He/She usage problems, how to overcome?

Not in Taiwan yet, but since i am coming soon and already having this issue come up, I thought to ask for help.

I have a student I am tutoring now from Mainland, and she can not get used to using she/he correctly. Is this common in Taiwan as well, since mandarin just uses Ta for both he/she?

What methods can be used to overcome this? I have been correcting and helping, but nothing is working.

Thanks!

Yes, it’s very common here as well. Yes, you would think it was because of the ‘ta’ which sounds the same for male, female and neutral, but funnily enough, native speakers of Spanish, which has very clearly defined male and female pronouns (el/ella), had the same problem. I wonder whether the cause of the problem might be not first language grammatical interference, but rather a perceived phonological similarity and hence confusion over the sounds ‘he’ and ‘she’.
Comments, Ironlady?

I would suggest a 2-pronged solution to the problem;

  1. Use humour when eliciting the correct pronoun; if the student says ‘he’ incorrectly, ask ‘is she a boy?’ Also, pick your times for correction of this issue; if you are in the ‘practice’ stage with another language point, it is probably worth waiting until later, or not mentioning that particular instance of the problem at all.

  2. Don’t worry too much about it yourself. Of course correct use of he/she is important for clear, accurate use of English, and your student no doubt wants to be taught to ‘speak just like a native speaker’! But focusing on this issue to the exclusion of others, and in particular to the detriment of communicative fluency, would be counterproductive. You have to find a balance.

Yes that same problem is big here even for adults! I think it’s just plain old sloppyness.

I usually say, “SHE???” with a questioning/funny look on my face. The child will then think in his head and respond, “no no no no, HE!” with an embarassed/smile look on his face. It’s better for him to think of the right answer on his own.

By telling them the right answer the teacher is not teaching them how to think for themselves. Using facial expressions to show that you dont understand what they are saying because they made a mistake will stop them in their tracks and get them thinking.

I find this works with all sorts of grammar and vocabulary mistakes. Students says, “I go to school yesterday.” and I repsond, “You GO to school yesterday?”. Student thinks, why is the teacher putting so much strain on the word GO…oh yeah! It’s WENT not GO!

These issues are fluency issues. I wouldnt expect any child or adult to be perfect. Especially because when they think to themselves they think in Chinese and then translate to English. In the Chinese language I dont believe there are past tense and he/she. I could be wrong though!

I think only students who have a serious desire to learn/speak English will not make little mistakes like this. Those students try to think in English.

One more thing…you can use activities to reinforce the point you are making. Use reading/writing/listening/speaking because all are important.

Writing activity:
Have a picture of a girl reading.
________ is reading. ____ likes to read. ____ reads everyday.
Student fills in the word SHE.

Speaking:
Show the same picture and say, “HE is reading…or…SHE is reading.”
Student repeats, “SHE is reading.”

Listening.
Show the same picture.
“This is Sara. She is reading. She likes to read. She reads everyday.”

Reading.
Show same picture. Underneath have the same sentences as above with the word SHE repeated several times.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repitition is important.

Try the same activities with HE and eventually your student will catch on.

GOOD LUCK!

I am not quite sure what you mean by this. I have found that regardless of the student’s motivation, issues like this will often come up.

Sure, that’s really another example like the one I gave. You can choose how much you want to help the student by phrasing the question ‘Is she a boy?’ or ‘Is she a boy?’. Whichever way you do it, I find including the ‘humour’ element of the word ‘boy’ helps a lot. Hopefully the student will laugh so embarrasment is avoided. With both children and adults, especially in Asia, reducing stress and embarrassment in the classroom is crucial to effective, lasting language learning.

[quote=“stevieboy”]One more thing…you can use activities to reinforce the point you are making. Use reading/writing/listening/speaking because all are important.

Writing activity:
Have a picture of a girl reading.
________ is reading. ____ likes to read. ____ reads everyday.
Student fills in the word SHE.

Speaking:
Show the same picture and say, “HE is reading…or…SHE is reading.”
Student repeats, “SHE is reading.”

Listening.
Show the same picture.
“This is Sara. She is reading. She likes to read. She reads everyday.”

Reading.
Show same picture. Underneath have the same sentences as above with the word SHE repeated several times.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repitition is important.

Try the same activities with HE and eventually your student will catch on.[/quote]
These activities are fine, but don’t forget that, presuming the student was taught correctly in the first place, he or she already knows correct usage in theory; it’s the everyday actualisation of that that is the problem. Asian students do these kinds of activities until they are blue in the face but in real language USE they still make the same mistakes. Too much repetition will bore the student and cause him or her to switch off. Judicious correction from time to time will remind the student, but not bore or frustrate him or her.
You may devote half an hour to a ‘review session’, where you could start off with some exercises like these, then move to freer language use, but all the time helping the student to become aware of correct he/she usage.

this is one that you will just often have to remind about. it’s conceptually easy to understand, nowhere near as much of a problem as say singular/plural agreement. most of my primary/junior high students actually don’t have a problem with it. immediate reminding helps the ones that do. “who?” or “xxx is a boy/girl.” are my reminders. i agree that someone constantly making mistakes with it 99% is just being lazy.

