Focusing on Form and Forms with ESL students

Teaching a second language to students is a difficult and a considerably complicated task. People from different backgrounds speak diverse languages and become accustomed to the grammar, structure and phonetics of their own mother language, which may be very different from others’ languages. This makes it very difficult to adapt to a new language and it is, therefore, hard for teachers to accomplisher their task.

To teach a second language, grammar, vocabulary and verbal exercises have to be delivered. One of the most important things to follow by a teacher is to focus on form. Form is the practice of teaching grammar and sentence structure. Sentences could be declarative, interrogatory, imperative or exclamatory and each type is used to deliver certain information in a certain way. Therefore, it is really important for students to learn how to manage the language form and master sentence formation and structure.

However, the limitations of teaching form is the lack of focus on vocabulary and verbal practice. After learning grammar, structural rules and all aspects of language forms, students may still lack the ability to use the correct vocabulary. They will also still need to learn how to master verbal communication. All those are important aspects in English, especially when writing essays or delivering verbal presentations.

As such, instructors should balance their teaching approached and utilize various learning strategies that enhance the students’ verbal and written skills with mastery and confidence.

I believe that learning formulaic sequences at an early age is essential in language learning Bahns, Burmeister, and Vogel (1986) investigated the second-language acquisition of a group of children and found evidence of a formula segmentation process at work. They found two particular pragmatic factors at work in the use of formulas by the children, namely, situational frames requiring their use, and frequency of occurrence of the formulas. The study also found evidence of a progression of development of use of the formulas, starting with use of simpler expressive and game formulas. This was followed by a broadening of the range of formulas as pragmatic awareness and ability grew, and eventually full native-like selection and use of formulas with more precise knowledge of when an expression is pragmatically target like.

Learning formulaic sequences allows students to learn how to formulate and pronounce idioms. In English, idioms are very important. They are basically phrases composed of multiple words tied together, with a meaning that is different from the definition of each single word alone. Idioms are everywhere in the English language and mastering them is the first building block in learning any language in fact. By not pausing a lot and for too long, learners are forced to tie words together often and be able to speak them in one run. This forces the learners to choose words that tie well together and hence be more knowledgeable of their meanings. As well, in formulaic sequences, the learner gets to understand how different words, verbs and nouns tie together adequately to make a meaningful sentence. Each word in the sentence has to make sense, and if not, it will be evident when pronouncing that sentence without pauses, as in formulaic sequences exercises.

• References
• Bahns,J., Burmeister, H., & Vogel, T. (1986). The pragmatics of formulas in L2 learner speech: Useand development. Journal of Pragmatics, 10,693-723.

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