go ahead and start Glossika. As you're doing your reps, do your best to make sense of what's happening in the target-language sentence. Great things will happen.

  • If you're not convinced, please continue reading.

A closer look at grammar and communication

We're not saying don't study grammar. We're just saying not to put the cart in front of the horse. We believe you'll have a much, much easier time if you first expose yourself to a bunch of simple sentences in your target language, let your brain figure the big-picture stuff out, and then go back later on to worry about the finer details.

Think about it.

Babies and young toddlers don't know anything about grammar: they communicate by taking basic words and placing them in roughly the right order. Acquiring grammar is an act of after-the-fact refinement. It enables them to accurately and concisely communicate finer shades of meaning than they could before.

The key word here is after-the-fact.

Grammar becomes important after simple communication has already become possible. Consider the following:.

  • Essential message: I goes to grandpa house?

  • Refined message: Can I go to Grandpa's house?

This "essential message" level of communication is something you can achieve through imitation and exposure. Even if you don't understand the grammatical nuances, you'll quickly start picking up on which order the big parts go in. Once you've got that down, it gives you footholds that make grammar points become relevant. It's a lot easier than just memorizing seemingly arbitrary rules from a textbook.

How you learned grammar in your first language

We begin communicating very early, but it takes several years to refine that communication into grammatically "correct" speech. While adult brains work differently than baby brains do, we nevertheless think that it's insightful to follow the big-picture progress made by babies learning to speak.

  • Babies wordlessly take in the world, but slowly begin interacting with it:

    • Month 0: Initially, babies just cry — among other things, this let's you know they're hungry

    • Month ~3: Babies begin cooing — it's a sign that they're happy, and it lets them practice using their speech muscles

    • Month ~6: Babies begin babbling, begin responding to their names, and learn to use the tone of their voice to show if they're happy or upset

    • Month ~9: Babies begin understanding basic words like no and bye-bye

    • Month ~12: Babies begin saying individual basic words and can follow very simple commands

    • Month ~18: Babies can say simple words, but might skip the beginning or end of a word: mom becomes mama, noodles become noo-noo's

  • With the basics of sound down, they begin communicating:

    • Month ~24: Babies begin stringing words together into short phrases like me food! or dada bye-bye!

    • Month ~36: Vocabulary has expanded to ~600 words, and the toddler begins expressing intangible things like now or sad (for reference, college graduates have a vocabulary of 25,000–35,000 words)

  • With this core vocabulary under their belt, toddlers now begin expressing more complex thoughts:

    • Year 4: Words like because and if, the 5 Ws (who/what/why/where/when), and nouns that represent categories like fruit or animals, etc

    • Year 5: Words to describe more complicated emotions, prepositions (above/below), and more adjectives

    • Years 5–8: School begins refining a child's speech — I goes becomes I go

    • Years 8–18: School ingrains the conventions of different types of communication into us — we learn how writing differs from speech, how to talk to a teacher vs a classmate, and so forth

    • Adulthood: Even now, there are still small little conventional details that slip by us: does a period go before " or after it, for example?

How we recommend people approach languages on Glossika

Adult brains don't work like children brains do. That's good news. What takes a newborn years to do, you can accomplish in a matter of months. Likely faster. So while you can't learn a language like a child does — neurological changes aside, you don't have 24/7 caretakers who are heavily invested in your linguistic development — we do think you can learn from how children learn.

  1. Before you begin Glossika

      1. Spanish and English have a lot in common, so you'll find it easier to pick up on these "big picture" concepts; Korean and English are far apart, so you'll struggle more

    1. Learn about English's parts of speech (nouns, verbs, etc) if you aren't already familiar with them — this will make it easier to identify them in your target language

    2. If you're completely new to language learning and/or linguistics, take a crash course in your target language's grammar — you don't need to memorize or seriously study any of this, though; for now, it's enough (a) to simply be aware that it exists, and (b) to loosely understand how it works

  2. During your first few hundred sentence reps in Glossika

    1. Listen carefully and simply focus on connecting your target language's sounds to the characters of its writing system — look up any that are unfamiliar

    2. Imagine that each sentence is a song: is there a lot of movement in the melody? Is the rhythm very consistent, or is it syncopated? And so forth.

    3. Make a point of focusing on what you do understand, not what you don't

    4. Try to identify the parts of speech you learned about, and make observations — does the verb go at the end of the sentence? In the middle?

    5. The most common 100 words of a language make up ~50% of word occurrences; make a habit of picking up these uber-common words like you, and, this, can, and so forth (here are English's most common words)

  3. During your first several thousand sentence reps

    1. Do your best to "map" the target language sentence back to English — can you make sense of which parts of the sentence are doing what?

    2. Make mental notes of the common sentence structures you encounter — where does information about time go? Do adjectives go before or after nouns? Is the word order of statements the same as the word order of questions?

    3. Start looking out for some of the smaller details — do verb forms change depending on the subject (I run, she runs)? Do nouns change depending on their function in a sentence (does "chair" have a different form if I'm buying it, sitting on it, or giving it away)? Do prepositions attach to words, or do they go before/after words?

  4. After about 10,000 reps

    1. Start drilling verb conjugations, noun declensions, and things like that, if you're struggling

    2. Find a grammar reference and skim through it

      1. For now, don't study or try to memorize, just explore — it's amazing how much this additional context will facilitate your ability to "notice" what is going on within a sentence

      2. Set time aside to study only the things that are really confusing you

    3. As your bottlenecks begin becoming clearer to you, take intentional steps to address these things

  5. At about 50,000 reps

    1. You'll have picked up enough words and mastered enough sentence structures that you should find it possible to use your target language in the wild (having conversations, reading books, watching YouTube, and so forth) — make a habit of doing these things!

  6. As you approach 100,000 reps

    1. Adjust your priorities so that you are spending increasingly more time "living" your language, and increasingly less time on Glossika'

Further reading:

  • This blog post for a more detailed list of things you can focus on noticing during stage 2 and 3

  • The Glossika Method for more information about how Glossika works, the linguistic and psychological theories behind it, and behind-the-scenes look at the trouble we've gone to trying to find an optimal sentence progression

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