I am language nerd, I am biased. But I don’t think the problem lies in the division into grammar vs. practical skills. There are two things that inspire people to learn languages. The first thing, the most effective, is motivation. If there is a goal, there is a way. However, how many primary school pupils are motivated to learn anything else than English? How many think “oh, I will one day work for the European Union so knowing French might be a good idea”? Very few, is my estimation. And this takes us to the second point. Learning languages should be fun. Because when it’s fun, there is a chance of cultivating a love for language-learning. And when the love is there, it is easier to learn, it’s more inspiring. And let me throw in a wild guess: the result will be better!
The one who loves language-learning, the one who sees it as a challenge to overcome instead of an unobtainable goal, will learn languages better and faster.
As for the grammar vs. practical skills. I have a rule: why not do it properly if you are going to do it at all? There is a reason for grammar to exist. It is the skeleton of the language. If one doesn’t know the grammar, one will never be able to communicate efficiently and properly. Sure, one may be able to buy some cake in Paris, but if this is the ultimate goal of language learning, then I’m at loss here. I once said (yes, please do excuse the fact that I am quoting myself here) “I don’t consider myself fluent in this language until I can describe the exquisite feeling of warm sand running between my toes on a gentle summer evening”.
What are your thoughts on language learning?