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English as the Second Language: The English Verb System


The English language is spoken all over the world. Wherever it is not spoken people are trying to learn it or become better at it because it has many advantages and provides a common method to communicate with the world. Learning the English language though is no easy task. It is comprised of many rules and regulations and the English verb system poses a great deal of difficulty to English learners. Although the task is difficult there are various strategies teachers can use and implement to make the task of understanding the English verb better.

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“A substantial body of literature has been developed to analyze the problems and promises of learning and teaching foreign languages.” (Huxley 67) The English verb system is one of the most complex problems and poses a lot of difficulty for people whose second language is English. “ESL students whose first language is Portuguese or Spanish experiment difficulties in setting up new parameters when learning…verbs in English.”(Almeida 610) The same difficulties apply to people who speak Arabic and are trying to learn English. There is no Copula in the Arabic language so they usually omit it when they are translating into English.

A lot of other things are missing in the Arab language and there are fewer restrictions regarding when to use a tense and which verb it should be linked to. They also have confusion when trying to decipher the passive voice. (Ruhaif 8) “They drop the auxiliary and keep the past participial of the main verb. This has to do with the passive structure in Arabic which changes the internal vowel as in (shariba-shuriba, drink-drunk)” (qtd. in Ruhaif 8)

“The English verb phrase is a notoriously difficult area for the foreign or second learner of English.”(McEldowney 137) The author of the article Teaching Imperatives in Context presents a solution to minimize the difficulties associated with the English verb. “An important initial step in this respect is to establish one form for one function and to deal always with the chosen form in the classroom in conjunction with this function.” (McEldowney 137)

“Techniques of teaching the English finite verb to speakers of other languages must account for meaning that is signaled by the structure alone and meaning derived from the context.” (Gorayska) Six verb forms can be established if the finite and non-finite are taken as two different categories. “These are finite stem, finite stem +s, finite stem +ed, non finite stem +ing and non-finite stem +ed. These forms occur either singly or in groups. A study of the large body of English reveals that the most useful (frequent) forms are the three finite forms occurring singly. These three forms account for well over half of all verb form usage.” (McEldowney 137)

McEldowney says that the three finite forms occurring singly are not taught to students who are learning English. It is logical that basic stems should be taught to English learners because they have to build a strong foundation. (McEldowney 138) Making this part of instruction in a classroom, “allows a great deal of necessary receptive experience before the learner is asked to produce any language and… it is an area in which a need for a language item can be established in the learner’s mind with the minimum of extra language to distract from the learning point.” (McEldowney 138)

Native English speakers have enough command over the English language that they can mold and creatively use it in many different forms and for many different purposes. A person whose native language is not English faces many difficulties when he or she tries to mold the language to use it in different ways. “When teaching these verbs, the instructor should present charts containing the components of motion and discuss the meaning of the verbs and metaphors. Attention should be given to the adverbs of place and position of speakers when interacting in a dialogue.” (Almeida 617)

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Teachers should keep this in mind and make sure that whatever they teach is broken down into steps. Just like a big business manages its company effectively by appointing individuals to areas that they will be able to manage a teacher should only disclose enough information at one time that is manageable. (McEldowney 138) In other words it’s like operating a business through integration.

A CEO appoints managers to look after certain tasks that they can handle and tasks are assigned accordingly. To reach a specific goal the management takes a step-by-step approach to reach it and integrates all the aspects of operation so nothing is overlooked or overlapped. When a business is efficiently operated and integrated all the goals can be achieved.

Teachers should follow the same principles while educating their pupils. “The establishment of the association [should] involve finding suitable contexts for teaching; [decide] how to use aids most efficiently; [decide] what weight to give to each of reading, writing and listening; and [establish] suitable stages of development and [decide] how best to integrate them into the course.” (McEldowney 137) By following this business integration-inspired model every teacher should be able to reach her goal.

English is spoken all over the world except in different forms. Each country uses the English language as modified to its own culture. “In his contribution to Brumfit (1982), Quirk discusses “International communication and the concept of Nuclear English”. In fact, the denomination ‘Nuclear English’ might raise exaggerated expectations as it seems to suggest an entire, new model for English. However, what Quirk’s proposal really amounts to is an airing of ideas about the ways in which native English might be modified to make it easier to learn as a foreign language and easier to use as an international language.” (Seidlhofer)

Henceforth, Quirk proposes ways to modify particular uses of English by providing examples. His main focus is the English Verb System. So Quirk does not propose a complete system; rather, he offers some examples, especially in the area of grammar, particularly verbs. His proposal used the method of simplifying “such as the replacement of non-restrictive relative clauses with adverbial clauses (1 => 1a) or replacement of ditransitive constructions with the corresponding prepositional alternative (2 => 2a)” (Seidlhofer) Instead of using a complicated sentence such as, “I expressed my sympathy to the captain, who had been reprimanded,” he suggests we use, “I expressed my sympathy to the captain because he had been reprimanded.” (qtd. in Seidlhofer)

His methods basically apply the route of simplification and not confusing the learner by confusing him or her with complicated verb usage. If the sentence can be conveyed with the same meaning in an easier way it is the ideal one to choose while instructing people who are learning English.

Non-native speakers do not have enough command over English to mold into sophisticated levels of communication like native English Speakers. For foreign students such as Portuguese, Spanish and Arab speaking individuals many restrictions applied by the English verb system are missing from their native languages. Many people have researched this area and proposed different theories to tackle this problem efficiently.

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The stem of the verbs should be divided into finite and infinite and the basics should be taught first to build a strong foundation. Also if there is an easier way of constructing a sentence while conveying the same meaning it should be used because translating and instruction become better when everything is simplified. If teachers use all the methods and theories efficiently non-English speakers should overcome the difficulty posed by the English verb system more easily.

Works Cited

Almeida, Marta. “Verbs of Motion: The Implications of Cognitive Semantics in Teaching Grammar.” Hispania 85(2002): 609-617.

Gorayska, Barbara. “The English Verb System..” Interlanguage Studies Bulletin-Utrecht 3(1978): 34-49.

Huxley, Frederick. “Contrasting Semantic Structures in English and Arabic: Problem and Promise in Second-Language Learning.” Anthropology & Education Quarterly 17(1986): 67-99.

McEldowney, Patricia. “Teaching Imperatives in Context.” TESOL Quarterly 9(1975): 137 – 147.

Ruhaif, Sundus. “Difficulties in Oral/ Aural Communication for Arab Learners of English.”2007.

Seidlhofer, Barbara. “The shape of things to come? Some basic questions about English as a lingua franca.” Lingua franca communication 2002 269-302. Web.

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