To German grammar or not to German grammar? I have been constantly asking myself this question since I amped up my Deutsch lernen this summer. The grammar question always seems to come up in language learning circles. Even though I always stress Spanish grammar in my classes, I do believe that my students don’t need to possess excellent grammar to be understood in Spanish. Sure, they need to understand it to perform well on tests, but if their goal is to simply speak Spanish, then it can be done without mastering the grammar. On the other hand, if someone wants to achieve perfection, then grammar is essential.
Seeing as my main goal in learning German is to pass a reading exam, I’m not worrying too much about grammar. Thus far, I haven’t found the majority of German grammar to be too difficult, but there are a few things that I simply don’t have the time, energy, or desire to master – the different cases and their corresponding endings and prepositions (!!!). Oh, and I tend to guess on noun gender (oops!). At first I tried to understand the cases, but after puttering along I quickly realized that if my ultimate goal is to pass a reading exam in German then it isn’t necessary to be able to produce them to perfection. All I need to do is understand what is being said or on the page and, thus far (fingers crossed), this hasn’t been an issue. For example if I see “ein, eine, eines, or einen,” I know it is some form of “ein” and means a or an in English.
Furthermore, if I want to order an apple strudel or a beer in Salzburg or Munich, I don’t need to know the accusative case. I will be understood regardless of my grammar. I know this might sound lazy and make me come across as a poor speaker, but that does not bother me. As long as I am eating that apple strudel and drinking beer form a stein then I will be satisfied.
Nevertheless, I like grammar far too much to completely disregard it. I hope to someday come back and relearn everything in its entirety. While I don’t need to know every single aspect of German grammar to pass a reading exam, I still am far too interested in it to never truly learn it. As long as I maintain my level while I finish my PhD, there will be “more time” later. Grammar is important. There is no denying this. The more grammar you possess, the more proficient and more fluent you become. It is too much of a disservice to myself to know tons of German without being sound grammatically and not sounding uneducated when I order that beer and apple strudel.
For now, I’m learning as little German grammar as I need to in order to read. I look over the explanations of grammar and practice using it in exercises, but after that I move on to the next thing. Building vocabulary and understanding verbs is more important at this point. Therefore, I am focusing on vocabulary and verb conjugations while constantly upping my reading level and length. It is working so far and that makes me happy. I’m probably never going to write an academic paper or even a blog post in German so I’m choosing not to worry about the little things at this point. I’ll just wing it for now and that’s ok.