posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany
In the following video, Herbert Puchta looks at a fun way of correcting one of the most fequently occuring errors in German EFL classrooms: the missing third person singular -s in the simple present tense (as in: he *want more juice).
German teachers of English as a foreign language are regularly confronted with learners’ utterances like ”*He go to school”‘, etc. – although the German 3rd person requires a suffigated form as well: ”Er geht in die Schule”. In fact, the German inflectional system for the simple present tense is far more complex than the English, which only requires a suffix -s in the third person singular. To cope with this problem, German teachers very often use a ‘slogan’ that makes the underlying SV-agreement explicit: ”He, she, it, dass -s muss mit.” (He, she, it, the -s must fit.) (roughly translated). But this is not really effective. Student learn the slogan by heart, but continue to produce the error. I was wondering how this can be explained (failure in morph rule-learning; or in rote memory / mental lexicon; or in teaching practices; or …?). Any ideas and suggestions?
Here are some expert views on this (via The Linguist List / the world’s largest online linguistic ressource):
“I suppose perhaps it is natural that when you come to English from a more highly conjugated language like German, the overall impression is ”forget about verb endings”, and one goes too far and forgets even what English has got – a case of overgeneralizing, which is a very usual kind of learning error.”
Prof. G.R. Sampson MA PhD MBCS (Professor of Natural Language Computing; School of Cognitive & Computing Sciences; University of Sussex)
“I dont know what kind of a fancy Education College label one might want to hang on this but there is no alternative in learning inflectional morphemes of another – or of one’s own for that matter – language other than practice. One can understand it systematically and intellectually but that’s like understanding how a piano works. It doesn’t mean you can play Poulenc. – For English there is the added fact that it is only in the third person singular that the agreement-tense suffix occurs. It’s he/she/it write-s versus everybody else write. Moreover, it probably doesn’t help that in nouns, an -s suffix is plural rather than singular.
Joseph F Foster (Associate Professor of Anthropology &Director of Undergraduate Studies; University of Cincinnati, Ohio)
“The problem for learners of English, native or not, is that, as you point out, the only inflection that occurs in the present tense for most English verbs is the one for the 3rd person singular. It turns out that this language situation is actually more complex for the learner than one in which all persons and number have a unique inflection. Researchers investigating language acquisition have found that for languages in which inflections always appear, native-speaking children make no errors, but for a language such as English, learning the one exception to the ”no inflection” rule turns out to be difficult from a cognitive linguistic perspective. I am certain that the same problem exists for people learning English as a second or foreign language.
Marilyn N. Silva (Professor/Chair; Department of English; California State University, Hayward).