How do I Teach English Language Learners about the Rules of Grammar?
Generally, a person learning a second language will eventually acquire grammar rules on his own, inductively, much as a child learning his first language does. A three-year-old might say “I goed to the zoo today.” An eight-year-old typically would not. The error goes away over time with frequently hearing the correct version in context. Overtly teaching the correct form is not generally necessary. Consider that it is unlikely that the parent of the three-year-old would present a grammar lesson on irregular past tense verbs.
When you teach English Language Learners, it is crucial to remember that one of the best ways to handle an error made by them (or a three-year-old, for that matter) is reformulation. This is done by responding to the student in a natural, conversational way, while using a corrected version of what he has said.
Student: “Teacher, I no can find me book.”
Teacher: “Really, you can’t find your book? Well, you can use my book for today.”
Student: “Okay. I think my book at home.”
Teacher: “If your book is at home, please bring it tomorrow.”
Notice that the teacher used the correct forms of speech that the student missed (“can’t,” “my,” and “is”) in a natural way. Sometimes, a student will notice the difference and respond using correct speech, as in the example with “my” above. Even if he doesn’t seem to notice it, he still benefits by hearing it.
A big advantage of this method is that the student doesn’t feel like he is being corrected (as compared with hearing “No, that’s not right. You should say …”). And there is also no negative impact on the student’s confidence level.
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