As my 2 year old is developing language, I decided to dust off one of my college books, The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, and read through it. It is fascinating how humans naturally acquire language and how time and time again people use the same methods/structure/rules to create languages. As I was reading the section on the grammar rules and language structure found in different languages. I began thinking about students who are learning English. They often resort back to the grammar rules that they know from their native language and apply them to their new language. For example, Spanish speakers might say “girl beautiful” instead of “beautiful girl” since in Spanish they would say “chica bonita” because in Spanish descriptive words always come after the noun they describe. Then a Japanese student might not distinguish “r” from “l”.
As ELL teachers I think the more we recognize these common errors, the better we can be at explaining the English rules to our students.
Can you think of common mix-ups that your ELLs make and how you can help them practice/learn the difference in grammar rules between English and their native language?
Speakers of Asian languages often do not conjugate verbs. When doing running records, we do not count leaving off endings as an error. Instead, we note them, and we work on explicit teaching. Usually, that takes the form of highlighting tape in books, asking students to highlight all the -s endings/-ed endings they see on a page and working slowly through a trade book to make it much more obvious that there are endings.
What a great idea to have students highlight the endings! They can visualize patterns of when the "s" or "ed" is placed at the end. Kids just love that highlighting tape, too. ReadWriteThink has an interactive called Flip-a-Chip that also has students pay careful attention to the ending of words so they place the word in the write place in the paragraph so the story makes sense.
Many of my students are Korean. One error that they consistently make is subject-verb agreement for have/has.
They will say "He/she have a book." No matter how well they perform on assessments and activites, when they engage in conversation, knowledge of all rules disappears and they resort to OLD HABITS. Which is what I attribute that error to...parents and others in their Korean community have the HABIT of saying "he/she have" and my students repeat the error that they hear....this follows what you said, Tammy, just as anyone who is learning a language internalizes the grammar that they first hear.
For this reason, I beg my parents not to use their English at home - just speak their native language and allow for English to be spoken with native English speakers.
PS - thanks for the great question!
And Beth...thanks for the great suggestion of highlighting verb endings in books!