Verb Errors of Spanish Speakers

Here is a topic that we get emailed about all the time – Verb Errors of Spanish Speakers

Let’s follow this conversation with a speech pathologist in North Carolina to see how to sort this out.

“I am trying to increase my knowledge of errors ESL students make to improve my diagnostic skills.  Based on your experience are the following errors common?”
1.  Verb Tense Errors of Spanish Speakers:  “They writed”  instead of “They wrote.” 

2. Preposition Errors of Spanish Speakers: Dropping the preposition in a sentence. For example: “”I’m looking my jacket” instead of “I’m looking for my jacket.” I greatly appreciate your time.”

Hi, and  thank you for the email.    I think you are right on course with both situations.  I will provide some answers but am wondering if the errors are frequent or in isolation?  Regardless of error type, we are always seeking patterns.

Number 1:  Regular and Irregular Verb Errors of Spanish Speakers

I love that you are thinking along these lines.  Yes, if a structure exists in both Spanish and English we would expect to see the use of it transfer from one language to the other.  For example, adding “s” to make an object plural is used in both languages. The verb forms you mentioned exist in both languages.  However, this is an irregular verb in English and a regular verb in Spanish, thus, we would not be suprised by an error.
How to tell?  Dynamic assessment helps us here (TEST/TEACH/RETEST).  You already have your TEST.  So try to teach him to use the proper verb form and then retest.  If he can learn the process quickly, chances are it is a second-language learning issue.

Check out this language sample and the verb errors in English– regular and irregular.  These are common second-language learning mistakes and are not indicative of a disorder.

Spanish Story Telling

Habia una vez] una rana adentro de un bote

Y luego durmió el niño

Y el se fue

Luego estaba estaba buscándolo

Y lo buscaron afuera

Y luego el perro se cayó

Y luego estaba buscando afuera

Y luego lo buscaron en donde estaba en una casa de abejas

Y estaban buscándolo en un árbol

Y luego habia un owl adentro del árbol

Y el vio un deer

Y luego el niño estaba en el deer

Y se cayó en un pond

Y luego estaban en el agua

Y luego encontron ranas

Y luego se encontraron su rana

English Story Telling

Once there was a little boy

And his frog escape [past tense error]

He went by his own to catch a bug

And he tried and tried

He catched one and ate it [irr verb error]

And he tried to catch another one

And the frog went in the basket

And the frog runned away [irr verb error]

He wanted to go in the water

But he jumped in the boat [prep error]

And he run away

And he went in the baby carriage

[gave him the word for “carriage”]

And the cat want to eat the frog [past tense error]

He was running away

But he x

The dog, the dog barked at the cat

And they lived happily ever after

 Number 2:  Preposition errors are often due to cross-linguistic influence

Here are the primary reasons:

  1. The Spanish verb often contains the directional information that is represented in a preposition in English.  Subir = To get on, Buscar = To look for “I look my jacket.”  So we often see Spanish speakers omit the prepositions in English.
  2. One word in Spanish “en”  = two words in English – in  & on.  In your example, de bajo / en cima de / alrededor, may be understood but not used commonly.  WE often hear “in” used for “on” and vice versa.
  3. One word in English “for” = two words in Spanish  – por  & para.

What are your thoughts?  Is this an evaluation?  Are there other things he/she is qualifying for?  Have you taken a language sample in both languages?  Read this otherwise.

Thank you for this question!  For more on this, check out our Difference or Disorder book.

Written by: Scott Prath

3 Comments on “Verb Errors of Spanish Speakers”

  1. March 3, 2020 at 11:55 am #

    Regarding the story retell and the verb errors. What if the student has already been diagnosed with the language delay (preschooler) and has received therapy since early intervention for delays in first language (Spanish). Has now been in early childhood special education and received instruction in English for two years. Does not use past tense verbs in English and no longer has ability to retell the story in Spanish.Would you address the past tense verb issue? Child is going to Kindergarten and has not mastered past tense in answering questions or talking about personal experience.

    • March 25, 2020 at 8:25 am #

      Hi Jana, Really complex! While it is true that abilities come in at different times in both languages, and that language can appear limited when bilingualism is just taking off, we would expect to see language and speech abilities that both languages possess. Here are a couple of examples: 1. English and Spanish both have /b/. We’d expect to see it. English has /b/ but Mandarin does not, it may not show for a Mandarin speaker. English and Spanish both have past tense. We’d expect to see it. English has past tense but Mandarin does not, it may not show for a Mandarin speaker. Soo… what I would do is focus on intervening on the easiest past tense: gerunds/-ing. That way you can teach “was VERBing” and “is VERBing” until the cows come home and you can get the past tense without the conjugations.

  2. May 7, 2020 at 1:42 pm #

    I just saw your reply. Really helpful. Thank you!

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