Jun 14th, 2008, 05:49 am
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Join Date: Oct 8th, 2006
| | Re: Contractions in ESL...
I think the reason for teaching contractions from the beginning is that they're important for spoken English rather than written. If Ss don't get used to them they're a) not going to understand native speakers and other fluent users who do and b) will sound stilted when they speak in everyday conversation.
The choice between contractions/full forms is not really a choice between speech and writing. There are 3 main influences :
1. Grammar : there are some syntactic limitations on the use of contractions. For example, if the auxiliary is the last item in the clause, the full form must be used - Yes, I am / He asked me if I would.
2. In all types of conversation full forms are used to give contrastive emphasis eg -
- I'm not coming tomorrow.
- You are coming tomorrow! (= or there'll be trouble.)
Here the use of the full form carries meaning, and another reason for emphasising the use of contractions in "ordinary" sentences is that otherwise Ss don't later see the point of the full forms.
3. Additionally, it's a matter of style. The more formal the style is, the more likely that full forms will be used. It doesn't matter if this is formal spoken language (for example a very formal speech) or formal written language. The reason it's often seen as a speech/writing distinction is simply that it's more usual for the average person to write fairly formally than to speak formally.
But whether we're speaking or writing, if we're using informal or neutral style, we'll probably use contractions - as I've been doing all the way through this reply. Were I to write eg an application letter for a job, however, I'd use full forms.
The level of formality depends on the discourse type (a letter of application or a message on a forum) and the speaker/writer listener/reader relationships. It's a continuum from very informal through neutral to very informal. This reply is neutral - I'm writing to a peer, but to someone I don't know personally. Neutral style combines some elements of informal style (eg contractions) with some elements of more formal style (eg the inversion I used above Were I to ... and sentence connectives such as additionally and however).
To go back to your query as to whether complete beginners should be introduced to contractions - my answer would be yes receptively. But I also want them to understand what the full forms that those contractions are based on are, and at the early stages I don't care too much which they use as long as they're communicatng. Once I'm sure they understand what the full forms are and as they become more confident about using them, I'll push them on to using the contractions. Thus when we get to the point of focusing on contrastive stress and stylistic variation, the students understand the "normal" use and can more easily understand that the choice of a full form is not random but carries its own specific meaning.