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Chapter 13: The Fifth Rule: Learn Grammar Intuitively And Unconsciously


I've promised that you can learn to speak English well, without studying grammar rules. I've even told you to throw your grammar books away because you don't need them. Now I'm going to show you what to do instead.

It's actually a very simple technique – one that I believe is the best way to learn grammar – not only to learn English grammar but grammar for any language. The fifth rule of Effortless English is: Use Point-of-View Stories. These are small, short stories in which we change the point of view. In other words, we change the time frame and we change the grammar to create multiple versions of the same story.

By reading and listening to these story variations, you can learn grammar intuitively without thinking of tenses, conjugations, etc. Point-of-view stories are easy and fun. Best of all, they allow you to absorb the grammar naturally by understanding the context of stories. That is the key point. Rather than studying abstract grammar rules, you acquire spoken grammar skills from meaningful and memorable English.

Point-of-view stories were first developed by Blaine Ray, the creator of the TPRS learning system. In the 1990s, Ray was a high school Spanish teacher in California who was looking for ways to engage his students beyond the traditional drill and memorization methods used in language classes. TPRS stands for Total Physical Response Storytelling (also described as Teaching Proficiency) through Reading and Storytelling (see box). It was Ray's belief that students could learn to speak Spanish more naturally by listening to certain kinds of simple stories.

I immediately recognized the power of these stories and decided to modify them for my own teaching system. Point-of-view stories are now a very important part of the Effortless English system.

How do point-of-view stories work? In the simplest version, you start by listening to the main story – usually told from the past point of view. In other words, the story is mostly about events that happened in the past.

Next, you listen to another version of the story, with a different point of view. So, for example, you might hear the same story told again in the present. Then you listen to yet another version, told as if it will happen in the future. Or even another version that talks about past events that have continued to the present.

Each point of view story is basically the same, but the change in time creates changes in the language used... especially the verbs. By listening repeatedly to these stories, you easily and naturally absorb the most common and most useful English grammar tenses. Because you learn them subconsciously and intuitively, you will actually USE them correctly when you speak – and you won't have to think about it!

An important focus of point-of-view stories is that they should focus on the most commonly used grammar structures. Some students become obsessed with extremely rare forms of grammar while neglecting the forms that native speakers constantly use on a daily basis. For example, "He slept for six hours" is far more commonly used than "He will have been sleeping for six hours." It's far more important to master the first form of the sentence (the simple past) as it is far more useful for communication. Thus, the point-of-view stories you use will be limited to only the most common forms.

The great thing is, you only need to listen to these stories a few times every day. You don't need to analyze the grammar changes... and you certainly don't need to identify the linguistic grammar rules. There is no need to identify which version is the "simple past," or which is the "past perfect." These terms may be useful to linguists, but they are distracting to those who wish to speak quickly, easily and automatically.

You must trust your intuition and simply listen to each version of the story without analyzing it. Try to quiet your analytic mind. Relax and focus on the events of the story. With time, you will absorb the grammar intuitively, and use it correctly without effort.


Dr. James Asher, a psychologist at San José State University, was one of the earliest researchers to identify the importance of physical movement in learning. Asher developed the "total physical response" method (TPR) after discovering that students learned language more effectively if they associated words and phrases with meaningful movement. He taught language without translation, solely through the use of actions. For example, he would say to a class, "Sit down," and then he would demonstrate the action of sitting. Then he would say, "Stand up," and he would demonstrate standing. After repeating this series a few times, students quickly understood the meaning of the phrases "Sit down" and "Stand up."

In the next phase of the lesson, Asher indicated to the class to join him. So when he said "Stand up," the whole class stood up together with him. And when he said "Sit down," the class demonstrated their understanding by sitting.

In the final phase, Asher gave the commands but did not demonstrate them. Rather, he watched to be sure the class understood. This eliminated the need for translation, as the students connected the phrases to the actions.

With time, students in Dr. Asher's class were able to learn and demonstrate very complex commands such as, "Stand up, turn around five times, then walk backwards to the door and close it." Dr. Asher built core fluency entirely through the use of commands and actions. Later, Dr. Asher and other researchers modified TPR, adding gestures to represent more abstract terms like "think" or "hope."

TPR was a predecessor of Blaine Ray's TPRS (Total Physical Response Storytelling). Ray realized that if the actions and gestures were combined to create a story, students would learn even more quickly. TPRS is a method for getting students to physically and verbally interact as part of storytelling. This technique was the starting point for much of the Effortless English system.

:: A Sample Point-Of-View Story

Let me give you a very simple example of a point-of-view story: There is a boy. His name is Bill. Bill goes to the store. He buys a bottle of water. He pays two dollars for the water.

Ok, that's it. That's our little story right now. It's not very interesting, but you understand it easily. It's in the present tense, and all you need to do is just understand it. If this was an audio story, you would listen to it every day for a week or more. Remember, we're striving for deep learning, so you're going to repeat it a lot of times.

Next, I tell you the same story again, but now it's in the past: There was a boy named Bill. Yesterday, he went to the store. He bought a bottle of water. He paid two dollars for the water.

