What you need to know English Prepositions:
Learning how to use prepositions correctly can be a problematic area for English language learners. Why is this? One problem is that they seem to appear everywhere.
They can appear before nouns (on Monday), in front of gerund verbs (for speaking), as part of a phrasal verb (get up) or after adjectives (interested in).
This means it is difficult to provide learners with a simple rule explaining when and how to use them. Remember too, that rules can be overgeneralized and telling a learner that We say ‘happy for’ someone’ to mean ‘We are pleased that someone else is happy’ could later lead the learner to incorrect usage and possibly producing a mistake such as “I think you will be
happy for (instead of ‘with’) this present”
A good source of information about vocabulary and related prepositions is the English Vocabulary Profile (EVP). The EVP shows, in both British and American English, which words and phrases learners around the world know at levels A1 to C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Rather than providing a syllabus of the vocabulary that learners should know, the EVP project verifies what they do know at each level.
What does an EVP entry include? (English Preposition)
Each entry uses reliable information from Cambridge dictionaries and consists of:
• a word,
• audio and written pronunciation,
• grammar and usage information,
• a level indicator (A1-C2) for each meaning or phrase,
• a definition,
• one or more native speaker dictionary examples, often highlighting typical collocations (Note that dictionary examples are not necessarily at the same level as the meaning itself. Where several dictionary examples are given, the simplest are displayed first).
Most EVP entries have: (English Preposition)
• authentic examples of learner writing from the Cambridge Learner Corpus,
• guidewords, in capital letters, allowing users to navigate easily through entries of words with more than one meaning.
Some EVP entries also have:
• Word Family panels, grouping words that are formed from the same root. In these panels, words at C1 and C2 levels are shown in italics, to illustrate which
core family members are known by B2 level and which are additional at C1 and C2 levels.
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Other possible difficulties
The correct use of prepositions amongst language learners can also suffer from L1 (first language) interference. In the case of direct translation as a learning strategy, prepositions prove difficult as the meaning of a particular preposition often depends heavily on context. Indeed, when a preposition is used in English in the same context, and in the learner’s own language, a preposition may simply not be used.
So how can we help our learners with prepositions? Here are some practical suggestions
for you to try in class:
1. Make a gap fill into a listening exercise
Keep a record of short sentences containing typical mistakes your learners make with prepositions. Read these sentences out to your class but say ‘mmm’ instead of the preposition. Ask your learners to listen and discuss in pairs which preposition is missing before writing it down. When you have finished, hand out a copy of the sentences to each pair so they have a chance to check their answers.
2. Practice pronunciation and prepositions
Dictate questions in chunks that focus on different uses of prepositions such as ‘What type of websites/ are you/ interested in?’, ‘What are you/ happy about/ at the moment?’ and ‘What piece of technology/ is most important/ in your life?’ After each question, ask learners to compare their sentences.
Offer help with any problems and draw their attention to pronunciation elements. Finally, learners ask and answer the questions in pairs or small groups. This provides the opportunity for learners to hear connected speech elements as well as to practice with prepositions.
3. Make a meaningful mill drill
Ask learners to draw some circles in their notebook that are big enough to write a few words in. Tell them they are going to write an answer in each that is true for them, in random order. For example, ask them to write ‘something they are good at’ in a circle. Next, ask them to write ‘something that is good for a rainy day’. Continue with similar sentences using other words and prepositions. For instance, ‘Who is this class open to?’ and ‘How long is the school open for?’
When you have finished, ask learners to stand up and mingle with their circles. They then have to identify other learners’ answers, for instance ‘You are good at playing football’, ‘Going to the cinema is good for a rainy day’. You may find modeling this yourself with a single student first helps the class understand the activity. This is good for recycling language where a verb followed by different prepositions have different meanings, for instance, good at/ good for, open for/ open to, available to/available at.