One of my favorite subjects to teach is prepositions. Prepositions time, place, movement are often confusing for Ukrainian students. Based on my observations over the past nine years, this is often due to Ukrainian teachers methodology. It is a subject for lengthy discussion with students and teachers alike.
Prepositions of Movement…
Prepositions fall into three distinct elements in the English language. Prepositions of time are used to describe specific time as well as general time. Adverbs can also play a role in time expressions. Prepositions of place are all about words to define where something or someone is located. For students at lower levels, prepositions of place and movement are often confusing. Prepositions of movement are all about describing motion.
What is a Collocation?
There are a few ideas that help students better understand the proper usage of prepositions time, place, movement. There are two simple words that must be introduced to all students before teaching prepositions. Those words are “Collocation” and “Arbitrary”. What are collocations?
A “Collocation” is two or more words commonly used in a language. I associate the word “Arbitrary” with “Choice”. There are generally specific ways to use prepositions and of course, non specific. Just like all language, the main idea is to communicate. If the other person understands what you are trying to convey, that is perfect communication.
Common Collocations and Communication…
An example of a collocation might be something like “Please sit at the table”. “At” is a collocation. “At” is most commonly associated with table. Can we say “Please sit by the table?”. Of course we can. Which example is a collocation. The word “At” is commonly associated with “Table”. Can we use the word “By”? Yes, we can. However, the preposition “By” is less common than “At”. Which is correct? Both are correct because I understand what you are communicating. Most people will use the preposition “At”.
Nobody Speaks Perfect English…
There is no such thing as perfect English. What I mean by that, is that as long as two individuals understand each other, that is perfect English. The notion that we must always speak or communicate perfectly based on grammar rules is just plain silly.
Of course, everyone wants to speak intelligently. However, nobody speaks perfect English. The main idea is to understand each other. Most people try to speak with intelligence but, that rarely happens when it comes to perfect grammar.
Common Prepositions At, One, In…
Prepositions should also be taught so that students are able to retain basic ideas and concepts regarding preposition usage. If students can remember how some propositions are commonly used, that always helps to better understand their usage.
There are three prepositions that are considered the most used in the English language. Those would be “At, On, In”. Students learn prepositions much faster with simple methods of connecting with common words. The preposition “At” is commonly used with “Places”. The preposition “On” is commonly used with the word “Touch”. The Preposition “In” is commonly used with “Limits”.
Brother and Sister Examples…
Prepositions place, time, movement can be taught with graphics or photos easily as well. Flashcards are also extremely useful when teaching prepositions. Another technique is to help students better understand common words based on related or brother and sister examples.
Common Word Associations…
At the beginning stages of English studies, students are taught word combinations with just about all parts of English vocabulary. Hot and cold, up and down, mother and father, fast and slow, black and white are all great examples of commonly used brother and sister word combinations. These techniques seem simple enough and for most students, they are. The main idea here is to help students compare opposite words to help retain vocabulary and definitions.
Who Understands Prepositions Better?
At higher levels of English, prepositions are often understood and not difficult for students. My experience for most intermediate, upper intermediate and advanced students is that they often have a very good idea how to use prepositions properly.