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How English Grammar Can be Acquired More Effectively by ESL Students

How English Grammar Can be Acquired More Effectively by ESL Students | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Grammar, the key element to all languages, is, by all means, the first thing which everyone must have a clear understanding of before acquiring such language. From parts of speech to sentence structure, the complexity of grammar doesn’t seem to have a sign of decrease as ESL students’ vocabulary range increases. In all respects, the fundamental problem to all learners who treat English as a second language is that they never take it as a first language but try to understand the meaning behind every word with the aid of their mother tongue, their first language. In this essay, I would like to focus on one of the smallest parts of grammar - syntax as the starting point, to shed some light on how teachers can teach English more effectively.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Kwok Hung M. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Challenges for Students

Most people, including you and me, are exposed to a second language at school and therefore, it implies that it is also the best timing for the acquisition of a second language. However, most students are at a tender age and they cannot distinguish the subtle difference between the meanings of the word itself and the translated meaning in their language. Moreover, as students get older and progress with English, it becomes more difficult to correct syntax problems and thus it poses a grave menace to students to truly understand what English is. In many cases, older students translate their native language directly into English without considering the word order that changes between languages. (Lubin, 2014)

A relatively minor case of some students who study Spanish as their first language find it hard to place the adjective before the noun exemplifies why syntax should be reinforced at a younger age. We also deeply look into corpus-based research on ditransitive constructions showing that Chinese students associate the verb bring with the word convenience. (Xu, 2014)This reflects that without proper guidance, there is a high tendency for students to use their first language to directly translate a sentence without carefully looking into the meaning of words and their variations.

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Ways to Solve the Problem

One of the ways to deal with such problems is to study the language with the aid of the corpus. If teachers are to guide students the right way to understand how the rules of grammar operate, understanding the native language will be of the big and important first step. Creating exercises from a data-driven approach gives learners access to authentic language samples accompanied by rich contexts. Learners can do the exploration of the use of words and phrases under the guidance of teachers and become increasingly aware of native language use through better noticing. (Xu, 2014)

Following the aforementioned teaching method, the use of the sentence frame with adapted authentic materials remains another viable option. What teachers need to do is to set up a frame with the help of the targeted language which the exercise or lesson aims at. As an instructional method, it can offer students the opportunity to learn and practice using new academic vocabulary in content-specific subjects to activate prior knowledge and learn the writing and speaking conventions needed for that subject while learning the subject material and concepts. (Subramariam, 2010) Following to the above point is that the planned structure of the sentences themselves equip struggling students with communicative confidence and competence for language and reading, writing, and speaking even if the exercises are adapted from authentic materials. (Hutchison, 2017)

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Yet, using the two methods in teaching ESL students still have their constraints. Starting from the difficulty of materials adapted from authentic materials, the suitability of resources for adaption highly depends on the capability of the target learning the language. If the materials are too hard, this may scare the learners. Following the above concern is that learning English with the aid of a corpus can be frustrating if the concordances aren’t carefully edited to help learners find the relevant features. As vast quantities of information thrown require a digestion process and the process itself is always time-consuming. (Xu, 2014) However, taking all these concerns into serious account, using a corpus as a way of studying English and adapting authentic materials for students to understand what syntax is inevitable. To most ESL students, it may be difficult in the beginning, but still, they will find them rewarding in the end.

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All in all speaking, it is obvious to teachers and students that there is never a shortcut to teaching a language meanwhile it remains the same for students to acquire a language. Effectiveness always builds on one’s best endeavor and therefore, ESL students must learn to build up positive learning attitudes to achieve the goal of successfully learning a new language.

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