Teaching Sentence Syntax

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Nov 29, 2008
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English Teacher
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I work with a lot of Asian and Chinese ESL students. As their mother tongue is very different from English (unlike the difference between say French/Spanish and English), they make a lot of mistakes.

I read an article by Charles Lowe (Lexical approaches now: the role of syntax and grammar) - I can't seem to find it now, I downloaded it many years from the IH website) years ago which made me understand why some of my Asian/Chinese students' written (and I suppose spoken) work contained so many grammar mistakes. I re-read that article again and also came across this article by Stephen Clarke (search "Sentence Syntax and Effective English Language Teaching | Suite101" - I can't post links yet). Both articles mention the importance of teaching sentence syntax to ESL students. Like focusing not just on discrete grammar points (articles, prepositions, tenses, etc.), but actually getting these students to know sentence syntax - that sentences can be simple, compound and complex sentences. They found this to be something that would greatly help many students (whose language is very different from the English language) as many of these students form sentences that are messy probably due to 1st language interference.

I agree with them. When I read some of my Chinese students' work, I see really messy sentence syntax/structure. I wonder how on earth they formed such a sentence. But I guess it's the way it was formed in the 1st language. And because ESL teachers mainly focus on discrete grammar points, they don't really learn sentence syntax. At least, I've never used a textbook that really taught it.

I'm wondering if other teachers have faced the same problems and if you know any good resources or books that can help in this area. I haven't read many articles about the need to teach sentence syntax. If you know more resources to teach this or articles on the importance of doing so, let me know.

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