When it comes to teaching grammar in Turkey, you will find that grammatical structures are taught out of context and proficiency is measured through gap fill worksheets. You will find that students are used to a routine in which teachers give a particular rule using a lot of technical terminology and ask students to solve mechanical and monotonous exercises. Whatever age group you teach in Turkey, past classroom experiences will have been based on the rules of grammar and ignored the communicative aspect of language. Consequently, your role as a teacher will be to do a lot of remedial grammar work. First we’ll look at some of the typical problems Turkish students have with grammar, and then consider some effective teaching methods.
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Problems with verb tenses
The structural approach to teaching grammar leads to many problems. These often derive as much from misunderstandings or misinterpretations from past lessons as they do from factors such as mother tongue interference. While many of the verb tenses we see in English have equivalents in Turkish, there are variations in the way they are used. Standard errors that you are likely to encounter are;
‘I am living in Istanbul.’
‘I am playing football every Sunday.’
The Turkish equivalent of the present progressive tense is much more widely used in everyday speech, leading to errors such as those above, in which a general state or a regular habit is not expressed using simple present.
‘I was go to Izmir last summer.’
The auxiliary verb to be has no equivalent in Turkish verb tenses and its appearance causes frequent confusion and overuse.
‘I was knowing that you couldn’t come.’
The idea of state and action verbs are alien to Turks and, even though there are present and past progressive tenses in Turkish, you will often see state verbs used as in the example above.
‘I have seen that movie last year.’
‘I am living here since 2005.’
One verb tense that has no equivalent is the present perfect. Consequently, you will see students try to use it with simple past time phrases such as ‘last year’, or you will see ‘for’ and ‘since’ used with present progressive, as it is done in Turkish.
Strategies for remedying misuse of verb tenses
One TEFL method that works when teaching Turks verb tenses for the first time is to focus on function as much as form. While students will need plenty of work in mastering the structures of verb tenses, looking at the way they are used to express meaning can be a great way to get them using tenses correctly. Unlike some other languages, all time phrases like ‘for 10 years’, ‘since 2010’, ‘right now’ and ‘last year’ have direct equivalents in the Turkish language, although they are sometimes used with different tenses. Focusing on these time phrases can be a great way of getting students to use the right tense.
A good way to deal with errors in verb tense choice when used in speaking or when correcting written work is to ask leading questions such as, ‘Is the action happening now or is it a general habit?’ or, ‘Did the action start in the past and still continues in the present, or was it completed in the past?’ Such questions will highlight that an error has been made without causing the student to lose face in class. Doing this regularly will lead to students self-correcting their errors quite quickly.