S: the Story of a Letter

If you’re a native English speaker, you probably don’t think about individual letters too often. Why would you? You use them pretty much automatically. So if I asked you to talk about the letter s, you might not have much to say. But for people who have to learn English, it’s quite important, and can prove to be a tricky little customer.

The first area of confusion is with plurals. Most languages don’t add s to make a plural, like English does, so it can be very hard for speakers of those languages to remember to add the s. Even when some languages do add an s, it’s in a slightly different way. Portuguese and Spanish, for example, often add an s to a noun to make it plural. But, they also add an s to adjectives describing those nouns, leading a lot of Portuguese and Spanish speakers to do the same thing in English. French is similar, but the s is generally silent, meaning that a lot of French speakers don’t pronounce it even if they write it.

But the most common area of error is with third-person singular verbs. That might sound like gibberish, but let me demonstrate: Continue reading

The Error of our Ways

After doing my shopping today, I was approached by a young couple. They were from Argentina, and were travelling round Ireland as part of their journey across Europe. They were looking for the apartment they were couchsurfing in (I hate giving directions in Galway, as there are too many small, non-parallel streets, and no-one in Galway knows streetnames apart from the best-known ones).

I spoke with them for a bit and was impressed by their level of English. I knew immediately that they were Spanish speakers, but they spoke quite fluently, and were very easy to understand. Of course they made some tiny errors, none of which affected my ability to understand them, and I probably didn’t notice some other errors. That can actually be a drawback to teaching English: you get so used to some of the more common errors that you stop noticing them. Continue reading