A sticky problem with the word "because"


#1

I teach a junior high Honors English writing class, and I find that most of my students have a big problem using “because”. I tell them repeatedly that in formal writing, a sentence with “because” requires two clauses, in this formula: Because REASON, RESULT. or RESULT, because REASON.

Still, my students insist on separating the result and the reason into two separate sentences. For example: “My mother took me home. Because I was tired.” They won’t listen when I tell them that this second sentence isn’t a complete sentence. They can speak like this, but writing is a different ballgame.

My students make similar mistakes now only with “because”, but other conjunctions as well, like “so”, “but”, “however”, and “then”. I think Chinese has a very different take on what constitutes a complete sentence, and how conjunctions can be used. I still haven’t wrapped my head around the idea of a “topic-comment sentence”, which I’ve heard repeatedly is the basic structure of a Chinese utterance, but I’d bet it differs from the Indo-European model at a pretty deep level.

It took me a lot of work to get them out of the habit of saying “there have”, and giving them some simple rules to remember when to use “there is” versus “have”. I pointed out the differences between the English “there” and the Chinese “nali”. This conditioning is wearing off, and “there have” is starting to reappear.

I’m being way too harsh. They’re only kids, and only knows my middle school French was god awful. I guess I’m writing to see if anyone knows any tricks to teach kids to get them out of these habits.


#2

Your students need to read examples of “because” used properly. Lots of examples.

Yes, true, so your students need to get a feel for how “because” is used in written English. If you give them many examples (and over a long period of time) they will eventually figure out that they cannot break a sentence in two with a “because” clause in it. But until they figure this out for themselves (through reading and exposure to good written English) you will have to keep calmly but firmly reminding them in class.

Good humored teasing can help. When I taught writing to junior and senior high I always pointed out that to write English one had to think English. That is, it was no good writing English but using Chinese expressiveness and rhetoric. The two were simply not compatible (except in some fun ways). I’d use the example of “flowery” or overly expressive language.

Every Chinese girl wants to describe her friends or some experience she had as “lovely, delightful” and so on. From the start I told my students that only grandmothers and grandfathers used words like that. Flowery language, with few exceptions, was simply old-fashioned. I explained that likewise, writing English as you would Chinese makes you sound like an old grandma. Chinese writing sounds simply silly when translated into English. I guarantee that if your students understand they sound like an old man or woman when they write they will quickly change. At the very least they will be grateful you pointed this out to them and will start to ask your advise more.

Be firm but patient with your students. Don’t let them use English wrongly, but also don’t cut down everything they do. Spend less (or litle) time on grammar. Their Chinese English teacher can probably explain that better than you can. Spend more of the class focusing on points of style and organization that can be mastered or at least performed well in a short period of time.

Let them improve sentences, improve paragraphs, guess which is the best way to begin a paragraph, and so on. Give them examples sentences with good and bad uses of “because” and let them quess which are which. For god’s sake don’t teach them the traditional pyramid essay structure. Train them to write anecdotes, how to essays, letters of complaint, movie reviews and so on. With all these types of writing you can teach the basics: beginnings, conclusions, brainstorming, transitions, and so on.


#3

This sounds too simple to be effective, but I have had success with it: Tell them never to start a sentence with the word “because.” Once they get the sense of the use inside a sentence, they can usually be steered to use it at the head of the sentence.
Tell them that it can be acceptable to use “because” at the head of a sentence, but for the time being they must not use that construction.

Alternately, you could (verb) them upside the (noun). :sunglasses:


#4

Students are not what they were in your day Wolf. :smiley: Seriously. It seems that you haven’t taught for many, many years and do not understand that young students now do not instinctively obey their teacher’s commands. They often make attempts to think for themselves and so can make the same mistake over and over again, despite being told their actions are wrong, until they have figured the solution out for themselves. Wandering Dave has obviously tried the direct approach you sugggest and it did not work.

Wolf you remind me a lot of my father. :laughing: He used the same approach to instruct, admonish, encourage and discourage all his children and grandchildren. It only worked on one, my sister, and that’s only because she was one of those preternaturally self-confident children who cannot be intimidated or demeaned. For the rest of us in this world, a little psychology, a little technigue, can go a long way.

