Students studying English as a second language (ESL) face some common challenges. English is a complex language, and the spelling of a word in English isn’t always a clear indication of HOW that word is pronounced. You may have a head start learning English if your native language shares some words—like French does—or if the grammar is similar—as is the case with Chinese, but even then you will have a lot to learn.
Common ESL Experiences
In this and 2 subsequent articles, we list 10 experiences that ESL students frequently have. Being mindful of these common pitfalls will help you make the most of your English language studies.
1. Constantly Translating from your Native Language to English
This is a tough one to avoid. After all, learning words in a new language actually begins with translating the words for everyday things into the goal language, in this case, English. A common language exercise has the instructor pointing to parts of his or her own body, and asking students to identify them in English. The trouble begins when you attempt to directly translate word for word from your own language to English (or the other way around).
A famous French quote is: “La vérité vaut bien qu’on passe quelques années sans la trouver.” Antonin Artaud
In a word for word translation to English it becomes: “The truth worth good that past a few years without the find.”
You can see how this destroys the actual idea expressed, which when properly translated to English is: “Truth is more valuable if it takes you a few years to find it.”
Someone MAY be able to tease out what you mean if you’re speaking in word for word translations, but relying on back and forth translating will cause you to speak haltingly, and will hinder your ability to form flowing sentences in English. It’s much better to think of an English sentence as a whole. Focus on the idea expressed, and try to learn new words from context
2. Subject-Verb Agreement
OK, first off…
A subject is: “A noun, a person or thing being discussed, described or dealt with.”
A verb is: “A part of a sentence that expresses an action, an occurrence, or a state of being.”
The rules of English grammar say that a verb must agree in number with it’s subject.
A singular subject takes a singular verb—John is a teacher.
A plural subject takes a plural verb—The plates are in the cabinet.
Sounds really straightforward right? Sorry to say this is one of the most common stumbling blocks ESL students face, often well into their studies. This is because there are exceptions to the rule, of course (*#!), and because present tense verbs change to show agreement in the 3rd person singular by adding “s”, or “es”.
He likes teaching.
If English isn’t your native language that “s” at the end of like certainly looks like it’s breaking the number agreement rule!