Which is more important, grammar or vocabulary?
by Daria Maslovskaya, the author of anglofeel.ru
“If you had to choose between the two, which is more important, learning grammar or vocabulary?” You wouldn’t believe how often students ask me this. And I totally understand where this is coming from. With limited resources and time, you want to focus on what’s really important, don’t you? Also, we all like to think there’s this one thing that will hack the system for us and make us proficient speakers of English. So, which is it, grammar or vocabulary?
Well, I hate to disappoint you but I’ve got to say, it’s both. To me, it’s like asking “Which leg of a chair is more important?” Obviously, they all are. Duh!
If you really need to choose between vocabulary and grammar…
All right, all right. You must be feeling really frustrated now. You took some time out of your busy schedules to read this article. You expected a clear-cut answer.
So if I absolutely had to choose, I’d go for vocabulary, but only if… Did you see that coming? Yes, there is always a ‘but’. So, here goes… Vocabulary is more important, but only if your idea of vocabulary includes chunks and collocations, rather than individual words.
Research shows that we don’t speak in words – we speak in chunks, or collocations. These are words that often go together, for example:
- limited resources
- understand where this is coming from
- focus on what’s really important
- like to think that…
- proficient speakers of English
- I hate to disappoint you but…
- I’ve got to say
- took some time out of your busy schedules
- read this article
- a clear-cut answer
I’m going to stop right there and ask you if you noticed where these examples come from. Yep, that’s right. From this very article, which goes to show just how common (plus invisible to the untrained eye!) collocations are. But why bother? What’s in it for you?
For starters, collocations save you the trouble of doing a lot of grammar. Collocations ARE half grammar.
Secondly, chunks of language help you speak more fluently. You don’t have to think on your feet trying to put together individual words. You already have pre-fabricated ready-to-use chunks.
Let me save you some time and narrow the endless list of advantages down to just three. So, finally, collocations make you sound more natural. You don’t have to combine random words together hoping that’ll work.
And that my friends is why I chose vocabulary over grammar. Vocabulary rules (but only if… you know the drill, right?). Next time you think about vocabulary, think ‘chunks’. Notice them in texts, in TV shows, in speech. Write and practice new vocabulary as collocations of all kinds. It’ll definitely pay off.
And if you speak Russian, there’s one more thing that’ll pay off. Come check out my blog, which is where I share a lot of similar stuff about learning and teaching English.