Following on from the class I wrote about in the last post , I received this piece of homework from one of the students. I’ve added the photo as it’s one of my favourite beaches too – cows and all!
TEXT: MY FIRST VISIT TO BOLONIA
I went to Bolonia beach more or less in summer of 1985. I went with two friends: Mª Paz and Juan on her car and her dog. We went arrived at night and was more difficult because there had not electric lights and had only light of the moon, and we had to put tents for sleeping; its more very difficult but I liked it. When I was sleeping I hear something and scared me I got up and look up….and there was a cow, I was surprised..She was quiet and me too….At the next morning in the breakfast I told my friends about it and they answer hear nothing ..They was sleeping
and they asked me …” You are sure that ?….
I was impressed. This class has had approximately 30 hours of classes. We started from scratch, although she had some basic notions from a long time ago at school. But in addition to this “proud teacher” moment I was struck by this particular piece of writing because there seemed to be a lot going on here in terms of language processing and it fascinated me. So much so that I thought I’d look at it more carefully and see what lessons I could learn from it. These were the things that first struck me (initially in no particular order, hopefully some kind of order will emerge!)
1 the repeated use of went
2 the use of the preposition to with went
3 the use of the chunk arrived at night
4 the fact that she had embedded two new vocabulary items from the previous lesson: cow and tent.
Looking back at these four points, I realize that I’ve picked up on them because they are language items that we’ve consciously focused on, in some cases again and again, in previous lessons. In another post I’ve focused on the simple past, here again I see evidence that some simple past tenses seem to have been assimilated and moved into automatic use (went, had, got, arrived, asked, liked) although there’s some backsliding, possibly with less frequent verbs i.e. ones we haven’t used that much in our conversations in class (hear, look, answer). And there’s also an example of the overuse of went in We went arrived which could either be a missed edit, or an example of went being subconsciously used as some form of past marker .
I know that we’ve focused on the use of the preposition to with go time and time again. It’s somehow satisfying to see it used here. And the same goes for the preposition at. The class has got a little obsessed with the use of at and questions have been coming up again and again since the very first lesson on the difference between in, at and on. It’s pleasing somehow to see it being used correctly here. And of course it’s great to see that the vocabulary items she needed in the class and that we noted in our summary are being recycled here in her story (cow and tent). And I realize that the first things I’ve focused on are examples of successful learning – maybe it’s because it makes me feel better about myself as a teacher!
The next list of items has a lot more to do with the on-going process of learning and experimenting. These are all examples of language in flux:
1 the use of the dummy pronoun There with the verb had
Over the last month we’ve been looking at some uses of there e.g. the two uses here in this sentence: There were a lot of people there. We’ve looked at the use of there + be to talk about places in town, favourite restaurants and bars, giving directions, story telling. It’s featured as a chunk in our lesson summaries where we’ve focused on the paradigm tables for present and past. It seems to me that some assimilation is taking place but she still hasn’t mastered the form. She’s using the dummy pronoun appropriately but with the verb have rather than be, but this is a step forward as previously she would have used it as the dummy. I think the pronoun is beginning to be assimilated, but the chunks (there’s / there are / there was / there were) are still out of her reach.
2 the use of the past continuous
This interests me because we haven’t focused on this verb form at all in class, but I have been aware of using it when I speak, of consciously choosing not to grade it out of my teacher talk. We did once look, very, very briefly, at an example of the present continuous in one class and highlighted the use of be +-ing and compared it with estar + present participle in Spanish but we haven’t stopped to focus on it as a form as such. The use of the past continuous here seems to be an example of hypothesis testing, extending on the be + -ing rule to great the past form. The fact that it is a from in flux and not an automated chunk can also be seen in the use of they was rather than they were. I’ve decided to leave these continuous forms to “grow wild” for the moment. I recently introduced the class to graded readers which contain these structures, it’ll be interesting to see whether they start to become more apparent in our classroom conversations.
3 confusions with more and very
This is an on-going area of confusion, with very, a lot and more being used more or less interchangeably at the moment (e.g. more very difficult). We’ve focused on the difference a couple of times in the last few lessons and I’ve made a note of it in the lesson summaries. Looking at them together rather than apart could well be clouding the issue. Maybe it’s time I was pro-active for once and did some old-fashioned controlled practice?
There’s probably a whole lot more that I could take from this 100 word text, but I think I’ve indulged myself enough already! Or at least tested the patience of any readers about as far as I should. But, of course, if there’s anything else that occurs to you, I’d be delighted to hear about it!