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Teaching younger teenage learners to express likes and wants

This is an article from one of my first DELTA assignments:

At the beginning of each school year teaching to younger teenage learners inevitably requires me to understand and follow up their immediate needs. In the last three years learning how to express likes and wants has been one of these. I would say this is the most popular topic among my learners. Being aware of it provides them with motivation to speak and express their own ideas about free-time, sports, foods etc.

I have recently realised that teaching  to express likes and desires at A1-A2 levels is not so simple and immediate. Often learners get confused by the choice of the correct verb and form. Therefore I think the topic should be addresses with a more selective and systematic approach that could solve the issue of how and what to teach to younger teenage elementary learners to help them to express likes and wants. 

Language Analysis

a) Expressing likes and dislikes: gerund and infinitive constructions  

In English the idea of expressing likes and dislikes is strictly linked to the choice between gerund and infinitive constructions.

Carter and McCarthy (2006) list a number of common verbs normally only followed by the -ing form as opposed to the infinitive.

I fancy doing some evening classes. (not > I fancy to do some evening classes)

Some of those verbs are used to express likes (adore, appreciate and enjoy) and some others to express dislike (loathe, dislike, can’t stand, mind)

I enjoy living alone

Cats dislike getting their fur wet (MacMillan Dictionary for Advanced Learners, 2007:422)

According to the KET (Key English Test) Vocabulary List (Cambridge ESOL, 2009), the verbs adore, appreciate and loathe are not usually taught at A2 level. Therefore they will not be considered further here.

These verbs can also be followed by a noun phrase object.

I dislike people telling me what to think (Swan, 2005)

Hate, like, love and prefer can be followed either by -ing or infinitive, as well as by a noun phrase object . Carter and McCarthy (2006) provide a clear general distinction between the two uses, arguing that -ing “emphasizes the action or event in itself, while the infinitive places the emphasis more on the results of the action or event. The -ing form often implies enjoyment (or lack of it), and the infinitive is often used for expressing preferences” (Carter and McCarthy, 2006:515):

I really like my teacher and I like my class. I like being in year five. (emphasis on the process itself and enjoyment of it)

I like home-made soup. I like to make a panful and then it lasts me a couple of days. (emphasis more on result and the habit or preference)

Similarly, Swan (2005) thinks that both infinitives and -ing forms can often be used without a great difference of meaning.

I hate working/to work at weekends.

but Like + infinitive is used to talk about choices and habits.

I like climbing/to climb mountains (= I enjoy climbing)

When I pour tea I like to pour the milk in first (= I choose to, it’s my habit)

Can this idea be simplified for elementary learners?

Svartvik and Leech (2002) point to a more general approach arguing that the infinitive clause expresses an “idea”, while the -ing clause expresses a “fact”. Interestingly they also add that in some contexts, the infinitive clause may have neutral (non factual or hypothetical) meaning:

He likes me to work late ( “…and that’s why I do it” ; …”but I never do it”)

He likes me working late (“…and that’s why I do it”)

As noticed above the choice between infinitive and gerund does not generally change the meaning. Continue reading