(End of speech. Mucha Man steps down from podium.)


#5

[quote=“WanderingDave”]
My students make similar mistakes now only with “because”, [/quote]

It’s funny, my students don’t have that problem too much. I guess I get to it early. A much more common one for me is using a period say here “When I got home. I headed straight for the computer.” or the like.

It is like a plague from hell :slight_smile: Let me know if you ever get it to stop. my rule is "


#6

[quote=“WanderingDave”]
I’m being way too harsh. They’re only kids, and only knows my middle school French was god awful. I guess I’m writing to see if anyone knows any tricks to teach kids to get them out of these habits.[/quote]

No you are not being too harsh, if they do not learn it now they will have the problem the rest of there life and it will be much more difficult later in life to change the way they think about it because it will be ingrained.

Most of these kids have probably studied English more than you had studied French by junior high school, so it is no excuse for them not to learn this and learn it well now.


#7

Whoa, Mucha Man! Wolf just threw out one little suggestion: “Tell them never to start a sentence with the word “because”… for the time being.” He didn’t say expect complete obedience and beat them with a rod if they ever stray from the prescribed sentence patterns!


#8

And we are talking about writing, not speaking. If they start a written sentence with “because” throw the paper back at them.

I am not 150 years old. Students are the same, it is the methods that are slipping. A friend of mine (a Hong Kong/Portugese–read not a white face) makes about NT$200,000 a month teaching and has a one-year student waiting list. He is using the same methods that I used.
I remember “directors” telling me that times had changed as long as 12 years ago. “Role playing is the current thinking,” they told me. “We don’t ‘force’ students to learn by making them memorize things or do repetitions in class. The current thinking is that they gently learn.”
Horse shit then and whatever the “new” current thinking is is probably equally as pungent.


#9

No, no, don’t get me wrong here. Wolf’s advise has a kernel of good sense in it. I just always feel the need to pontificate when I read his posts about education. He really does remind me of my father. :smiley:

As I suggested above, it’s not that the advise is useless but that it is limited. Throwing back papers, as Wolf recently suggested, will work with highly motivated students who have the utmost respect for the teacher’s talents and skill. For the other 99.99% it bores, frightens, intimates, and untimately stifles them into a more rigid conformity than even a traditional Taiwanese educaton can instill.

I once studied Taekwondo with an middle aged Lebanese master back in canada. This man sometimes talked about the way he was taught in the old country. Physical punishment was commonly meted out for mistakes, as were insults, threats, and the like. Being a tough boy in a tough environment he could take this. But when he moved to Canada and opened his own school he refused to teach in the old ways. He was gentle, encouraging, firm but never abusive or ugly. His students, judging from the contests they won, did not seem to suffer from this more humane approach.

Similary, I doubt you would find many of the masters in Taiwan belting or shouting at their beginner students these days (the equivalent of throwing a paper back at them). Yet has the quality of martial arts skills gone down?

As for Wolf’s friend in Hong Kong, good on him. When I lived in Taoyuan I had a good reputation at one of the local high schools for my skills as a writing teaching. Every winter I tutored a number of students to help them prepare for the early entrance exams held by the English departments in various universities around the island.

One former student introduced me later to a famous cram school instructor named Chen Jen. Mr. Chen taught English at one of those bushiban chains for junior and senior high school kids. (The kind of cram school with 150 students to a class.) Mr. Chen had been teaching for over 20 years, and I estimated that he made at least $500,000NT a month.

Mr. Chen hired me to teach English composition. At first he wanted me to teach around the whole island. Tainan, Kaoshiung, Ilan, Hualien, Taipei and Taoyuan. I said I refused to fly domestic airplanes three times a week, so we changed the schedule to include only northern Taiwan: Taipei, Ilan, Taoyuan, and Keelung. I went to all the different schools and gave a two hour presentation. The feedback was very positive and hundreds of students signed up for my classes in the fall.

My starting salary was to be $1500 an hour, plus all travel expenses. I would have about 15 hours of classes a week to start. After a few years, if I was popular, the price could have risen to $3000-4000 an hour.

