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Prepositions

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Lynn
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Prepositions

Unread postby Lynn » Thu Aug 23, 2007 3:13 am

English prepositions are not easy. Once you get past the basics, things get pretty confusing. I have observed over the years that prepositions, particularly compound prepositions and collocations, pose more of a problem for Chinese speakers than any other grammar point. So, I have this query for all of you who teach native Chinese speakers. (If you are a Chinese speaker yourself, I am really interested in your input.) What kinds of materials and teaching strategies do you find the most helpful in teaching prepositions? I am researching this for a thesis, and I'd like to compare what real teachers are really doing with the kinds of materilas available in Hong Kong. Thank you in advance for your input.

Weibing
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Unread postby Weibing » Sun Sep 02, 2007 12:52 pm

Lynn, yes, prepositions are hard for Chinese speakers to learn. In addition to prepositions, I should add the articles(a,an,the), the tense, the plural of nouns, etc.

'For me, it's difficult to learn.'
'To me, it's difficult to learn.'

What's the difference between the above two sentences?

I find it very helpful to consult a good dictionary. If I need to learn more about 'for', I'd look it up in a dictionary for more detailed explanation - read the whole explanation carefully. I'd say some dictionaries are boring - not so concise, not so easy to read. I do find some dictionaries are really good.

A good grammar book may also be helpful.

Reading makes perfect - read more, pay more attention to the prepostions used in the reading materials.

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Unread postby Lynn » Thu Sep 06, 2007 4:16 am

Weibing, thank you. I was hoping you would respond.

Your comments are from a student's perspective, and I appreciate your helpful insight. However, I would like to know how you teach prepositions. Do you try to give a word for word translation? Do you teach each preposition as a discrete vocabulary unit? How do you teach compound prepositions? And then, what about those slippery collocations, in which the prepositions do not keep their original meanings at all?

I will get back to you on your questions concerning for and to. Right now, I just realized how late I am for an appointment.

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Blessings <>< Lynn
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Lynn
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Unread postby Lynn » Sat Sep 15, 2007 7:35 am

'For me, it's difficult to learn.'
'To me, it's difficult to learn.'

What's the difference between the above two sentences?


Sorry to have taken so long to answer this, Weibing. As you know, prepositional phrases can often occur either before or after the thing they modify. When you choose to place the PP in the beginning of the sentence, in order to determine which preposition is the correct one to use, switch the order.

"For me, it's difficult to learn."
becomes: "It's difficult for me to learn."

"To me, it's difficult to learn."
becomes: "It's difficult to me to learn."

This should help you determine which prepostion is correct. If we consider the meaning of motion for "to" here, we might think of the the PP as the application of knowledge into my head. However, the expression of motion towards something won't work here, since learning is not actually moving from one point towards or into my head. Therefore, "to" will not work. When we say, "for me", the phrase is actually a shortened form of "as for me", which is used to mean "regarding me", or "as regards me". This works here, since the meaning is one of learning, as far as I am concerned, or As far as I am concerned, learning is difficult.

I have a theory about prepositions that I am in process of researching. Since prepositions basically show relationships, then which ones we use are determined by our basic concept or understanding of different relationships. For example, Americans will speak of what they did "over" or "during" the weekend, whereas a British speaker will speak of "at" the weekend. That is because Americans usually concieve "the weekend" to be a progressive duration of time, whereas a Birtish speaker is more likely to view it as a point in time. This shift in the basic perception of time is what makes someone choose one preposition and someone else another.

Moving from Chinese to English is a good bit more complicated for a couple or reasons. First, English has a lot more prepositions than Chinese does, and many of them have very similar meanings, even when they are used in quite different ways. The second problem involves two very different perceptions of not only time, but also space relationships.

Let us return to your examples. Chinese does not use a preposition for this construction at all. Sorry, I can't type characters, but a gloss of the Chinese, at least for Cantonese, is: "very difficult learn", or "I feel very difficult learn". So, what does the typical Chinese learner do about prepositons? Obviously, simply memorizing all English prepositions together with all their diverse and confusing meanings won't work. First, he has to determine how English percieves the relationship between the act of learning and the fact of difficulty. Also, he must make explicit in English the object "me", which is implicit in Chinese construction.

He has several choices of construction for this.
I think learning is difficult.
I feel learning is difficult.
Learning is difficult for me.
For me, learning is difficult.
As far as I am concerned, learning is difficult.


Once he has established the basic construction he wants to use, then he must determine what, if any, prepositions work in that construction. Notice the first two sentences, which are by far the simplest rendition of the Chinese meaning, have no prepositions at all. If he wants to use a PP, then he has to understand which ones work in the particular relationship.

