English is a funny language
Despite the fact our children did all their homeland schooling in English, they are battling to get language right. Today I looked at this decidedly English style cottage in the gardens my co-worker and I walk around at lunch time. I got me thinking about how differently English can be used, even in countries where English is the official language.
Our youngest is struggling to use his/hers, she/he and him/her correctly. We are constantly working on it with her. She KNOWS them and I know she knows them because if I sit and ask her to tell me is “his” for a boy or a girl, she gets such questions correct 100%. It is when she speaks or writes she gets confused.
Singular and plural is a problem for all. The “s” to denote more than one just doesn’t seem to exist in their vocabulary. Miss O 2 and I had a discussion last night, as she was writing a little essay about herself for school.
“I have two brother”. She asked me if this was correct.
“No”, I replied, “It should be I have two brothers. You need to use the plural, for more than one”.
“If I use the ‘s’, why do I need to say ‘two’ “, she asked.
“So the reader knows how many more than one,” I replied.
“Oh, I see”.
There is the problem of verb tenses. It seems they have not learnt to conjugate verbs at all. When to use “is” and when to use “are” is a constant problem. The use of “am” seems to be fine!
I remember reciting them at school endlessly!
The question of the perfect and imperfect past is something we are tackling slowly. Even the concept of adding “ed” to a word to denote the past is something they had no idea about.
It is interesting, because Mr O, who was also educated in his homeland, is much better on the rules of grammar. He is adamant it is because the education system there has deteriorated since he was at school. I cannot judge this at all, of course – I wasn’t there. I do know his knowledge of the structure of the English language is far better than the children’s knowledge. Yes, he has a strong accent, as do they, but he knows what is correct in almost all cases. Vocabulary and sound is a different matter altogether. Also, when you speak a reasonable amount of English and THINK you understand a word, that can be more confusing than not knowing at all! I remember in early 2010 Mr O asking me what was the difference between “avoid” and “afford”. If he reads the word, he knows, because he knows what the words mean. He cannot tell the difference when he hears the words spoken. Conversely, when he was giving evidence during his asylum seeker days, he said he had been in India and Australia’s officials documented he had been to England. Consequently, I am often asking them to repeat what they said, simply because I am not at all sure what they said! We repeat a lot of conversation in our house! I have written before of the problems my husband experienced with language in the past, mostly always verbal. Long written paragraphs can be confusing, but it is the sounds that are the biggest problem.
Use of words is different. If I say I am going somewhere, a child will ask, “Can I follow you”. It took me a couple of times to work out they meant could they come WITH me. I have explained the difference many times, yet I still get the same question!
It has, after all, only been five months!
They “shut off” the lights and “close the tap”. The bathroom is the toilet, no matter how often we correct them. I’m not sure what the toilet is called!
The washing gets “spread” rather than “hung out”. Tonight we had a discussion about “mercy” and “misery”. We spell a lot, to ensure we are talking about the same word!
Words in English that sound the same but are spelt differently, (two, to, too, son, sun) or are spelt the same but pronounced differently cause problems. ”I will record that song” versus “He ran the race in record time” or “I will read that book tomorrow versus “I read the paper yesterday” are classic examples and topics of recent conversation.
I think about how hard it must be for those arriving in a new country who do not have a resident local language encyclopaedia to help!
Punctuation such as using capital letters after a full-stop or for proper nouns is problematic. When to break thoughts into sentences has been another learning curve.
We are getting there, but sometimes I feel I need two of me – sharing me around five people as an English tutor is not easy! I always feel I am not helping someone enough.
We will get there!
- If the word ‘mouse’ in plural is ‘mice’ and the word ‘lice’ in plural is ‘lice’ then why do you say ‘houses’ instead of ‘hice’ (wiki.answers.com)
- Common English Language Errors (cmaankur.wordpress.com)
- Why English Can Be A Problem (5ptsalt.com)
- On being an ex-pat in Sardinia (laavventura.wordpress.com)
- More fun with words (eslmarriage.com)