Language Learning without Grammar

I just read a post on Steve Kaufmann's blog about language learning and Web 2.0, which included a link to this YouTube video he made on the same topic. As a guy experimenting with creating Web 2.0 language learning applications, I feel like this message is aimed directly at people like myself.

I completely agree with the general message of the video: Focusing on grammar in language learning is detrimental and yields very little in the way of actual proficiency in using the language. But its the specifics I keep getting hung up on.

For example, he mentions perfective/imperfective aspect in Slavic languages. I can understand learning how to use the different aspects from experience (ie., listening, reading, writing, speaking) but I think the learner needs to be made aware of the general idea that there are these two aspects. Without that how is the learner supposed to pick up on it?

Would it be too much grammar to explain, "All verbs come in pairs with the same meaning, except one describes the action and the other describes the result"?

And, of course, you'd have to throw the words "perfective" and "imperfective" in there, so they'd know how to look them up in the dictionary. And maybe say that there is no present tense for perfective verbs. But then aren't we getting a little carried away?

My girlfriend is now learning Polish because we want to spend some time in Poland. I'm trying to help her become more independent in her language learning, while still trying not to "teach" too much and somehow avoid grammatical explanations. Steve, do you have any advice?

So far, she's done the Pimsleur audio CDs from the library and I started to help her learn the alphabet. I've suggested that she do the EuroTalk computer program because it shows you the spelling of each word when it plays the audio clip for it, so she can "pick up" on the alphabet without have to focus on spelling rules.

She really wants to learn household phrases so that we can say simple things to each other in Polish at home. But, inevitably, I will say something differently than she would have said it, and she'll ask me why. I know the grammatical explanation, of course, but what should I say?

Its this part of the language learning process, the journey from knowing absolutely nothing, to the point where the learner is independent enough to learn on their own (with a system like Steve's LingQ) that is giving me difficulty. I understand the advantages of avoiding grammar, but in a practical sense, I'm having trouble conceiving of a good system for how to do it.