Alba is a 41-year old woman who has been living in the U.S for about four years. She’s originally from Bogotá, Colombia and came to this country in 2012 after meeting her now husband (from the United States) and having a child together. Upon coming to this country, she decided she wanted to learn English to better her chances of landing a good job and hopefully start an MBA.
She’s currently enrolled in the EAP program at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus. She came in with a basic knowledge of English and started off the program with a level two in English proficiency; this means she was placed in level two grammar, speech, reading and writing. She began the EAP program in late 2013 and has now just finished level five of the program (April 2016). Next fall, she’ll be taking classes in the last level (level six) of the program, and she’ll be ready to take ENC1101 by next year to hopefully then take the TOEFL, pass, and get into graduate school.
Although a diligent student, Alba struggles with a negative attitude towards learning a second language, specially when it comes to conversational English. She considers herself a perfectionist, and although to many this may sound positive, it does hinder her progress in this area. I’ve worked with her for more than five months now, as her tutor, and I’ve noticed her being resistant towards making mistakes and learning from them if made.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve worked with Alba before, and I know her quite well, academically speaking. She excels when studying English on paper; she studies the concepts but does not apply them in conversation as often as she should.
I did not want my assessment of her speech abilities to feel like an interview, so, instead, I asked her to ask me questions; after I had answered hers, I asked her my own. It was a brief meeting, but I was able to recognize a few grammar and pronunciation issues that were very basic.
Omission of the Subject
In Spanish, the verb tenses change the subject, so saying “I” or “he” or “it” isn’t necessary; this is called the tacit subject, meaning that it’s implied in the verb. The English language requires a subject in it’s structure, even if there is no subject required by the verb. Learners like Alba, who don’t practice English in conversation as often, forget the subject easily. In our interview she said the following:
After translating Alba’s English sentences into Spanish, I realized that she was almost directly translating her thoughts from Spanish to English quite literally. Consequently, she failed to implement the subject in English because it (the subject), in Spanish, is already embedded within the verb. It seemed logical to me to use Spanish sentences, which have a tacit subject, as part of my intervention activity so that she could recognize the implicit subject in Spanish and apply it to her English interpretation. This exercise should make it clear that, in English, the subjects are almost always necessary because they are almost never implicit.
Cual es el Subject?
Below, you’ll find Spanish sentences wth tacit subjects. Before translating these to English, identify the subject, within the Spanish sentence, take note of it, and use it in your English translation.
Formation of Interrogatives in the Simple Past Tense
The usage of the auxiliary verbs in Spanish is commonly found in the passive voice and the compound tenses. The auxiliary verbs do/don’t - did/didn’t, do not have an equivalent in Spanish, and this may be causing confusion for Alba.
For example, in the sentence (rather, question), “What did you eat yesterday?”, "did" is the auxiliary verb. “To do” as an auxiliary verb, does not exist in Spanish. “Did you eat yesterday?” would be translated into Spanish as “¿Comiste ayer?;” the latter literally translates to "You ate yesterday?.” However, the English auxiliary verb “do,” conjugated correctly, is added to form the following: "Did you eat yesterday?” So, the verb “hacer" - to do/to make is not the equivalent of the English auxiliary verb "to do.” "What did you do yesterday?" and "What did you do today?" are translated into Spanish as “¿Qué hicistes ayer?” and “¿Qué hicistes hoy?”, respectively. “Hacer" is used here because, in this case, "What did you do,"
the "did" implies an action.
In our conversation, she said the following:
First, I want to go over the simple past tense sentence structure:
Subject + past tense form of the verb + object
The glass broke.
The child cried.
The old man walked away.
Then, I want to introduce the simple past tense’s interrogatives:
Interrogative sentences in the simple past tense begin with did. Sometimes question words such as who, why, how, where etc., may precede did.
Did the child cry? | Did you go there? | How did you see him? | Why did you break the window? | Did you find anyone there?
Ask it in reverse!
In the following activity, you’ll find simple answers to twelve past tense interrogatives. By keeping in mind the rules above, review each one of these answers and come up with the appropriate question for each one.
Pronouncing the -ED in Past Tense Verbs
Like most Spanish speakers learning English, Alba still has a tough time with the silent -ED in most regular simple past verbs. In my experience, introducing the pronunciation of these verbs to ESL students has always been problematic; mainly, because students observe the added "-ed" as an additional syllable to the spoken word. In the Spanish language, there aren’t that many instances where individual syllables are not voiced. If it is added to the word, the student will try to pronounce it.
In our conversation, Alba used the word “worked” and “stopped,” which she erroneously pronounced them as “work/id/" and “stop /id/“ with two syllables, instead of just one, “work/t/” and “stop/t/.“
First, I would like to go over the three different sounds of the -ED ending /t/, /d/, and /id/
[t] final sound
Verbs ending in voiceless sounds [p, k, θ, f, s, ʃ, tʃ] cause the -ED ending to be pronounced as the voiceless [t] (with no vocal chord vibration).
Listen and Repeat
[d] final sound
Verbs ending in the voiced sounds [b, g, ð, v, z, ʒ, dʒ, m, n, ŋ, r, l] cause the -ED ending to be pronounced as a voiced [d].
Listen and Repeat
[əd] or [ɪd] final sound
Verbs ending in the sounds [t] or [d] will cause the -ED ending of a verb to be pronounced as the syllable [əd] or [ɪd].
Listen and Repeat
This video supplements the lesson:
Match and Say Out loud
There are three different ways to pronounce the -ED ending of a regular past tense verb. It can sound like “/t/”, “/d/” or “/id/.”
In the chart below, place the verbs in the column that matches how the -ED is pronounced in each. As you work your way through the list, make sure to sound out the words out loud by keeping in mind the rules we reviewed—this might help you figure it out!