English Grammar Issues for Russian ESL Students
It’s compulsory for Russian students to study a foreign language beginning as early as the second or fifth grade. The language courses most often taken are, English, German, and French. Russian ESL students often arrive in the US feeling confident in their English language skills—who wouldn’t with YEARS of study under their belt? Unfortunately, the teaching methods of most native Russian instructors do not seem to focus enough on the following grammar issues when it comes to English.
The 3 Grammar Issues Russian ESL Students Need to Tackle
Russian ESL students have several grammar issues they need to address to improve their English language fluency—the top 3 are: 1. verb/tense + “to be”, 2. articles, and 3. prepositions.
1. Verb/Tense + “To Be”
Russian has 3 tenses, the past, present, and future, and 2 aspects, the perfective and imperfective. The aspect used essentially tells whether an action is completed (perfective), or incomplete (imperfective). The verb beginnings and/or endings change to communicate aspect.
Russian ESL students have a fairly good grasp of most of the English tenses. However, English has 2 verb tenses that use auxiliary, or helping, verbs along with the main verb to express more complex details of time and mood in a sentence—these 2 tenses are the perfect and the progressive. The perfect and progressive tenses are an issue for Russian students.
- The English present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect tenses all talk about completed actions and are formed with have/has + the verb’s past participle.
Russian ESL students will mistakenly use the past simple tense instead of the present perfect.
example: I been to Russia.
instead of: I have been to Russia.
2. Students mistakenly use the present simple tense instead of the past perfect.
example: I want go before summer end.
instead of: I had wanted to go before summer ended.
3. Russian ESL students will again mistakenly use the present simple tense when they should use the future perfect.
example: I travel 100 thousand miles by end next year.
instead of: I will have traveled 100 thousand miles by the end of next year.
The English present progressive, past progressive, and future progressive all show actions that are still in progress. You form the progressive with a form of “to be” + an “ing” ended verb. It is the form of helping verb, “to be” that expresses the tense.
4. Will/going to are used to express future actions.
Russian students of English will use the present simple for all the progressive tenses often adding “once” to the past progressive, and “want” to the future progressive.
example: I study English.
instead of: I am studying English.
example: I study once English.
instead of: I was studying English.
example: I want study English.
instead of: I will be studying English.
These errors in grammar arise because the verb form “to be” doesn’t really exist in Russian. “To be” in Russian simply means to exist. You wouldn’t say, “I am a doctor” in Russian, you would simply say “I doctor”. The past and future concepts DO exist but are, for example, expressed with a suffix “om” added to the word doctor. The English progressive is most similar to the Russian instrumental case which expresses a transitory state.
There are no articles in Russian, but articles are important in English. Your spoken English will sound stilted and blunt without the proper articles. The English language has 3 articles, 1 definite article, “the”, and 2 indefinite articles, “a” and “an”.
I need the book you read in class.
That’s not any old book we’re talking about, it’s THE book. You use the definite article “the” to make the noun, “book” more specific. Because: maybe you know which book it is
maybe there’s only one book it could be
maybe you talked about this specific book with the person you’re speaking to
I’m going to order a book to read.
Well that could be any old book, you didn’t specify, it’s A book. You use the indefinite article “a” to generalize the noun “book”.
Because: maybe you don’t have a title in mind
maybe you care much about the choice
maybe everything appeals to you
If the unspecified noun begins with a vowel, or a silent letter “h” you use the indefinite article “an”.
An owl is a symbol of wisdom.
Any owl at all is just one of many symbols of wisdom.
Articles appear in just about every English language sentence, go ahead and read back over this article…articles (talking the grammar kind now) are just about the most often used words in English!
English has 60-70 prepositions and each preposition can have multiple meanings. Russian does have some similar prepositions and prepositional phrases to those of English, but how the preposition is used, which preposition it is, even whether or when one is used can be different in ways that lead to spoken English errors if a student tries to directly translate from Russian.
- A Russian student may confuse the words “on” and “at”, and will often neglect to use the word “for”.
example: I was waiting my friend on the library.
instead of: I was waiting for my friend at the library.
2. Students will also commonly confuse “in” and “to”.
example: I have been in America.
instead of: I have been to America.
3. Students also often add the preposition “to” when no preposition should be used.
example: I called to my friend.
instead of: I called my friend.
Understanding how prepositions function in sentences can make learning them easier. Think of the categories: time, place, and movement.
|Some Common Prepositions|
|Prepositions of time:||after, around, at, before, between, during, from, on, until, at, in, from, since, for, during, within|
|Prepositions of place:||above, across, against, along, among, around, at, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, by, down, in, inside, into, near, off, on, opposite, out, over, past, through, to, toward, under, underneath|
|Prepositions of direction/movement:||at, for, on, to, in, into, onto, between|
|Prepositions of manner:||by, on, in, like, with|
|Other types of prepositions:||by, with , of, for, by, like, as|
Russian ESL students should try to remember that English is a challenging language—even for native English speakers! Mastering the language requires you to be a beginner, don’t assume you know how to speak English just because you’ve invested a lot of years studying. Recognize your mistakes and correct them. There will be grammar issues to surmount but trudge, don’t judge—keep at it and English grammar that once seemed impossible to understand will become second nature.