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 surprised 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 TellingEnglish 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
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.


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