Linguistic Challenges for Students

Linguistic Challenges for Students
Notes to Support Teachers

Remember that students enhancing their English language oral communication skills will have linguistic challenges to overcome.

A brief summary of specific challenges: Lexical Difficulty (Lexis = word)

These include:

  • Syllable Length
  • Clusters, especially Consonant clusters
    • Stress, irregular stress in much English pronunciation, e.g. in many words the 2nd last syllable is stressed but the 3rd syllable is stressed in others.
  • Irregular spelling (always a difficulty — how do I sound out this word?)
    • Range of word meaning e.g. explicit/implicit meaning, which often depends upon cultural knowledge and understanding.
    • Specialised application, e.g. special jargon words used in employments, interests, or specific groups of people.
    • Frequency of lexical items e.g. how frequently will students hear words they need to acquire?
    • Word order in English is usually subject — verb — object. This order is not universal; many languages have different orderings, and may also differ for specific uses.


Structural Complexity in Sentences

  • Sentence Length, new users of English will have short, simple structures — complexity develops over time.
  • Using conjunctions appropriately. The use of and, but, or, is managed well.
  • Passive voice in sentences, often a challenge for leaners

e.g.             Active voice: Jack kicked the ball.

Passive voice: The ball was kicked by Jack.

  • Complex sentences main clause and subordinate clause. Always challenging for    students.

Simple sentence: Maureen is our Manager.

Compound sentence: Maureen is our Manager and our Office is in Wellington.

Complex sentence: Maureen is our Manager and our Office is in Wellington,
while local Secretaries, who live in centres throughout New Zealand, handle

candidate entries and examination organisation.

  • Verb Tenses, always a challenge.

e.g. Present                              Speck

Present continuous              Speaking

Past                                             Spoke

Past continuous                     Was speaking

Future                                        Will speak

Past participle                        Have spoken

Perfect                                       Had spoken

Many languages have quite different ‘markers’ to indicate tense.

Tense agreement is always challenging, “She speaks with a strong voice.” Cohesion of the spoken sentences

  • How do the sentences link together? IS the meaning clear?
  • Idioms; phrase with a well known meaning, other than the literal meanings e.g. ‘beat about the bush’, ‘in hot water’.
    • Colloquial Language; Informal speech, often localized

e.g. hassle (worry, concern), catch on (understand)

  • Conceptual Difficulty; concepts about formality, and inference. What is appropriate language for this context? How do I speak to my Manager, my teacher, my sons Principal? (very different/challenging)

e.g. Japanese -use of oral communication with nuances of context and hierarchy (formality)

Reference:    Essential English (Nelson, Cengage, 2009) May, T. 1987, Evaluating Linguistic Difficulty.