Ok, that's all. Very simple. Of course, in my lessons, my point-of-view stories are longer. They're more difficult and they are more interesting. But this is a simple example to help you understand the concept.

So now you've read or heard Bill's story in the present and the past. Ideally, you have audio versions and you listen to that story in the past many times. When you listen, don't think about the grammar rules. You don't need to analyze, "Oh, this is the past tense" or "Oh, 'paid' is an irregular verb." No, no, no – no need to think about that. Just listen to each story version and understand the meaning. That's all you need to do. Listen to the first story – understand the meaning. Listen to the second story – understand the meaning. That's all. It's easy, effortless grammar learning.

After that, you would listen to the future version of the story: Imagine there will be a boy. His name will be Bill. He'll go to the store, and buy a bottle of water. He's going to pay two dollars for the water. That's the end of our short example in the future.

Again, all you do is just listen to this little easy story. You listen to the present version. You listen to the past version. You listen to the future version. Every day for seven days or more, you listen to each one.

We can even add more versions. We can practice any kind of grammar with this. For example, I might say: There was a boy. Since last year, he has gone to the store every day. He has bought a bottle of water every day. He has paid two dollars for the water. You don't need to know the name of the grammar of the verb tense that I'm using. It's called the present perfect, but you don't need to know that. I don't want you to think about that. All you need to do, again, is listen to this version of the story.

Of course, I'm using extra phrases to help you understand the meaning. I said, "Since last year," so now you understand that these verbs change because something happened in the past and it has continued for a while, but you don't need to think about that. That's why these stories are so easy and powerful. You just listen. You listen to story number one. You listen to story number two, and you listen to story number three and to story number four, and you learn the grammar like a native speaker. Like a child.

When you learn grammar like this, using these kinds of stories, you are training like an athlete and you are freeing yourself from the hidden curriculum. This is the difference between learning grammar as abstract knowledge and acquiring the skill of using grammar in real speech. You want the skill. You want to use correct grammar without thinking about it.


To get the most out of a point-of-view story, do your best to focus on the story and imagine it in your mind as you're listening to it. Turn off that part of your brain that labels the tenses or thinks about grammar. Instead, think of a line going through your body. Behind you is the past. In front of you is the future. Imagine now that the story you're hearing is inside a box or radio. As you hear the past version, try to imagine that box sitting behind you, back in the past. When you listen to a future version, picture the box in front of you, up in the future. Imagining where you would put this box or radio on the line gives the story a visual component, which will help you to more intuitively understand the grammar.

While it's easy to understand this idea by reading sample point-of-view stories, it is essential that you use audio versions. Remember Rule Three: listening is the key to speaking. You not only want to learn grammar intuitively, but you also want to learn spoken grammar. That means, just like vocabulary, you need to learn grammar with your ears.

Learning grammar with audio point-of-view stories develops your "feeling for correctness," the same skill used by native speakers. Each repetition and each variation develops this feeling. Eventually, you will instantly know correct grammar because it will sound right to you. No need to think about linguistic terms. That's when you know the point-of-view stories are working.

Remember that true grammar skills must happen instantly. In a real conversation, you must produce the correct grammar without hesitation. There is no time to think about rules. This instantaneous grammar skill can only be developed subconsciously and point-of-view stories are one of the best ways to do this. By using these stories, you skip the unnecessary step of thinking about abstract rules. You produce correct English grammar intuitively, without conscious thought. In this way, you use grammar like a native speaker. It takes time and repetition, but point-of-view stories give you the most effective training for spoken grammar mastery.

:: The Psychological Benefits

We have discussed the benefits of point-of-view stories to your English. These are significant. However, the psychological benefits of these stories are perhaps even more powerful.

For most learners, abstract grammar study is one of the most painful aspects of studying English. Most people find grammar study to be boring, confusing and frustrating. Many dread the idea of trying to memorize yet another grammar rule. Most English learners have bad memories of grammar lessons and grammar tests.

Grammar study has a way of making intelligent people feel stupid. They study and memorize countless conjugations. They analyze the use of English articles, prepositions, countable and uncountable nouns. Yet, when it's time to actually speak, they find themselves constantly making mistakes. Even though they "know" the grammar, they struggle to use it. "What's wrong with me?" they ask themselves. "I know this."

They are not stupid. They have simply confused knowledge with skill. Leave grammar knowledge to the professional linguists. Your job is to acquire grammar skills intuitively, and point-of-view stories are the best way to do that.

:: Practice Exercise

Here's a fun way to create your own point-of-view stories. Find a simple story about something that interests you. The story might contain a few words or phrases that you don't understand and have to look up in a dictionary. However, it should be easy. Five new words are the maximum that should appear in the story.

Now, show this story to your English teacher, or an English-speaking friend. Ask them to rewrite the story from different points of view. They will write different versions for at least the past, the present, and the future. After they write each version, ask them to read each one, and record it. Then, for the next week or two, listen to all versions of the story every day.

Once you have mastered those stories, repeat the process again with a completely new story. Simply by listening each day, you will develop your spoken grammar ability. Just like an athlete, you'll train yourself in the skill of using correct grammar automatically.

:: Audio and Text Materials


Mobile App (Android & iOS):

:: AJ Hoge teacher





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