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Musings on The Tongue

I love the English Language. I love teaching foreigners about
English grammar. Alas, most foreigners don't really like grammar.
But some do, as you can see below...

Victory signs for all as the subtle distinction between the future
anterior progressive and the present perfect is finally mastered!!!

I have taught ESL all over the world. In France and Mexico. A little bit in Japan. And even in exotic Santa Monica. From all that teaching, I've concluded that while articles, verb tenses and logical connectors are all pretty hard, the real killer is the noble, understated phrasal verb. So subtle and coy that 99% of native speakers don't even know what they are! And yet, think about them....

"You Can't Just Pick Them Up"
Raymond Weschler
(with apologies to Ogden Nash)

How come you can turn on the water, or turn the water on?
And the bomb can blow up the house, or blow the house up?
And yet, while the wind can blow up the street,
it can't blow the street up!
Or can it?

Of course, even if the wind were blowing hard up that road,
you could still get off the bus with your jacket and toad
But you can't get the bus off no matter how hard you try
Yet you could get a nail off of wood, if you're willing to pry

You can also be blown away by chess, with its multitude of pawns
Or even get off on pure grammar, if it really turns you on
And that is a reality---pure, simple and true
But don't do it in public, lest your friends turn on you! ;-)

In fact, ESL learners will probably have a harder time mastering phrasal verbs than any other aspect of English grammar. You'll hear them use the verb "accomplish" before they would ever say "How did you pull that one off?" And why not? Phrasal verbs can be transitive or intransitive, literal or figurative, separable or inseparable, and worst of all, there appear to be zillions of them. So yes, if you're teaching ESL, I suppose that you can just tell your students to pick them up, although that sure seems like a cop out.

A Few Brief Suggestions on ESL and The Web

ESLNotes.com is my humble recommendation for the best site to learn about phrasal verbs or any ESL vocabulary, for the simple reason that the synopses published there are grounded in the real language of the everyday world. Of course, there's also an entire ESL cyberuniverse dealing with every aspect of ESL, for both students and teachers. Probably the best general site is Dave's ESL Cafe, which has everything from listings of ESL programs around the globe to individual lessons in pronunciation. Finally, I would encourage both ESL students and teachers to check out The Internet TESL Journal, both for its wide range of articles and its enormous selection of ESL-related links.