Looking through my students' writing in detail, I noticed that they seemed to be employing two different methods for learning English:
Method 1: Direct translation
Students using this method would first think of how they would say the sentence in their own language, and then they would do their best to translate this into English. The problem is that no two languages are the same. If you use this technique, your sentences may turn out to be totally incomprehensible! Over time, you will learn via the corrections to your mistakes, but you will definitely need to change your learning style at around intermediate level.
Method 2: "Copy and Paste"
As teachers, we often tell our students: "Don't copy and paste!" However, if you think about it, this is the basis of how we learn language as infants. We listen as adults say something, then we repeat it. Slowly, we are able to be more flexible, and adapt phrases and then sentences to mean what we want them to. Even as adults, we hear a funny turn of phrase, like it, and use it ourselves.
So this is certainly a more natural way to learn English. It's not without it's pitfalls, though. Learners hear something and fail to repeat it correctly, so "Give me a hand" becomes "Give me the hands" and so on. As teachers, we need to be patient with these kind of mistakes.
Clearly, to my mind, the second method is better. How can we encourage our students to "copy and paste"? Lots of reading and lots of listening. And always pick out phrases (not only words) from the listening and reading for the students to use. And praise them when you hear them use a phrase that they've picked up. Help them to be flexible with new phrases and adapt them, just like we did when we learned English as infants!
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