When searching for grammar books for learning languages, we're looking for one thing and one thing only - grammar and lots of it. We don't need audio, lots of helpful phrases, pictures or cultural background. We only want grammar from these things. We know that crusty old grammar books are dry and boring, but that's ok. We'll learn all the other fun stuff from our other language learning resources. We all know perfectly well that grammar books aren't fun, I won't try to kid you on that score.
Barry Farber points out how important it is to get the grammar of the language you are studying. He also points out that grammar books are boring but that studying a language need not be so boring and dry as long as we don't relegate ourselves to studying from only this one source. You can do it in little bite-sized chunks, as long as you are also working on pronunciation, conversation, listening, building vocabulary and review from other sources. Use a variety of methods so at least one really sticks, and the others will reinforce what you have learned.
Now, I'm an odd bird. I actually like grammar. I look forward to
learning another verb tense or mood. I didn't like it in English so many years
ago, but I sure do like it in other languages now. I'm an exception, I'm sure
the vast majority of people don't enjoy learning grammar in any language. I find
it interesting, but I think I would go nuts or lose interest if that's all I
used to study a language. This is my interpretation of Barry Farber's approach -
use the methods you enjoy to study from, and supplement with others you know you
need. Whether you like grammar or not, it is an essential ingredient in language
Varieties of Grammar Books
The Living Language and Teach Yourself series have enough grammar to get you started. Articles, gender, word order, the most common and useful verb tenses etc. They also include phrases, cultural information and usually a short dictionary. I prefer to use these coursebooks as more of a general overview. They are not solely dedicated to grammar, but they do have enough to get you to an intermediate level of understanding.
An even better source of grammar are the old Teach Yourself books. Most of the ones still available (used, of course) were published in the 1950's to the 1970's. They are older British-style grammar-intensive little books with lots of exercises - just enough to get the point without overdoing it.
Old college or High-School textbooks usually have more than a fair share of grammar. The older the textbook the more grammar-intensive it is likely to be. Be wary of the vocabulary however - don't try to be too cool with the popular phrases and idioms that are probably out-of-date in an old textbook!
Verb books are also very helpful. They are particularly helpful for the Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese) or perhaps German or Russian. These Indo-European languages are famous for complex verbs and lots of irregular verb forms that need to be memorized one way or another.
There are also lots of language-specific grammar books. Thanks to Amazon and
Barnes and Noble they are easily found and usually not too expensive. You can
also look for used versions of these newer books, or older textbooks and the old
Teach Yourself books at ABE Book Exchange.
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"Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality
is to be found in the grammar of the language."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein