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Has this ever happened to you?
You’re speaking English and then you start to think about the grammar…
Or maybe you do some exercises in your grammar book and then try to speak…
And your speaking isn’t better — it’s worse!
Why is that? What’s going on?
I used to teach Tereza in her law firm offices which had an amazing view of the Charles Bridge.
One day we were talking about her vacation in Malaysia.
She was telling me a story about how she discovered a giant spider on the ceiling over her bed while I was mentally adding Malaysia to my list of countries to avoid.
Then she changed the subject and said, “Next time, can we do a lesson on articles? I don’t understand them.”
Sure, I said. But instead of waiting till next time, I gave her a short lesson immediately.
I quickly found out that Tereza already knew the rules so I photocopied a page from my grammar book and asked her to do some exercises.
Finally, it was time to practice articles in a conversation.
And suddenly, her easy, natural conversation started…to…sound…like…this.
I had woken up…THE EDITOR.
If you studied English in school then there’s a good chance you have a monster in your head called The Editor.
A long time ago you needed The Editor. He helped you pass English tests.
The editor was useful.
But now the editor is your enemy.
It’s time to fire The Editor.
The Editor wants you to do your grammar homework.
Three Reasons To Fire The Editor
Reason One: The Editor Is Slow
My copy of “English Grammar In Use” has 350 pages, 136 grammar lessons, a list of 120 irregular verbs, an extra section explaining the differences between British and American English, and lots and lots of exceptions to every rule.
(And, of course, native speakers didn’t read “English Grammar In Use” so they say things like “I’m gonna” instead of “going to.”)
Even if you’re the Grammar Champion of the World and have a gold medal from the Grammar Games, real conversation is too fast.
No matter how good you are at grammar, you can’t start a sentence, then search for a grammar rule, then continue the sentence, then search for another grammar rule, and expect to sound like a normal person.
Rather, just like my student Tereza, you will start…to…sound…like…this.
In research studies with school children, students who read for pleasure every day do better on grammar tests than students who take grammar lessons!
Reason Two: The Editor Turns You Into A Five-Year-Old
One of my sports psychology books tells the story of some researchers who wanted to study the effects that thoughts have on performance. 
The researchers took two group of new golfers.
Group A got regular putting lessons.
Group B was told, Here’s a putter and some balls. Go practice. We’ll be back in a little while.
At the end, they tested both groups on their putting skills, and the winner was…Group B—the no rules group!
Their conclusion was that thinking about how to perform an action makes you perform it worse.
Try walking and thinking about your legs and feet. Or driving a car and focusing on the muscles in your arms and legs.
Speech, like driving, and walking and sport, has to be automatic. And the more you think about how to do it, the worse you do it.
Just like with my student Tereza, she was doing fine until she started thinking about articles.
Reason Three: The Editor Will Crash Your Conversation Car
When I was five I used to stand behind my mother’s legs.
I didn’t want to talk anyone.
I was shy. And that was normal. I was five.
But I’ve seen grown men and women – successful, smart, impressive job titles on their business cards — who suddenly become five-year-olds when they have to speak English.
They close their mouths and look like they want to hide.
This is the evil work of… The Editor!
The Editor says, “Don’t make a mistake.” “Be careful.” “Are you sure that’s the correct way to say it?” “His English is better than yours – better not say anything!”
Do This Instead
So how do you learn grammar without studying a grammar book?
The fantasy a lot of students have is that if they get better – just read one more grammar book or pass one more Cambridge exam – then they’ll have the ability to speak.
But when you study grammar you feed The Editor, and when you feed The Editor more grammar, he grows strong and powerful.
So the solution is…
You need massive amounts of input.
Listening and reading.
Have you ever asked a native speaker about a grammar rule?
Unless they were a teacher, they probably didn’t know.
But they speak correctly (sometimes).
Ask a native speaker, Why did you say it like that?
And he’ll likely respond, I don’t know, it just sounds right.
He hasn’t studied grammar. And he doesn’t have a super-fast editor.
He’s just imitating what he’s heard many, many times before.
And that’s what you want!
And One Exception…
(There’s always an exception…)
Some people actually enjoy grammar. They enjoy reading about it and talking about it.
If you’re one of them, then go ahead and read books about it and talk about it with your teacher.
This can be your input.
But if you’re a member of the 99% who would rather eat glass than study grammar:
1. Book a flight to your nearest volcano
2. During the flight, read something interesting and enjoy some movies