Strategies for Teaching Syntax to ESOL Students

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  • 0:04 Sentences & Syntax
  • 0:51 ESOL & Syntax Instruction
  • 2:15 Strategies for Teaching Syntax
  • 3:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kristen Goode

Kristen has been an educator for 25+ years - as a classroom teacher, a school administrator, and a university instructor. She holds a doctorate in Education Leadership.

Syntax is an important piece of the overall English language puzzle. Second language learners need instruction in syntax. Read on to learn strategies for teaching basic syntax to ESOL learners.

Sentences & Syntax

Regina is a third grade student who has just moved to America from Mexico. As Regina begins attending school in her new country, she's finding it somewhat difficult to learn the new language. She's especially having problems putting sentences together in such a way that they make sense in English. Regina is struggling with basic syntax.

Put simply, syntax is all about sentence structure. It refers to the way sentences are arranged and put together. Proper syntax in English requires appropriate use and arrangement of words, phrases, clauses, and different parts of speech while constructing sentences for either spoken or written language. Learning proper syntax can be confusing for many learners, but for those who are learning English as their second language, syntax can be especially tricky.

ESOL & Syntax Instruction

Native English speakers tend to develop an understanding of syntax as they grow because they're immersed in constant exposure to proper sentence structure. English language learners do not necessarily have this background, however, and need explicit instruction in syntax. Some are accustomed to languages in which sentence composition looks a lot different than it does in English. Native Spanish speakers, like Regina for example, are in the habit of putting adjectives after nouns in spoken and written language. For instance, technically casa blanca translates as 'house white' because in Spanish, the noun precedes the adjective. This is quite different in English where the adjective most often precedes the noun. In English, we say 'white house.' Some languages do not follow a traditional subject/predicate format which, in turn, makes syntax in English a difficult task for ESOL (English as a second language) learners. These are but two examples of the way syntax might look different depending on the language being spoken. This reiterates the fact that syntax is a skill that must be taught to ESOL learners.

Early intervention is always best. Younger children have an easier time developing new language habits than older students do. Adults have an even more difficult time, as they are set in their pre-established language habits and it's very difficult for them to change the way they've used language for so many years.

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