Monday, March 24, 2008

Teaching Verb Tenses and Grammar in the English Language

Grammar in English
There are number of ways grammar in English or the grammars of other foreign languages can be taught. Should you teach learners rules and grammar, translations of speech and meanings or just go with teaching communicative forms and discourse? This will depend, of course, on exactly who the learners are and the purpose of their course of language study. But often, as is the case with the following example, foreign language learners can become confused – as on occasion, so can English or other foreign language teachers.

Consider the following:

A teacher said, “I tutor Spanish. I find that much of a student's confusion in learning Spanish often stems from a lack of understanding of English grammar and language constructs, in general.”

First, you are correct in saying that a foreign language learner’s confusion can stem from a lack of understanding of the grammar in their first language (L1). This is but one of the many reasons the English or foreign language teachers should be trained. If you don’t know the grammatical formation of your own language, then understanding the grammatical structure of another language will be that much more difficult. In fact, this very theme causes many would-be foreign language learners to “throw in the towel” after becoming hopelessly lost or confused. It doesn’t help either when profit-crazed language institutes and unskilled teachers make astonishing claims for “instant” foreign language learning like “Learn a Foreign Language in 48 Hours”.

Another query area came up with, “I was trying to explain to a student that the present tense in Spanish (for example, "yo voy") can translate both to "I go" and "I do go." It then struck me that, while I know that the first explanation is obviously the present tense ("I go"), I was not entirely sure what name, if any, is given to the English construct of "to do + infinitive" (e.g., I do go, I did go, etc.).”

Second, I for one am not in favor of teaching technical terms to English or foreign language learners at all. But rather, I strongly feel that taking a much more communicative approach is more effective. It’s also more easily and quickly absorbed by learners especially when you use fun activities and authentic language. For example, while on vacation if someone asked you “How long have you been here?” you’d hardly respond by asking what’s the present perfect continuous form of saying two weeks? Hopefully, you’d just respond by saying, “Oh, I’ve been visiting here for three weeks now.”

Instead of burdening a learner with trying to “translate or conjugate” in their head I prefer teaching communicative response without the need for thinking about grammar rules or translation. When I study languages, I do the same thing with myself, not asking for a “translation”, but rather what is "real language” that could be used, an effective spoken discourse or response in the situation.

Some expressions, idioms and normal speech elements do not translate correctly from one language to another. Saying, “That’s cool!” in Spanish would translate, “Esto es fresco.” But that hardly means the same thing at all. If however, you wanted to express the same thought in Spanish and said, “¡Que chevere!” you’d certainly come across a whole lot better and definitely be well understood.

Third, in your example, “I do go …” the “do” is being used for emphasis of the main verb “go”. Consider:

“Do you study Spanish?”

“Yes I do.”

“You’d learn faster if you went to school.”

“But I DO go to school.”

Finally, we as English or foreign language teaching professionals, need to continually bear in mind the foreign languages are not translations of each other. Languages were created with another purpose in mind according to the Bible book of Genesis, from verses 1 to 9. Check it out for yourself sometime and you’ll see just what I mean.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 80 countries. Get your FREE E-books,"If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" or "7 Techniques to Motivate Your English Language Learners and Make Your Classes More Dynamic" by requesting the title you want at:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good tool to teach is software from It's free, that's the best!