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When I learned Spanish, I focused entirely on learning the grammar and conjugations before learning a plethora of vocabulary. As a result, I was able to speak properly given what I knew, but I often had to ask the person I was speaking to for the word I needed. In contrast, most of my friends focused on nouns like foods, weather and household objects, before focusing on the grammar.

So now, if I decide to learn another language, should I first focus on improving my grammar and learn only very common phrases and nouns? Or should I first focus on expanding my vocabulary, learning various verbs and nouns beyond what are used in common conversations?

  • 2
    What one should do is very subjective. I would encourage asking instead, "What are the benefits of learning grammar first?" and as a separate question "What are the benefits of learning vocabulary first?" With these answers, you can decide which approach is best for your situation. – Flimzy Apr 6 '16 at 8:37
  • there are people who dont know grammar at all in any language but speak them perfectly/well (I don't mean their mother tongue) – maazza Apr 6 '16 at 20:08
  • As well as vocabulary and grammar, I think there's also reading, writing, pronunciation, and presumably listening. – Andrew Grimm Apr 7 '16 at 8:40
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Transparent Language published a white paper entitled "The Five Principles of Effective Second Language Acquisition".

In this, they state that there has been a shift towards learning a large amount of vocabulary before then jumping into learning the grammar (emphasis mine):

For years, the popular methodology for learning a second language was to focus on grammar and sentences first and then on vocabulary. Recently, however, there has been a shift toward recognition that learning vocabulary first leads to more success. Having a base of vocabulary to draw from makes learning grammar and sentence structure easier.

They also write how there are positive effects of limiting the output of a student who is studying a language, before concluding with:

elements that could distract from vocabulary learning - such as sentence building - should be avoided at the beginning stages of language learning.

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