Conjunctions in Chinese ESL Learning

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As a part of speech, Conjunction is known as a joining word. It acts as a bridge between two sentences and help them to combine. Conjunctions assist in conveying the whole meaning of the sentence and play an important role in discourse, as they are used as coordination to conjoin “different grammatical units: clauses, clause elements, words” (Leech & Svartvik, 1994). In many second language classrooms, English learners often spend a lot of time to memorize the different meanings of conjunctions and the grammatical rules of conjunctions. However, it does not help them too much. In fact, English language learners, especially Chinese students just mechanically rote the content of them. As the research reveals: “Chinese ESL learners do not always use English conjunctions well, even at the university level. It is suggested that Chinese students should pay more attention to the usage of English conjunction.” (Leung& Holmer, 2005).

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There are several types of conjunctions which are taught by ESL teachers, nevertheless, ESL students, especially for Chinese ESL students, fail to understand and apply them accurately. Because some of the conjunctions have similar meanings, and most of them can not be used interchangeably since the meaning of the sentence would undoubtedly change. Typically, conjunctions are divided into four categories: coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, and linking adverbs. Coordinating conjunctions join two equal grammatical elements, and they are also called “FANBOYS” which consists of seven words: and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet. Of the seven coordinating conjunctions, “so” can be more confusing for Chinese ESL students because it has two different uses. “So” can be used as both a coordinating conjunction and a subordinating conjunction. As a coordinating conjunction, “so” can connect two independent clauses, which is similar to the word “therefore”, but as a subordinating conjunction, it can link two unequal clauses in the sense of “so that”. Even though the meaning of “so” in a sentence is ambiguous, it is not that difficult for Chinese ESL students to understand. However, what is exceptionally hard for them are the use of subordinating conjunctions and the form of correlative conjunctions.

Subordinating conjunctions

A subordinating conjunction is a word or phrase that links a dependent clause to an independent clause and establish a relationship between them. “The word or phrase indicates that a clause has informative value to add to the sentence’s main idea, signaling a cause-and-effect relationship or a shift in time and place between the two clauses.” It sounds very complicated. Subordinating conjunctions include lots of words: if, though, although, after, till, as, in order that, unless, as if, now that, until, as long as, once when, as though, rather than, whenever, because, so, etc. The conjunction “because” can show a cause-and-effect relationship between a subordinate clause and a main clause. To some extent, the conjunction “so” plays the same role in the sentence. It presents a purpose or a result. It was not allowed to use both “because” and “so” in one sentence in English. However, in Chinese “because” and “so” are always used together as pair correlatives. Chinese language will often come across 因为⋯⋯所以⋯⋯ (yīnwèi... suǒyǐ...) in both written and spoken Chinese, because this pattern will give Chinese a clear logical structure and can help make sentences more persuasive (All Set Learning). The full pattern 因为……所以…… (yīnwèi... suǒyǐ...) is used to clearly indicate cause and effect in Chinese, and they could be thought of as equating to: "Since ___ happened, so ___ happened." It sounds weird to use both "since" and "so" in one sentence in English, but it makes everything crystal clear in Chinese (All Set Learning). There are several examples as follows to demonstrate the differences between the subordinating conjunctions used in English and in Chinese.

English: 1. Because he is very tired, he does not like to work.

He is very tired, so he does not like to work.

* Because he is very tired, so he does not like to work.

2. Since it will rain tomorrow, we have cancelled the course.

* Since it will rain tomorrow, so we have cancelled the course.

Chinese: 1. yinwei ta henlei, suoyi ta buxiang gongzuo.

Because he very tired, so he not (negative) like work.

2. Yinwei mingtian xiayu, suoyi women quxiaole kecheng.

Since tomorrow rain, so we cancel the course.

Likewise, the conjunction “though” or “although” shows adversative relationship between a subordinate clause and a main clause, and they can be interchangeable. Although is more formal than though. “But” is a coordinating conjunction which also expresses the adversative meaning. It is hard to imagine that “though” and “but” are used in the same sentence in English, because it does not follow the grammatical rules. However, in Chinese language, “though” and “but” are always used together as pair correlatives. The grammar pattern 虽然⋯⋯ 但是⋯⋯ (suīrán... dànshì...) is one of the most commonly used patterns in Chinese, especially in written Chinese. You can think of it as meaning "although," but unlike in English, you still need to follow it up with a "but" word in Chinese. 虽然⋯⋯ 但是⋯⋯ expresses that while the former part of the sentence is true, there is an adverse reaction in the latter part ( All Set Learning). Simply put, the pattern means, although..., but... In English, you wouldn't normally need the "but" there, but it is required in Chinese. Be aware that 可是 can be used interchangeably with 但是 for the "but" part. Also note that 还是 can be used after 但是 for emphasis, meaning "still." (All Set Learning).

