Yes and no.
Like any Malaysian students undergoing English education in school, I learnt grammar in class. But I didn’t quite get it. Perhaps it’s my fault. Perhaps it’s the system’s fault. I don’t know. But even after learning grammar in class, I can’t fully explain grammar when people ask me to explain.
So at that age, I learnt grammar mainly by recognizing patterns. I was exposed to a lot of English growing up (e.g. songs, movies, TV shows, etc) and all the exposure enabled me to catch the patterns of the language.
Just by listening and recognizing, I know grammar without knowing what grammar is. Because if you ask me why a sentence is the way it is, I can’t answer that. But I do know that the sentence is either correct or not.
So without formally learning grammar, you can still know grammar – like a child. A child who is just beginning to learn how to speak can speak with correct grammar (most of the time) without sitting in a grammar class.
Is the child a genius? Not necessarily. We all have done it before. When we were just beginning to speak, at first our grammar was all over the place. But somehow, with time, we got it right. No grammar class needed.
Why is that so? Because grammar is patterns in a language, and those patterns can be recognized if you are exposed to them enough and if you paid attention. A child absorbs the language by listening to how the language is used from the people around him.
So just like a child, you can know grammar without learning grammar.
However, I would still encourage people to formally learn grammar because it does answer the question “why” and it gives you a deeper appreciation of the language. Plus, at some point the primitive grammar that you know in your childhood years may not be enough to elevate you to a higher level.
Do you need grammar to speak English well? No.
Do you need grammar to speak English better? Yes.
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