Perhaps I should halt for now, since this has already turned into a much longer post than I intended. I sincerely hope this epistle is helpful to you, not confusing. Please comment, as I am most anxious for your input concerning this subject.

Weibing
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Unread postby Weibing » Mon Sep 17, 2007 2:35 pm

Lynn, you are right, it's really difficult for Chinese people to learn English prepositons. Especially, (1)when a preposition is not followed by a noun group (the prepositon appears at the end of the sentence), (2)complex prepositonal object(such as 'from behind'), (3)verb+preposition collocations (some verbs are followed by certain prepositions--'refer to', 'rely on', etc.

As for my question 'for me' or/and 'to me', possibly, 'for me' means "I (personally) cannot do it because it is difficult", while 'to me' means simply "In my view, the task is difficult (for anyone)".

Another question:

'I have no idea what to do.'
'I have no idea of what to do.'

Both possible and mean the same?

I find when teach Chinese people prepositions, you should explain the prepositions in simple English and give some examples. Pay more attention to the tricky ones. I'd say prepotions are 'small words' but definitely not 'easy words'.

Lynn
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Unread postby Lynn » Tue Sep 18, 2007 3:12 am

Thank you for your response, Weibing. First, for your question:
'I have no idea what to do.'
'I have no idea of what to do.'

Both possible and mean the same?

Both are possible and they both mean the same thing. I would use the first one, but there are native English speakers who will use the second one. It seems to be a dialectical variation and not a matter of "right" or "wrong".

I appreciate your input on the difficulity of certain prepositions.
it's really difficult for Chinese people to learn English prepositons. Especially, (1)when a preposition is not followed by a noun group (the prepositon appears at the end of the sentence), (2)complex prepositonal object(such as 'from behind'), (3)verb+preposition collocations (some verbs are followed by certain prepositions--'refer to', 'rely on', etc.

#1 - Most English teachers would probably instruct students to not end a sentence with a preposition. However, NESs do it all the time, especially in conversation, so English learners must know how to interpret this.
#2 - This covers the compound prepositions. These should be taught as discrete vocabulary units and drilled as such. EX: "This is by far the most exhausting exercise I've ever done." "The cat stalked his prey from behind."
#3 - This group belongs to the class of phrasal verbs.

It's not just Chinese people who have difficulty with English prepositions. Even native speakers can get them wrong.

you should explain the prepositions in simple English and give some examples

This idea fascinates me. Why would you, a native Chinese speaker, explain prepositions in English to Chinese speakers? I am interested in knowing your basic assumptions and teaching methods. Please tell me more. I absolutely agree with giving examples: many examples along with many opportunities to practice.

Weibing
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Unread postby Weibing » Wed Sep 19, 2007 3:12 pm

Why would you, a native Chinese speaker, explain prepositions in English to Chinese speakers?


Lynn, I presume that you think I should be familiar with the way English-Chinese in learning and teaching English. Yes, but now I find the way English-English is a better one. If I'm not so sure about an English word, I'd consult a good English-English dictionary - I prefer a concise dictionary with simple and good English. Sometimes, it's really confusing to explain an English word in Chinese.

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Unread postby Lynn » Fri Sep 21, 2007 1:31 pm

Weibing wrote:
Sometimes, it's really confusing to explain an English word in Chinese.


Oh, boy! you can say that again, and again and again and again. Same goes for explaining an English word in Chinese. Weibing, what level are your students? I tutor all ages, from kindergarten through adult. From what you have said, I get the feeling that you teach mostly adults, or at least university level students. In that case I can see using English to explain things in class. I always try to do that with my intermediate to advanced students.

Now, I have to know why you feel like it is sometimes confusing to explain English words in Chinese. (I have my own ideas, but I really want to hear yours.) Can you give specific examples? I am, of course, most intrested in prepositions and their phrases and collocations, but if there are any other words you feel need exposure, please tell me about them too.

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Unread postby Weibing » Sat Sep 22, 2007 9:15 am

Lynn, I don't think I could explain the whole thing clearly enough for you. 'Off', for instance, is a tricky preposition, with a lot of meanings - it could possibly mean 'not operating', 'not liking', 'away from', 'near to',etc. Keep in mind that one English word may have several Chinese counterparts to match with, and those counterparts are similar but not exactly the same. A teacher has to choose one of them as the explaination and it's not a easy job for the teacher to choose a proper one. But if we could explain 'off' with 'not operating','not liking' etc, things are getting easier, the meanings getting clearer. I think it's a better way using English to explain English, especially with intermediate and above level students.


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