My Language Learning Autobiography
-Five Grammar Structures-
Learning different languages was a real enjoyment for me. My first exposure to English was in middle school. It was like music to my ears; full of poetry and rhythm and once exposed, I resolved to master that language at all costs! Within this language learning autobiography, I will discuss my experience of learning. The focus of this article will essentially be about some English grammatical patterns and the main issues I experienced as a foreign language learner. Hopefully, it will help teachers to deal more carefully with difficult grammar forms.
I have chosen to start with verbal and non-verbal negation and how it is formed in English. This grammatical point seemed like a piece of cake at first but then I found out that my assumptions were wrong. In my textbook, the explanation of when and how to use the negative was very complicated and I found it difficult to understand. Negation in Arabic is not that difficult and it does not involve a lot of rules and terminology. It is relatively clear in Arabic where to use the negative element “not” if you understand the meaning of the sentence. This is not the case in English!
I had some particular difficulties with this structure: “I do not imagine that he will want to come”. In this example, the negation was moved up to the main clause. Firstly, I thought negative raising –that’s what grammarians term it– will change the meaning, but it doesn’t actually. For some time I was a little confused because I was taught that “not” when inserted, affects the meaning. Let’s examine ,”he suggested not buying it”. This second example feels awkward and ungrammatical; a closer look reveals the opposite . I now realize the complexity of negation and I understand that it is crucial to learn these complex and seemingly unimportant explanations to be able to understand the purport conveyed. I feel that most English teachers don’t pay attention to these cases and leave the student in the dark.
In school, I was taught that they are a verb plus a particle. In those days, there was no technology or a PowerPoint based lesson as we have now. There was only a long list of those verbs at the end of the course book and most teachers pushed students to learn them by heart to pass the exam. Rote learning, that’s the exact term I’m looking for. This was in stark contrast to today’s learning methods. I firmly believe that there is a huge gap between the classroom practices of the past and now. Today, effective teaching and in particular, teaching with technology, can ensure that we learn phrasal verbs in an easier and more memorable way.
3. Adjectives and adverbs
I didn’t experience a lot of comprehension problems, especially in relation to adjectives. This is possibly due to the fact that we are more familiar with adjective characteristics and positions in a given discourse. In spite of this, we still have to be cautious about their order, which is not the same as in my mother tongue. In English, for example, we would say “nice car”. In Arabic, the noun phrase is first; “car nice”! When adjectives occur in a string, it is very difficult to know which order is correct, for example, “an old ugly yellow tin bucket stood beside the stove.”
Adverbs were a little different from adjectives, that’s at least what I sensed. As a young learner, I was not inclined to use a lot of adverbs in speaking or writing.This is probably related to the complexity of their nature.” He is a fast worker” and” he works fast”. Undoubtedly, I would prefer to use the first structure .Even now as an advanced learner, I seem to eschew long adverbs, like “additionally”or “regrettably” in speech, although I am happy to use short ones such as “often” or “slowly”. I feel adverbs need lots of practice.
Modals were and still are a controversial matter to me . Pure modals are the recurrent frequent ones and most ESL learners use them. I prefer not to use some marginal modals like “dare .Simply put, my general impression is that there is a sort of ambiguity concerning modals like: “can”, “could” “may”and “might”. They seem to express the same meaning, yet, they are quite different!
There are other confusing models such as “ought to” and “had better” which express advice. “Drivers should obey the speed limit”. The question here is whether the advice is strong or weak. And which one – I mean modals- to use? And in what context? Is it a matter of formality? Looking back to college and university days, I still remember that “must” is used more for for obligation and” have to” is less urgent; “a father to his son: “you have to get up early”!
5. Indirect objects
Concerning indirect objects I don’t remember a lot about them and their position in a given situation. The majority of my English teachers in school times focussed on the S.V.O structure and the indirect object was not mentioned at all! Now that I have gotten to a somewhat comfortable level in English I intuitively know that the pronoun “one” for example can replace the noun phrase in “he loaned her a watch”. Another example worth mentioning is: “we asked a question of the child” That’s raises one’s eyebrows. Isn’t “of” a little clumsy here?! What do you think?
Overall, Arabic discourse patterns are often not transferable to standard American or British English as it has been put by one British educator. We need, therefore, to select certain specific grammar activities and teaching methods to suit the Moroccan context. It also must be stressed, as a final point, that Moroccan learners and teachers should be instructed not only in language use and structures but also in culture which Kramsch (1993) views as a fifth language skill besides the four usual skills of listening, speaking, writing, and reading.
Cowan, Ron. (2008) The teacher’s Grammar of English. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Heidari, Adeleh, Saeed, Ketabi. The role of culture through the eyes of different approaches and methods of foreign language teaching.n.p (March 2014). Web. <http://www.immi.se/intercultural/nr34/heidari.html>