The English Language and its Peculiarities
The English Language is universally derided for its difficulty and the absurd number of exceptions to every rule. To teach English effectively in an EFL setting, it is important to make note of these difficulties and teach students both the rules and the plentiful exceptions. My personal experience as a teacher and the knowledge I’ve gleaned from this course illustrate the importance of incorporating games and group practice so that students feel motivated. I want my students to find learning English fun rather than frustrating. It is key, especially when teaching young learners, to pick one’s battles: a pedantic mindset will only breed frustration and lead to a classroom full of anxious students. Therefore, the peculiarities of the English language should be approached with an attitude of joy and curiosity rather than anxiety. The English language is a tapestry of other languages, and in many cases, this means that the rules overlap and contradict one another. However, this is also one of the reasons for the rich history of the language and its potential for inspiring beauty and poetry.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Yvette S. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Homonyms (words that sound the same but have different meanings), homophones (a type of homonym that includes words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings), and homographs (words that are spelled the same but have different meanings) create special challenges for EFL students. Native speakers rely heavily on contextual understanding for pronunciation cues, so imagine the embarrassment of a new learner mispronouncing a word when reading out loud in front of the class and altering the meaning of a sentence entirely. My goal as a teacher is to emphasize the fact that such errors are not only understandable but serve as valuable learning tools – and to let students know that many native speakers make these kinds of errors regularly. A common example of this is the word “tear,” which is both a verb meaning to rip apart and a noun referring to the moisture the human eye produces in moments of sadness. After tearing the letter open, tears sprang to my eyes: it is easy to imagine a student feeling confused about the meaning of such a statement. Vocabulary building through memorization drills, flashcards, and stressing difficult words is a key instruction method, but I would also want for my students to stretch their knowledge by using authentic materials (that is, materials that have not been created for the express purpose of EFL teaching). I think that teaching students how to piece together meaning using the words they do know (like language detectives) is one of the most important skills for students to practice to build both fluency and accuracy.
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Tense is another aspect of the English language fraught with peculiarities. The many exceptions make it quite difficult for a teacher to cover every potential error. However, I think the twelve tense systems that ITTT uses should make it easier for students to apply the rules effectively. Some oddities that students are likely to struggle with include the many irregular past tense verbs. Be, become, begin, catch, grow, have: the list of irregular past tense verb forms is endless and many of these verbs are commonly used to convey meaning and express time, intent, and purpose. The end goal is for these oddities to sound natural as they do to native speakers. Future tenses are also difficult for students to comprehend. One of the most effective ways to overcome this hurdle is to practice speaking and allow students to practice speaking with one another so that they feel “safe” making errors and learning as they go. Pair and group work, enjoyable Engage stage activities, and incorporating Student Talking Time into each lesson are methods for making students feel comfortable with the astounding complexity of tenses.
Plurals and roots have their share of absurdities as well. The simple ‘add an s’ rule is quite limited, and developing fluency and confidence is a far more difficult task when inconsistencies abound. There are many misleading words: for instance, “several” does not mean “seven,” “ver” can refer to both the Latin root truth and the Greek root spring (as in veritable and vernal), and a parable has nothing to do with a parabola, though they are both rooted in the Greek word for comparison, parabole. I find the absurd nature of the English language refreshing, as there is always room for discovery. I would try to impart this joy in discovery to my students, as master of the English language is a title that very few can claim, including many Native English speakers.
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The peculiarities of the English language creates the possibility for many errors, especially for EFL students and beginners who will be completely overwhelmed by the complexity of the task. However, I think the games, activities, and ESA structure of the lessons will allow me to show students how fun learning English can be when one does not get bogged down in its absurdities.
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