Before the fall semester started I decided that touring around northern Taiwan, teaching the same class 10 times a week to 100 students at a time, was not my dream job. I also had some doubts about putting my future in the hands of Mr. Chen. Not that he was a bad fellow, but I realized that if I worked for him, he would negotiate all matters between me and the schools. I didn’t like giving up so much control. I also worried that after a year or so, when he and the schools had my lesson plans and handouts, they would try to squeeze me out. When an offer came to work on storybooks for the local market I gave Mr. Chen my notice. (That the storybook deal turned out to be a complete waste of the past three years is another story.)

The point of the above is that if you want to talk about your or a friend’s credentials or salary, I can match them. I can also agree though that standards have slipped (and not just in Taiwan). However, I doubt very much that this has anything to do with the manner in which a teacher treats his students. Curriculum is one thing. Classroom management something else.

Students writing skills are poor now because they are not taught structure and rhetorical skills explicitely, nor encouraged to imitate or model the works of skilled writers. Errors are tolerated or simply corrected with a red pen or a wave of the hand. Mostly though I believe writing skills have deteriorated because instructors have little skill or training or instinct themselves. But again, none of the above can be rectified by disdain or disrespect on the part of the teacher.

(Whew! It’s a long way down to the floor this time.)


#10

Because I’m drunk right now I can’t give a totally coherent response to the above comments.

Or can’t I? Seems to me that the above sentence is a perfectly valid construct, and grammatically correct.

Moving on, I used to work in sales and have transferred what I learned in that environment to teaching pretty successfully:

1- Establish credibility. ie convince the students that you know what you are talking about.
2 - Create rapport. ie make 'em your friends, make 'em want to emulate you or at least take your advice
3 - Sell yourself, not your product. In this case you’re a dude who can speak the most important language on the planet clearly and fluently, and if the students can be made to value that then they will want to emulate it.

So what’s the deal with ‘because’? The deal is whatever teacher says, because teacher is somebody we like, respect, want to be like, and want to please.

You’re the bloody expert. You’re the role model. Show them how it should be, and if someone does it different then involve the class in putting in right. Peer pressure is the biggest spur to achievement, if it’s guided by teacher.

In situations like this I usually take the approach that the student is totally correct. They have the right idea, the logic is fine, blah blah. But let me help you with expressing it in a more ‘ideal’ way - write the correct sentence on the board. Ask for feedback. Do they understand? Ask for examples correctly formatted. Congratulations to the class. Thanks to the student highlighting the problem for helping everyone. Well done guys!

And next time… take the piss mercilessly! (But be good-nature about it) “I thought we talked about this? How does it go? You know better, don’t you? Who can help him? Dude, you know that don’t you? OK, so give me another example. Well done.” High five, etc.

I’ll usually soften the blow by helping out a little bit, maybe by asking a question that allows them to regain some face if their answer is grammatically correct but a bit controversial.

eg Q:‘Why do I not have a girlfriend?’
A: ‘You don’t have a girlfriend because you are a bastard.’

And so on. I’m not slapping them down, I’m showing them how to express themselves properly without expressing any value judgement about what they say. It satisfies the rebellious streak and provides a stimulus to speak/write properly by enlisting peer pressure - one of the most powerful forces at our disposal.

Looking back at the previous comments before hitting the ‘submit’ button I find myself agreeing with Mucha Man’s last para - although I haven’t been here for long enough to have an opinion about how things were in the good old days. All I see now is students who are desparate to parrot their chinese teachers, but cannot READ a written sentence. If you don’t know what the punctuation translates to in spoken english then how can you put a thought (whether enunciated or not) onto paper???

The teacher has to become the role model that the student wants to imitate or model and - as a friend - provide the motivation to get beyond the ‘good enough’ approach that seems to pervade Taiwan schools.

Just my drunken thoughts. Feel free to to put me right.


#11

Here’s 10 karma points for your hangover. Now take 2 aspirin and go back to sleep.


#12

[quote=“tmwc”]Because I’m drunk right now I can’t give a totally coherent response to the above comments.

Or can’t I? Seems to me that the above sentence is a perfectly valid construct, and grammatically correct.
[/quote]

This is a good reason not to institute a blanket ban on beginning sentences with “because.” I tend to put the “because” clause at the beginning rather than the end of the sentence. You might also drill your students on identifying incomplete sentences, so they’ll recognize “Because I said so” as being incorrect. :wink: