English is a language that prides itself on continuously growing and evolving, taking in words, phrases, and meanings not only from those within English-speaking cultures but all over the world.
Unfortunately, the malleable nature of English makes it one of the most difficult languages for non-native speakers to master, especially where grammar is concerned. Though there are obviously rules, there are almost as many exceptions to those rules. In order to communicate effectively, ESL students have a lot to memorize.
The five exercises below help with the most common grammar problems that ESL learners face.
Fill in the article
The English language often requires the use of articles “a,” “an,” or “the” in front of words, which can be confusing to non-native speakers, some of whom may not even have articles in their language. One great exercise is to copy a bunch of paragraphs into a document and replace all of the articles with underlined spaces. Then you can read the paragraphs and manually fill in what you believe to be the correct articles, checking against the original paragraphs for accuracy.
It’s not a pretty acronym, but it is a useful one, and it stands for Subject-Verb- Object-Place-Time. That’s the typical structure that sentences in English follow. Learning SVOPT can help ESL students avoid creating unnatural-sounding or confusing sentences by misplacing words. For this exercise, write a long email to a friend in English. Then go back and write S, V, O, P, or T over each word. Fix sentences that were not in the right order.
Count and uncount nouns
This exercise asks you to come up with a list of nouns and then try to put a number in front of each one to see if it is a “count” noun or an “uncount” noun. Typically, count nouns are objects that are easy to count, such as trees, bananas, or crayons. Uncount nouns, however, are usually things that are by their nature hard to count. For example, they may be in liquid or mass form, such as water and oil, or abstract ideas, such as information.
CORRECT: I have some bananas.
INCORRECT: I have some waters.
The best way to learn count and uncount nouns is through practice. Identify these words as count or uncount nouns. Check the bottom of the article to see what you got wrong.
Advice, anger, applause, behavior, beauty, boats, bottles, bars, chaos, chips, cities, desks, dirt, donuts, electricity, equipment, experiences, grammar, grass, hair, honesty, houses, information, luck, music, pens, permission, progress, rice, sand, scenery, slang, students, stuff, traffic, vocabulary, weather, work
Read your written words aloud
If your speaking skills are more advanced than your writing skills, you may be able to improve your written grammar by reading your work out loud slowly. Try starting at the bottom of the page with the last sentence, and then work your way up. This will help you focus on that particular sentence’s structure rather than the ideas you are trying to convey.
Identify stative verbs
Many ESL learners struggle with the difference between stative verbs and action verbs. Stative verbs refer to something’s status, such as its appearance or state of being. Action verbs describe things that happen or actions that we take. Action verbs can be used in the continuous tense, but stative verbs cannot.
CORRECT: He’s reading a book right now.
INCORRECT: She is loving those flowers.
Here are the four general categories for stative verbs, with examples.
Thought or Opinions
To improve your ability to tell the difference between the two, read an article or book chapter and highlight all of the stative verbs. Then do the activity again, but highlight the action verbs this time. You can do this activity for any verb tense that troubles you.
Obviously, this is only the tip of the iceberg where grammar exercises for ESL learners are concerned, but it’s a great start for those looking to polish up some problem areas and improve the way they write and speak English.
Count nouns: boats, bottles, cars, chips, cities, desks, donuts, experiences, houses, pens, students
Uncount nouns: advice, anger, applause, behavior, beauty, chaos, dirt, electricity, equipment, grammar, grass, hair, honesty, information, luck, music, permission, progress, rice, sand, scenery, slang, stuff, traffic, vocabulary, weather, work