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Verbs and Tenses Matter

Verbs and Tenses Matter

Most of us, in our childhood, watched the moon and thought it was a piece of white blob tossed on the sky. Full of brightness and beauty as we sang rhymes praising it.

Then the Science lessons taught us it is like a planet, with close-up pictures, revealing black spots and lines that dehazed the white blob. When we were told about a man exploring its surface, finding rocks and dust, our illusion turned into history with a sense of loss. The loss definitely paved the way for better and more realistic knowledge. Language accuracy also evolved from illusions. Think about how we used modals like “might” and “can” and phrases like “knock off’” and “take down” through the years.

In his personal statement letter to a university in the USA, Sonny (not the original name) attempted to impress the selectors with his achievements and experiences in different subjects and activities at school. Sonny’s essay, however, was poorly edited. His “hases” were almost always “haves” and vice versa. Plural verb forms were eschewed here and there. The articles were either used improperly or were missed where they should have been. The final product was one where the vocabulary use was commendable, but was marred by structural damage. Sonny’s application was rejected though he was not sure about the cause. But he surely regretted sending the letter unedited and not seeking an expert opinion.

Language skills are developed early on with a specific focus on speaking. As such, speaking retains prominence among language skills for a considerable part of one’s formative years as a student. For non-native speakers of English, the ability to use proper structure in sentences comes stage by stage as their English language listening opportunities may be limited. This prevents many of them from gaining a firm footing on grammatical aspects that may at times be mandatory in making meaningful conversations. As students progress through elementary, middle and high schools, some errors in language use are carried forward. These errors made in speaking are reflected in writing too.

Mother tongue influence plays a major role in shaping up English language skills of most students in Indonesia. Sentence structure in Bahasa Indonesia has several different elements that are markedly conspicuous in comparison with English. The absence of different forms of tenses, the varied order of nouns and adjectives in a sentence, differentiated from English, and having the same form of verbs for singular and plural subjects are some of the features that make English language learning a bit challenging for students. The need to adjust to the requirements of a foreign language while speaking and writing is often viewed with a sense of burden. While some students with a penchant for language learning overcome this hurdle by the time they reach middle school (Grades 7-10) or high school (Grades 11-12), much grapple with these structural differences even after graduation.

The roots probably lie in the Kindergarten and Elementary classrooms. These are the earliest stages where foreign languages are introduced to young students. Teachers at these levels play a key role in laying the foundation for strong language learning. It is of paramount importance that they use simple and accurate vocabulary and sentence structure that can easily be picked up by students. Common errors like “I ever been to China” and “listening carefully” instead of “listen carefully” made by kids should be eliminated at this stage. Once the kids go past the Elementary level with such errors unchecked, they may remain with them for a prolonged time. Equally important is their use of prepositions and conjunctions – two parts of speech they make recurring errors.

Students in the Gen Z category are one of the most notable for sacrificing accuracy for fluency. While both fluency and accuracy are important in language learning and usage, many feel that being fluent can win them laurels everywhere. This goads them to flaunt their speaking skills on the campuses and elsewhere they go out to meet friends and join communities. This fluency flaunting faces adversity only when they get into universities abroad where their skills are reviewed consistently. Therefore, it is important that students be taught the need for accuracy in speaking and writing. Teachers in the Middle-High school levels should follow up on corrections of essays with review meetings. It will be helpful to make a list of common and recurring errors to find out where the faults lie and fix them forever.

Thus, as we have adjusted to scientific knowledge after getting ourselves enlightened on the Moon, we need to repeat that mindset in the case of language too. The need for science may seem greater as it is what drives us toward inventions and possibilities to make our life better. At the same time, let us not forget that language is the medium of culture. The way we speak and write determines our personality and others’ outlook on us.

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