Tuesday, September 06, 2011

It only took 2 weeks for me to learn how much I don't know!

One thing that I’ve learned since school started a few weeks ago is that prepositions are really complicated. Not so much for native speakers (or at least not all native speakers), but for ESL students, the rules are extremely intrinsic. When to use on or in, at or on, for or of… there’s no rhyme or reason. It doesn’t really make sense except to say “It’s how I was taught and that’s the way it is…” I was able to observe and/or overhear a few ESL sessions and it was really eye-opening to see how they understood the concepts presented them, especially with relation to prepositions. It made me want to learn a better way to explain it to them, but I found that there is not an easy way to do that. On this same note, I had to cringe a little when I realized that many of the ESL students hear phrases and repeat them. This is a problem, either because they are repeating incorrectly or they are hearing incorrectly. Perhaps, the speakers are just using improper and/or incorrect phrases. For example, one I recently heard was “He put it on a pedalstool.” I can’t imagine a native English speaker saying this, but pedestal might sound like pedalstool to an untrained ear.
Another thing I’ve learned recently is that a lot of students don’t understand the difference between a pronoun and a proper noun, at least by definition. I believe they use them right, but when asked to describe a pronoun, they tend to tell me about proper nouns. This was augmented by the pre/post tests for the DELC workshops. Many people miss the pronoun question, circling instead a proper noun. It was interesting to learn how many students, while capable of speaking correctly, don’t understand the terms and concepts of basic grammar.

While reading through the The Least You Should Know About English textbook, I found a couple of proofreading exercises. At first, I seemed to find the errors quickly, but there was always one or two that I couldn’t find. Eventually, I would find them and was able to feel satisfied in my abilities. However, this made me realize that I was only able to locate the last one because I knew how many errors were in the paper. One of these exercises had used “who’s” instead of “whose.” While I know the difference, I merely didn’t see that one until I had read it a quite a few times. It made me realize that I while I study and practice these concepts so that I may know them, they aren’t always obvious and may try to sneak by me. So I guess one thing I know now that I didn’t know then is that I need to be extra-vigilant against things like that, especially when those kinds of errors are what the student is most concerned about.


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