The 7 Most Common Problems for ESL Learners from Chile
This essay displays my own experience as well as information from other (internet) resources. I work as an English teacher in Chile, mainly teaching professionals in the mining industry.
Only 3 to 5 percent of the population in Chile speaks proficient English. The Ministry of Education created a plan to upscale the level of English and the percentage of English speakers in the country. They welcome teachers from abroad.
Chile is a Spanish speaking country. Spanish speakers have a certain advantage when it comes to learning English, like the use of cognates. But they also have specific difficulties that need attention while learning English.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Yvette O. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
1. False cognates
To learn English, there are a lot of cognates that are useful for Spanish speakers. But not every Spanish word that looks like an English word, has the same meaning. So does librería mean stationery store, instead of the library, and assistir means to attend, instead of to assist. Embarrassed does not mean embarazada (pregnant), but avergonzado.
In Spanish, the rules for pronouncing letters are quite simple and do not change much if we put them together in a word. However, in English, the same pronunciation of two words can have a different spelling, like a bear and bare, peace and piece, which and witch. These are also called ‘homophones’. Another aspect that leaves students puzzled is the difference between American English and British English since there is a difference in writing and a difference in words (nappy or diaper, taxi or cab, underground or subway). In reality, people will understand. Exams like IELTS and TOEFL use both British and American spelling.
3. Use of the subject
As English speakers, we use the subject in a sentence to make clear who we are talking about, whereas in Spanish, the subject is only used to emphasize who we are talking about. In conjugated verb already tells us who we are talking about. This confuses and leads to omitting them or using them incorrectly in English. He/she/it is often confused.
As stated before, the rules for pronouncing letters in Spanish are quite simple and barely change when you put them together. In English on the other hand, the pronunciation of a letter can change a lot of it is combined with another letter or letter. This makes it hard for Spanish learners to know the pronunciation of a new word instantly. In many cases, the pronunciation needs to be memorized instead of relying on rules.
5. Hacer and to do and to make
Hacer is the Spanish word for to do and to make. There is no distinction between doing and to make. In English we make a difference between making something physical, creating something made by our own hands (cooking food, handcrafting, etc.) and doing movements (dishes, jumping jacks, etc.). Furthermore, there is a category that is neither these two options, like to make a suggestion, make a point, harm and do damage. The difficulty of deciding on which verb to use, often leads to a sentence that contains the verb to do where the verb to make should have taken its place or the other way around.
The third-person singular in Simple Present generally needs an -s (he plays, she walks, it works) but tends to be forgotten and not pronounced.
Prepositions in English work in another way than the ones in Spanish. Understanding these prepositions is for most Spanish speakers a challenge since they are not only different but in English, there are more prepositions. Three Spanish prepositions (en, de, a) are used whereas 9 English prepositions do the same job (in, on, at, into, onto, too, out of, off of, from). Literal translations are not always possible but there is a guideline and this solely needs studying and memorizing.
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