How do we teach grammar?

In busuu’s Education Team we’re always talking about how to improve the way we teach languages, and obviously grammar is a big part of that. We know you are passionate about the way we teach grammar too, as you aren’t shy about telling us your opinions (which we think is great)! In this post, I’m going to tell you about some of the changes we’ve made based on customer feedback.

How did we teach grammar?

In 2016 we began to try out an approach to grammar that some of us had used successfully in our classroom teaching – this approach has a few different names, one being “discovery learning”. In a nutshell, this approach is about discovering grammar rules for yourself before they are explained to you. Here’s an example:



Here, we show you an example sentence containing the grammar rule we want to teach, and ask you to analyse it and answer a question before we explain how to form the tense or when to use it. The idea is that this way, learning becomes more interactive and interesting.

It’s a great approach, in theory. And it can work really well in a classroom environment, where the teacher can adjust the level of their explanations depending on each student’s abilities. However, in an online self-study environment, the approach either works or it doesn’t. If you understand the rule or like trying to work out grammar rules on your own, you’re happy. Otherwise, you’re left frustrated and confused.

So what did you think?

After we’d tried this approach for a few months in our English and Spanish courses we began to get feedback like this:

“I don’t like the way you test me on things I don’t know.”

“I wish the grammar explanations came at the start of the lesson.”

We got enough of this kind of feedback to know that the approach just wasn’t cutting it with a significant number of you. When teaching anything online it’s hard – if not impossible – to find an approach that works for every single student; this means it is important to search for a way that works for as many students as possible. 

So what did we do?

We did exactly what you suggested – we switched around the grammar explanations and the exercises. Grammar explanations now generally come at the start of a lesson in the lower levels. We still sometimes use the discovery approach in later levels, especially when we are reviewing content that we have already introduced. But, don’t worry, we no longer assume you will already know grammar rules or will be keen to work out what they are the first time you see them.

The result?

No more feedback about frustration or confusion, and lots of happy customers! So why not have a look at what we’ve done.

Kirsten is the Head of Education at busuu.

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