jueves, 10 de agosto de 2017

This is pure grammar! How do I teach it?

By Enrique Rojas R.

What English teacher hasn’t had problems presenting the combination of one verb following another, particularly to speakers of Spanish? You have to tell your students that some verbs are necessarily followed by an infinitive while others are ineludibly tailed by a gerund. The trouble is if you have analytical learners within your pupils who ask what the criterion is to decide which verbs take one or the other, you have to confess that you have no idea. In fact, nobody in the world seems to know that. There is a list and you just have to learn it and use it. Not an answer full of logic.

But the conumdrum doesn’t end there. It turns out that certain magnanimous verbs allow you to take your pick of infinitive or gerund without changing their meaning, while others, quite more sternly, provide different meanings when followed by an infinitive or a gerund.

And to make matters even worse, some verbs are followed by infinitive with to, some others without to, some others by a gerund but with an object pronoun in between the verb and the gerund, then the gerund becomes infinitive (required writing / require her to write)

Not in vain our colleague blogger from Spain, Cristina Cabal has said about it: “I always claim that English grammar is easy, especially when compared to the Spanish or French grammar, but it gets a bit messy when it comes to verbs followed by infinitive or gerund.” (Cabal).

The use of the gerund has some basic differences in English and Spanish. In cases in which in English you can use an infinitive or a gerund interchangeably, in Spanish only an infinitive is possible. In the language of Shakespeare both, the infinitive and the subject take the function of a noun although they retain their verb meaning and so, they can be subjects of sentences (Exercising / To exercise is healthy) or direct objects (My mother wanted me to call her / I enjoy driving). In the language of Shakespeare only the infinitives (or subjunctives) are appropriate for that purpose. And that is the reason why your students tend to overuse the infinitives in English.

Then the only solution appears to be giving your pupils the wearisome lists of verbs followed by infinitives / gerunds, etc. to be memorized by them on their own, that it constitutes for them a huge, lifeless and humdrum job. But we figure that is the textbooks’ fault that this is a topic that teachers have to deal as one whole big chunk. As a rule of thumb, the natural way is usually the best way. And the manner in which native speakers learn this is not memorizing lists, but as collocations. They listen to it, they learn it and then they use it. For this purpose they don’t even have to know what a gerund or infinitive is.

We think that if we don’t focus on teaching the grammatical process but just in associating the use of certain verbs with gerunds or infinitives, we don’t have to wait until the intermediate level. They can start as basics with verbs such as like, enjoy, adore, hate, can’t stand to learn activities, sports, foods and others, and work their way up with more complex verbs maybe to express opinions, for instance. The important thing would be to make the collocations memorable and you achieve this through extensive practice of these structures. For that you can use fill the blank exercises, complete the second sentence so that it has a similar meaning as the first, etc. Although we prefer oral practice, like, for example you ask the first student: “What do you like doing in the evenings?” He/she answers and then asks the next student: “What do you like doing on weekends?” and so on.

Some may think that this is drilling and dream negative reminiscences of audio-lingual practices, but put your mind at rest! Not all drilling has to be bad, especially if students are communicating what they really do or like, etc. Remember that two factors spur the memory: interest and repetition. Just try to do the reiteration as enjoyable as possible. For this very purpose you can use stories, bingo, dominoes, hobbies cards, multiple answers with flashcards and other resources that have been specially designed to teach this and you can find in the internet free of charge


Cabal C. Grammar for Intermediate Level: Gerunds and Infinitives

Cabal, C. Some Activities to Teach Gerunds and Infinitives. C. Blog de Cristina

Gerunds and Infinitives

Gerund and infinitive Dominoes. TEACHTHIS. EFL/ESL Resources https://es.scribd.com/document/340843349/Gerund-and-Infinitive-Dominoes

Gerund and infinitive Master. TEACHTHIS. EFL/ESL Resources

Gerunds and Infinitives Worksheet


How to Teach Gerunds and Infinitives to ESL Students Without Confusing Them. FluentU English Educator Blog.

Infinitives and Gerunds. Grammar and Beyond Communicative Activities © Cambridge University Press 2012  http://www.cambridge.org/grammarandbeyond/wp-

Joyce B. I Like Swimming. 3 Tremendous Techniques for Teaching Gerunds and Infinitiveshttp://busyteacher.org/10729-teaching-gerunds-infinitives-3-tremendous.html

Some Activities to Teach Gerunds and Infinitives

Song Worksheet: Gerunds or Infinitives?

Trusler, T. Gerunds and Infinitives: Helpful Teaching Tips http://blog.esllibrary.com/2013/02/21/gerunds-and-infinitives-helpful-teaching-tips/

Use of gerunds in Spanish

Graduated in Journalism at the PUCP, Peru, Enrique Rojas R. holds a MA in Journalism and MA in Inter American History from Southern Illinois University, USA; an MA in Literature from University of the Americas, Puebla, Mexico, all the coursework for a MA in TEFL at Universidad de Piura, Peru and BA in Education from Universidad Federico Villarreal. He has also obtained Certificates of Proficiency in English both from Cambridge University and the University of Michigan and the Diploma for EFL Teachers from Universidad del Pacifico. He is an Oral Examiner for the Cambridge University exams and has been awarded the title Expert in E-Learning from Asociacion Educativa del Mediterraneo and Universidad Marcelino Champagnat. He has worked as a professor in universities in Peru, Mexico and the United States; as a newscaster and a producer in radio and television stations in the United States and Mexico, and as a writer and editor in daily newspapers of the same countries. He has been in the staff of CIDUP for 18 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He has been a speaker in every Congress of English for Special Purposes organized by Centro de Idiomas de la U.P. He is also a member of its Research Area.


miércoles, 2 de agosto de 2017

Speaking Naturally: Idioms and Collocations

                                                                                                                                                                                                                By Zarela Cruz

Don’t you feel good when your students use idioms and collocations in class? Isn’t it worth to see them making such an effort to find the most accurate expression they are capable of? The big question is: How can students learn them? The answer is easy: by reading and listening to the most language resources they can. Once students start using them, we can be sure that they have grasped cultural aspects and underlying principles of the language since these idioms are usually metaphoric; needless to say, they have a figurative meaning as well. The key is to learn them by chunks, as units of the language, not as separate words.

Let’s start with some collocations:

Why did she burst into tears?

Are you fully aware of the implications of your action?

The Titanic sank on her maiden voyage.

There are many kinds of collocations; among them:

  • verb + adjective:  seems different
  • adjective + noun: excruciating pain
  • noun + noun: a surge of anger
  • noun + verb: lions’ roar
  • verb + noun: commit suicide
  • verb + expression with preposition: burst into tears
  • verb + adverb: wave frantically 

And what about idioms? You can classify them by topics. For instance: idioms about weather, idioms with parts of the body, food idioms….the list is endless.

At the tip of my tongue
Have your head on the clouds
To be full of beans
A piece of cake

Ready for a mini-test?

Which one is correct:

Fast train or quick train?
A round of applause or
a round of claps?
It is raning dogs and cats or It is raining cats and dogs?
Gentlement and ladies or ladies and
Flesh and blood or Blood and flesh?
Butter and bread or Bread and butter?

Have fun while learning! And most importantly: show your students that some combinations of words convey the precise meaning in a given situation. Encourage them to give it a try!

Are you up to it?
Try this quiz:

Too easy? Too difficult? Or was it just right? Let us know your strategies to get the right answers!


Zarela Cruz graduated from Ricardo Palma University as a translator.  She also finished her master’s studies in Linguistics and took some specialization diplomas in English and Spanish. She has also completed a number of online certificates:  Teaching the Working Adult, Online, Hybrid and Blended Education, among other self-study courses. She has taught different courses, programs and levels and has been a teacher trainer, a lecturer and online instructor. This article aims to reflect on the teaching of idioms and collocations to sound more natural when speaking in English.