ESL learner difficulties: challenges for L1 speakers of Mandarin Kelsey Fanning LING 466 – Pedagogical Grammar 24 July 2011
Speakers Mandarin is a member of the macrolanguage, Chinese, and is the official language of China. Mandarin dialects are spoken in Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, Indonesia (Java and Bali), Laos, Libya, Malaysia (Peninsular), Mauritius, Mongolia, Mozambique, Philippines, Russian Federation (Asia), Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States, Viet Nam, Zambia, as well as in China. . An estimated 840 million Chinese citizens speak a dialect of Mandarin.
Mandarin Chinese Chinese branch of the Sinotibetan language family
Some differences between Mandarin and English
Articles and other modifiers Chinese languages have no articles, making the English article system very difficult for learners. Errors often include insertion (adding articles where they shouldn’t be) and deletion (omitting articles). Example: I going to see the Shea Shea.1,2 Wei, go get paper box. Data comes from conversations with my friend Chang Gou You, a Chinese immigrant. Context of this sentence was a phone conversation. Chang was informing me that he wanted to see my sister, Shea. Chang was directing his son, Wei, to retrieve a box full of files. Native speakers would expect the NP paper box to be modified with an article.
Articles and other modifiers (cont.) Possessive pronouns are among modifiers that I’ve noticed give Chang trouble. In Chinese, adverbials must come before verbs, which sometimes sounds strange to native English speakers. Nouns cannot be post-modified in Chinese languages, leading learners to find ways of modifying them initially. Where native speakers use PPs after nouns, learners place adjectives before nouns. You daddy no answering he phone. Wei very fast learning he multiplication. The green wheel car go very fast.
Verb tense/aspect As we’ve seen in some of the sample sentences, the English tense/aspect system is difficult for Mandarin speaking ELLs. Errors often include: Incorrect tense/aspect inflection. Missing copula and auxiliary verbs. Difficulty with English modal verbs. Yesteday I go to the store. Wei very smart. / Wei getting very smart. I wish I not working so much.
Phrasal verbs Phrasal verbs do not exist in the Chinese languages. Mandarin speakers find English phrasal verbs difficult to master. Mandarin speakers may not store separate lexical entries for verbs that appear in isolation and as phrasal verbs. The differences in meaning between verbs like take, take on, and take in are difficult for Mandarin-speaking ELLs to grasp.
Summary Structural differences between Mandarin and English cause difficulty for Mandarin-speaking ELLs. Some of these difficulties include: Articles and other modifiers. Differences in word order and the Chinese languages’ lack of articles make these features of English difficult to learn for ELLs. Verb tense/aspect. English verbal inflection is difficult for learners because a similar system does not exist in Mandarin. Phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs do not exist in Mandarin, making them difficult for learners to comprehend and use in English.
References Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Shoebottom, P. 2011. The differences between English and Chinese. A guide to learning English. Thanks to my friend Chang for lending me his remarks for this presentation!