Video Transcript 5

Ok, we have looked at a first essential characteristic of successful teachers of ESL students: knowledge of everything to do with asking questions in the classroom. Let's now move on to the second essential characteristic: knowledge of the English language. In the survey you were asked to categorize aspects of English according to how easy or difficult you thought they would be for non-native speakers.

In this video we will discuss some of these difficulties, but first let's look very briefly at one feature of English that is objectively easy, certainly when compared to an inflectional language like Russian or German. So to see what we mean by inflections, let's look at English and German. As you can see the blue words in English have a much larger number of counterparts in German. This is because German requires certain words to be inflected, or changed, according to their case (nominative, accusative, genitive or dative) and their gender (masculine, feminine or neuter) or their person and number (for example, first person plural, third person singular). Pause the video if you want to take a longer look at this comparison.

Ok, there are certainly other aspects of English that are objectively easy for learners, but as a teacher of ESL students it is more useful for you to be aware of the difficulties. If you know what is likely to cause problems, then you can plan to provide sufficient help in ways that we will discuss later.

A first difficulty for English language learners is the tense system. Here are some examples of the choices that learners have to make. Native speakers never have to worry about choosing between, for example, I saw her and I've seen her, or I'll help him and I'm going to help him. But for ESL students this is a major problem. Stop the video and think about how you would explain to a non-native speaker when and why you would use one or other of the two alternatives listed here.

A second significant area of difficulty is the spelling/pronunciation system. English has imported many words from other languages, and it has also undergone some major spelling shifts in the last 1000 years. Because of this there is a large amount of irregularity between how words are said and how those words are written, so that you cannot reliably predict how to spell a new word that you hear or how to say a new word that you read.

Let's look at a few examples of this irregularity. Here are several words with the same '-ough-' ending, but in each case the '-ough' is sounded differently in British English. [ ... ]

These simple words actually have two different pronunciations, depending on the meaning. [ ... ] And these words have spellings that do not give reliable hints about how they are to be pronounced. Pause the video and see if you know how to say them before I read them out. [ ... ]

So, on the last slide we saw words all ending with the letters '-ough' but all with different pronunciations. On this slide we have the reverse: four words with different spellings but identical pronunciations (at least in British English).

Compared to a language like Korean, German or Turkish, the English spelling and pronunciation system is a real mess.