Somebody making mistakes with ‘he’ and ‘she’ more than 50% of the time is deliberately winding you up.

Sorry Daltongang - pedantic Mr Sax with too much time on his hands - couldn’t resist pointing that one out.

Somebody making mistakes with ‘he’ and ‘she’ more than 50% of the time is deliberately winding you up.

Sorry Daltongang - pedantic Mr Sax with too much time on his hands - couldn’t resist pointing that one out.[/quote]

well what would you be doing here if you didn’t have too much time on your hands :slight_smile:

you might be right. but i wouldn’t underestimate the force of laziness :slight_smile:

No, someone making the same mistake consistently has not yet acquired a feature that does not exist in his/her native language.

Do you think your tonal faults seem any different to Chinese? Gosh, after two years of Chinese, those foreigners ought to be able to pronounce the fourth tone correctly! Anyone who gets it wrong 50% of the time is deliberately winding us up…

Anyway, since I’m female and was teaching college level, I always found it most effective (we had a pretty good camraderie in the class and there were never any administrators around, mind you) to indicate some huge gabonga buzzoms if someone mistakenly used “he” for “she”. Equally true for teaching languages where nouns and adjectives have gender…it just takes time, and gender markedness is one of the late-developing features in most learners.

[quote=“ironlady”]Gosh, after two years of Chinese, those foreigners ought to be able to pronounce the fourth tone correctly! Anyone who gets it wrong 50% of the time is deliberately winding us up…gender markedness is one of the late-developing features in most learners.[/quote]I was making a rather pedantic statistical point that were the student to be guessing at correct use, completely unaware, or even just using ‘she’ all the time, one would expect correct use around 50% of the time; that is, unless you were talking about an all male school, or military service in Taiwan or something like that.

[quote=“ironlady”]Equally true for teaching languages where nouns and adjectives have gender…it just takes time, and gender markedness is one of the late-developing features in most learners.
[/quote]If I understand you correctly, you imply that this is a problem for learners of all first language groups. That would explain why native speakers of Spanish also get it wrong. Yet, with my laziness and imperfect learning methods, and without focusing on the issue, I cannot recall ever having said ‘ella’ when I should have said ‘el’. Had you considered that it might be more of a phonological issue, specific to English?

ha ha, that WAS pedantic js. seriously that went over my head. pedantically, I actually meant that there was a 99% chance of laziness.

ironlady, let me preface that my experience is with teaching children. in my experience, this one is not hard for them to pick up, it’s not on the same level with i.e. tonal differences in Mandarin or out of the blue verb+s. if they consistently mix up he and she they should be concentrating more. i don’t know about anyone else but the percent chance my students are winding me up approaches 0 :slight_smile: adults are obviously differently motivated than children so we may be talking apples and oranges here.

what in the heck is a gabonga buzzom? should I be using one? :slight_smile:

Perhaps you should be using two! ‘Using’ is not really the word I would use, however. Fondling, maybe.

Perhaps you should be using two! ‘Using’ is not really the word I would use, however. Fondling, maybe.[/quote]

ha ha, whoosh. one is better than none i guess.

You wouldn’t, though, if the student’s native language did not make the distinction. I’ll bet that if you did some kind of a statistical study (I’m assuming some things, but I’ll bet it’s this way) you’d find that there were more male references than female in the texts they’ve seen or heard (taking the broad meaning of “texts” here.) Anyway, culturally I’ll bet that “he” is the unmarked form and “she” is the marked one.

I don’t imply that it is a problem for all. I was saying that the Chinese also have problems with noun-adjective gender agreement in Spanish, which is not surprising as they don’t distinguish between pronoun, noun or adjective gender in Chinese. But I wouldn’t expect the same kinds of errors from a native Spanish speaker learning English.

Your native language distinguishes between “he” and “she”, so I would not expect you to have trouble with this feature for pronouns. You might slip up on “ellos/ellas” because English doesn’t usually distinguish, or for “nosotros/nosotras”. But I would expect you to possibly have trouble with noun-adjective gender agreement in Spanish, because English doesn’t have that feature. I haven’t heard many native Spanish speakers who had any kind of fluency in English make the s/he mistake, at least not consistently (that is, beyond it being a ‘slip of the tongue’ kind of thing). (Or maybe problems when talking about Michael Jackson. :laughing: ) But that’s understandable, yes?

A phonological issue would be with someone having problems because of prounuciation barriers, or more specifically because of perceptual or psychological ones due to the lack of a sound or change pattern in the native language. So I don’t think it’s phonological.

[quote=“ironlady”]But I wouldn’t expect the same kinds of errors from a native Spanish speaker learning English.[/quote]That’s my point! My native Spanish-speaking friends, especially those from Spain, often made mistakes, saying ‘he’ for ‘she’ and vice versa.
That’s why I wasn’t sure whether it was a case of grammatical first-language interference.

But the characters are different: (她他). The spoken language makes no distinction, but the written does. Perhaps you should read out a “he” / “she” dictation list, and ask them to write down the correspoding Chinese (or I suppose write “boy” or “girl”). That way they will really have to listen to the difference. Once they can hear the difference, they should find saying it easier. Then flash boy/girl cards at them in rapid succession and get them to immediately say the correct English.