There are examples which demonstrate the differences between the subordinating conjunctions used in English and in Chinese as follows:

English: 1. Although he has money, he does not give me any.

He has money, but he does not give me any.

* Although he has money, but he does not give me any.

2. Though he is tired, he still works very hard.

He is tired, but he still works very hard.

* Though he is tired, but he still works very hard.

Chinese: 1. suiran ta youqian, keshi ta bugei wo.

Although he have money but he not(negative) give me.

2. suiran ta henlei, danshi ta rengjiu hennuli gongzuo.

Though he tired , but he still hard work.

Due to the specific usage of Chinese, the Chinese ESL students are very prone to making mistakes in sentence construction. The influence of the native language is so powerful that it is difficult to guide students to acquire a proper expression by using a second language.  For ESL teachers, they should take good strategies into account. These two activities can help drill and improve students’ English grammatical ability.

The first activity is created for the beginner level Chinese ESL students. The ESL teacher can give each student a bingo card. The teacher needs to explain that the card consists of five sentences, and each sentence missed a different subordinating conjunction. Then the teacher should tell students that you are going to call out subordinating conjunctions. If students think the conjunctions match the sentences they have, then they will write them in the corresponding gaps in sentences. Once a student completes all five sentences with a different conjunction, they shout: “Bingo”.

The teacher needs to concern the detail that the activity will begin by asking students to read all the five sentences on their card and think about what the missing conjunctions probably will be. When the teacher starts to call out subordinating conjunctions, the teacher needs to call out in a random order, at the same time, remember to tick the words that have been read out. Last step, the teacher should pay attention that when a student shouts out “Bingo”, the student needs to read out all five sentences. If the sentences are correct, then students can start a new round with another student taking on the role of the bingo caller. This continues until all the bingo cards have been used.

The second activity designs for intermediate level Chinese ESL students. In the conjunctions teaching activity, students are asked to create a story by using coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. The teacher will divide students into four groups. Each group will be given several story topic cards, those cards will be spread out and face up on the desks. Then, students can make three story titles by using the words on the cards. For example, “The Beautiful Winter”, “The Hot Summer”, etc. All the groups read their titles to the class first and explain what type of each story they have, for example, a fairy tale. Next, all groups need to choose one of their titles and design a story by creating original sentences with coordinating and subordinating conjunctions.

The groups will begin by writing the title and the first sentence of their story. For example, if the title is “the Beautiful Winter”, then students might write: It is snowing outside. The teacher will give each group a set of conjunction cards which place face down on the desks. Then, Students should take it in turns to pick up a card from the top of the pile. They should use the conjunction on the card in the next sentence of the story, for example: “Although it is snowing heavily outside, it doesn’t stop children playing on the ground.” As a student says the next sentence, another student which is in the same group will write the sentence down on the paper. This process will continue until all the cards have been used.

This activity can drill students’ a higher English expression ability and conjunctions application ability.  When the groups finish this activity, they can review their story and check the story that if there are any errors in it. The groups then take it in turns to tell their story in class. After all groups tell their story, the teacher will give a feedback on students’ use of conjunctions. Finally, all the students can vote for the best story.

Correlative conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions come in pairs. They are similar in the usage of the coordinating conjunctions. Likewise, they connect equal sentence elements together. These conjunctions include: both…and; not only…but also; not…but; either…or; neither…nor; whether…or; as…as.

Correlative conjunctions are often used to express opinions, give some explanation, or discuss alternatives. For Chinese ESL students, not only are they difficult to use, but their structure is strict. What more difficult for Chinese ESL students are the forms of “either…or” and “neither…nor”. The examples below will be given to demonstrate the Chinese ESL students’ confusion.

English: 1. Lucy likes neither juice nor milk.

* Lucy likes neither juice nor likes milk.

2. Either the naughty kids or the ringing phone interrupts my thoughts.

* Either the naughty kids interrupt my thoughts or the ringing phone interrupts my thoughts.

Chinese: 1. luxi jibu xihuan guozhi yebu xihuan niunai.

Lucy neither like juice nor like milk.

2. yaom shi taoqi de haizi daduanle wode silu, yaom shi dianhua lingsheng daduanle wode silu.

Either naughty kids interrupt my thought, or ringing phone interrupts my thought.

From those examples, a language phenomenon is easily observed that the use of correlative conjunctions in Chinese language demands absolute parallel structure of both clauses. It actually connects two sentences. It means not just the word follows the conjunction, but the subject-verb structure follows the initial conjunction, and the subject-verb structure should follow the second conjunction as well in the set. Chinese language constructs the formal sentences around each pair in order to maintain absolute parallel structure and keep everything crystal clear. However, in English language, correlative conjunctions always connect words, like two nouns or two verbs. They are used in different places in one sentence to make the sentence work. They are not allowed to connect two sentences as Chinese correlative conjunctions do. Therefore, those differences are all challenging Chinese ESL students.

In addition, another aspect of correlative conjunctions which is vital to keep in mind is pronoun agreement. Pronoun agreement is a grammatical rule of correlative conjunctions, which means “when we connect two antecedents, the following pronoun should agree with the second antecedent” (Your Dictionary). Therefore, whichever antecedent is mentioned, the last antecedent should agree with the pronoun that comes after it.

For example: 1. Neither Mary nor the writers expressed their ideas.     

Neither the writers nor Mary expressed her idea.

2. Either Mary or the writers expressed their ideas.

Either writers or Mary expressed her idea.

However, Chinese language does not follow pronoun agreement. The possessive adjectives are not necessary to modify the given information. The above sentences can be translated into Chinese to demonstrate those difference:

1. jibushi mali biaodale guandian, yebushi qita zuozhe biaodale guandian.

Neither Mary express idea, nor writers express idea.

Jibushi qita zuozhe biaodale guandian, yebushi mali biaodale guandian.

Neither writers express idea, nor Mary express idea.

2. huozhe shi mali biaodale guandian, huozhe shi qita zuozhe biaodale guandian.

Either Mary express idea, or writers express idea.

Huozhe shi qita zuozhe biaodale guandian, huozhe shi mali biaodale guandian.

Either writers express idea, or Mary express idea.

Therefore, for Chinese ESL students, they may neglect the rule, when they are making sentences with correlative conjunctions. For ESL teacher, it is important to give students more attention on detailed grammar problems that may happen to them.

At last, verb agreement rule of correlative conjunctions should be taken into account. When a correlative conjunction is used to connect two subjects, we should make sure the verb agrees with whichever subject comes last, which means the second subject should agree with the following verb.

For example: Either the naughty kids or the ringing phone interrupts my thoughts.

Either the ringing phone or the naughty kids interrupt my thoughts.

In Chinese language, verbs cannot be conjugated. In another word, Chinese does not have any verb conjugations. According to Chinese grammar rules, all verbs have a single form, that is to say a word is a word. We take the two sentences for examples:

English: 1. Neither my husband nor my kids like playing football.

2. Neither my kids nor my husband likes playing football.

* Neither my kids nor my husband like playing footall.

Chinese: Jibushi wo zhangfu xihua tizuqiu, yebushi wode haizimen xihuan tizuqiu.

Neither my husband like play footall, nor my kids like play footall.

Chinese verbs do not change in the sentences. Therefore, if Chinese ESL students are unfamiliar with this rule, they may experience cross-linguistic influence. For ESL teachers, a focus on effective activities is a good method to deal with grammatical problem. The first activity including two exercise is designed to practice students’ ability to pair the correlative conjunctions. It is created for the intermediate students who have been familiar with the correlative conjunctions.

First, the teacher can ask students to give some reasons for some simple events, then take two of the suggestions and construct structures by using correlative conjunctions.

For example: Either Lucy has stayed at home or she has arrived there. Teachers can explain the structure of the correlative conjunctions one by one and distribute worksheets and let students to match the sentence parts to make complete sentences.

Sentence Half A:

  • Both Mary
  • Not only does he want to go
  • Either John will have to work more hours
  • I would like to take
  • In the end, he had to choose

Sentence Half B:

  • but he has enough money.
  • neither true nor realistic.
  • both my laptop and my cell phone on holiday.
  • and I are coming next week.
  • or we will have to hire somebody new.

Students are asked to complete the second exercise by combining the ideas to make one complete sentence by using one of the correlative conjunctions: both…and; not only…but also; either…or; neither…nor, at the same time, the teacher should reminder students to pay attention to the change of verbs and possessive adjectives according to verb agreement and pronoun agreement rules.

  • We could fly. We could go by train.
  • Jack is not here. The Fords’ are in another city.
  • It might rain tomorrow. It might snow tomorrow.
  • Playing tennis is good for your heart. Jogging is good for your health.
  • She will have to do her homework. They will have to do their homework.

This activity goes by a straight forward, teacher-centered grammar instruction to help students distinguish the meaning and use of correlative conjunctions. Via doing explicit exercise, Chinese ELS students will be gradually familiar with the form of correlative conjunctions, so they do not have to simply rote the grammar rules.

The second activity which incorporates digital technology are created for beginner level. The teacher first needs to select a number of “busy” pictures which contain many interesting images. The teacher can find those sources from website or children’s books from library. Students are asked to prepare paper and pencils.

At the beginning of the class, iPads will be provided to students to watch the sets of correlative conjunctions word list created on the courseware named Vocab Head, and students will review the rules for verb agreement and pronoun agreement. After reviewing, the teacher will divide students into several small groups or pairs and give each group a picture and a piece of paper. Then all the groups will study the picture and write three sentences that can describe the picture by using correlative conjunction pairs. For example, students can write a sentence like this: “The monkey is not only driving a car but also eating a banana.” Next, groups switch the pictures and sentence papers with another group. On their new paper, groups will add three sentences which describe the picture with correlative conjunction pairs.

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It is challenging for students that groups cannot repeat a correlative conjunction pair for the same picture until the picture has been described by using all the five pairs of correlative conjunctions: both…and, either…or, neither…nor, whether…or, not only…but also. Activities make English class more engageable. By using activities, Chinese ESL students may have a deeper understanding of the usage of correlative conjunctions, and they may pay more attention to the grammatical problems where they easily make mistakes.

Conjunctions

English

Chinese

Subordinating Conjunction

Because he is very tired, he does not like to work.

He is very tired, so he does not like to work.

yinwei ta henlei, suoyi ta buxiang gongzuo.

 Because he very tired, so he not (negative) like work.

Since it will rain tomorrow, we have cancelled the course.

Yinwei mingtian xiayu, suoyi women quxiaole kecheng.

Since tomorrow rain, so we cancel the course.

. Although he has money, he does not give me any.

He has money, but he does not give me any.

suiran ta youqian, keshi ta bugei wo.

 Although he have money but he not(negative) give me.

Correlative Connections

Either the naughty kids or the ringing phone interrupts my thoughts.

yaom shi taoqi de haizi daduanle wode silu, yaom shi dianhua lingsheng daduanle wode silu.

 Either naughty kids interrupt my thought, or ringing phone interrupts my thought.

Pronoun Agreement

Neither Mary nor the writers expressed their ideas.  

Neither the writers nor Mary expressed her idea.

jibushi mali biaodale guandian, yebushi qita zuozhe biaodale guandian.

 Neither Mary express idea, nor writers express idea.

Verb Agreement

Neither my husband nor my kids like playing football.

Neither my kids nor my husband likes playing football.

Jibushi wo zhangfu xihua tizuqiu, yebushi wode haizimen xihuan tizuqiu.

Neither my husband like play footall, nor my kids like play footall.

In conclusion, conjunctions are ….therefore, frequent practice need to be create for students so that students can quickly grasp the use of conjunctions. When students begin to mater these grammar knowledges, their confidence and their ability to learn English will gradually increase. Conjunctions are difficult for Chinese ESL students to acquire, and it is an essential part of the English language. Because of their importance in English language, ESL teachers should address them in daily learning process. Chinese ESL students will encounter them frequently and need to know how to apply them appropriately to writing more academic essay and in daily conversation. The differences of conjunctions between in English and in Chinese, from the form, meaning, and usage view, present a challenge to Chinese ESL students. Likewise, the ESL teachers should more focus on this topic to make students proficient in their use of conjunctions.

References

https://study.com/academy/lesson/correlative-conjunctions-activities.html

https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/conjunctions/correlative-conjunctions.html

https://study.com/academy/lesson/correlative-conjunctions-activities.html

Xu, X., Pan, M., Dai, H., Zhang, H., & Lu, Y. (2019). How referential uncertainty is modulated by conjunctions: ERP evidence from advanced Chinese–English L2 learners and English L1 speakers. Second Language Research35(2), 195-224.

Leung, C. (2005). A comparison of the use of major English conjunctions by American and Hong Kong university students (Using the HKUST corpus, HKBU corpus and the ICLE corpus of American English).

Celce-Murcia, M., Larsen-Freeman, D., & Williams, H. A. (1983). The grammar book: An ESL/EFL teacher's course (p. 299). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

 

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