Some Vietnamese Students’ Problems with English Grammar

A Preliminary Study
Dan Van Dao

This paper focuses on some common problems encountered by Vietnamese learners of English with tense and aspect,
particularly the simple and progressive aspects, the copula be, and adverb positions in verb and adjective phrases.
Twenty-five first-year English majors and 47 first-year non-English majors at Kiengiang Community College in Viet-
nam participated in this study. The results show that the students have widespread errors in these areas of English

Introduction Tense and Aspect in English and Vi-
Many Vietnamese students beginning to etnamese
study English have much trouble learning Tense and Aspect in English
English grammar. One of the problems they In English, a finite verb carries both tense
usually have is handling English aspect. This and aspect. The tense indicates the time in
may be because verbs are not marked for which an action occurs, present, past, or fu-
tense and aspect in Vietnamese. As a result, ture. For example, the present tense of the
students usually transfer non-conjugated verb to bring is bring, the past tense is brought,
verbs and implied tense and aspect into and the future tense is will bring. On the oth-
English. Another problem is that they often er hand, the aspect shows whether an action
transfer Vietnamese sentential structures happens habitually, continuously, or repeat-
into English, particularly the use of the co- edly (Longman Group, 1995). “English has
pula and phrasal structures. They tend to four aspects: simple (or zero aspect), pro-
string together English words using Viet- gressive, perfect, and their combination,
namese word order. perfect progressive” (Celce-Murcia & Lar-
In this paper, I will first provide a sen-Freeman, 1999, p. 110). These four as-
contrastive analysis of some features of Eng- pects are illustrated in the following
lish and Vietnamese grammar, focusing on examples:
tense and aspect, the use of the copula be, (1)
and phrasal structures. This comparison is He speaks English with his girlfriend
based on the Contrastive Analysis Hypothe- every day. (simple)
sis, which assumes that errors are “the result
of transfer from learners‟ first language” He is speaking English with his
(Lightbown & Spada, 2006, p. 79) to the girlfriend at the moment. (progressive)
second. The majority of my results confirm He has spoken English with his
the prediction of the Contrastive Analysis girlfriend very often recently. (perfect)
Hypothesis; however, there is also some
evidence against it, supporting Zobl (1980) He has been speaking English with his
and Kellerman (1986), who have found that girlfriend for nearly three hours. (per-
not all errors can be predicted by the Con- fect progressive)
trastive Analysis Hypothesis (as cited in
Lightbown and Spada, 2006, p. 79). Based Although there is a difference between
on my results, I will discuss some implica- tense and aspect, according to Celce-Murcia
tions for language teaching and learning. and Larsen-Freeman (1999), it is easier to
combine tense and aspect when learning
English than to learn them separately.


Tense and Aspect in Vietnamese guistics by Bui The Khanh, who compared
Like English, Vietnamese also has tense and the correlation between the tense and aspect
aspect, but they are expressed differently. of Vietnamese and Russian. After one year
Doan (n.d.) pointed out that “In Vietnam- of researching, Bui could not find any corre-
ese, verbs are not conjugated, and tense and lation of đã [past] or đang [present] between
aspect are generally understood in the con- the two languages. He found, however, over
text” (p. 6). Similarly, Le (1972) and Dam 30% correlation of sẽ [future] in these two
(2001) also stated that tense and aspect are languages (Cao, 1998, p. 544). Cao argued
usually implied and understood in context, that although sẽ correlates with the future
even though Vietnamese has particles to tense, the future tense itself, after all, is only
mark them when needed. For example, the one of the uncertain states covered by sẽ as
Vietnamese sentence Anh ấy ngủ [brother- an aspect marker. Cao then concluded that
there-sleep] can be translated into English Vietnamese does not have tense.
as He is sleeping, He slept, He sleeps, or He has The confusion between tense and as-
slept, depending on the context. When ad- pect in Vietnamese can be seen even among
verbial elements such as trước đây [ago, be- linguists, as can be seen in the following
fore] or bây giờ [now, at the moment] are statement, in which the author claimed that
used in the sentence, tense- and/or aspect- “aspect marking particles” express “time”:
marking particles are generally omitted. “When necessary, Vietnamese grammar can
In fact, the distinction between tense express time adequately by means of placing
and aspect in Vietnamese is rather compli- one of several aspect marking particles in
cated, and in fact controversial, compared to front of the main verb, notably đã [for past],
the case in English. Some linguists argue đang [for present], and sẽ [for future]” (Dam,
that Vietnamese has two tenses, past and 2001, emphasis added). This unclear under-
future (marked by đã [past] and sẽ [future]), standing about tense and aspect by linguists
and two aspects, perfect and progressive resulted in misleading information about
(marked by đã [perfect] and đang [progres- tense and aspect presented in textbooks on
sive]) (Panfilov, 2002). Thus, in this frame- Vietnamese language taught in schools in
work, the same particle đã is used for both Vietnam (Cao, 2004). In this paper, I adopt
tense and aspect while the other two par- the framework of Cao Xuan Hao. His
ticles mark either tense (sẽ) or aspect (đang). framework is based on a sound understand-
In another description of tense and ing of authentic Vietnamese rather than try-
aspect in Vietnamese, Cao Xuan Hao, an ing to fit Vietnamese grammar into a West-
influential Vietnamese linguist, argued that ern model.
Vietnamese does not have tense; it only has According to Cao (1998), the markers
aspect. According to Cao (1998), Vietnam- đã and đang do not properly indicate past and
ese uses đã to mark the perfect aspect, đang present tenses. He illustrated this with the
to mark the progressive aspect, and sẽ to following examples:
mark an uncertain state expressed by verbs
expressing hopes, wishes, guesses, and con- (2) Bây giờ tôi đã
ditions. Tense marking in Vietnamese, fol- Now I marker
lowing Cao, only occurs idiomatically when có đủ tiền.
these aspect markers are combined in ex- have enough money
pressions, such as đã và đang [in the past and „I have enough money now‟ (p. 548).
present], and đã và sẽ [in the past and future].
These expressions are found in modern and (3) Nếu hai tháng nữa
formal Vietnamese, but not in traditional or If two months more
casual Vietnamese (p. 536). In fact, to dem- anh mới dọn đến
onstrate that Vietnamese does not fit into you new move arrive
the mold of Western languages, Cao cited a thì tôi đã
project from the 1960s on Vietnamese lin- then I marker


I will have moved to another place‟ (p. the markers đã and đang indicate aspects ex. respectively (p. in the past before the time of speaking. when Vietnamese speakers want to ing. a truth in the present while đã in sentence (4) It marker sell book that expresses an action happening in the future. ở chỗ khác rồi. sau này The following examples contrast the [later. „I bought two books yesterday. 549). sive aspect (p. It marker sell book that study the fourth division „He sold that book. (8) Họ đang đi đến trường. In division while you were preparing to other words. Đã in sentence (3) expresses a state. and „At that time I was attending the fourth they did not continue into the present. Đang in sentence (4) indicates ac. were finished already and could not happen one more time. Cao concluded that đã in (5) Sáng mai anh nên these cases expresses an action that is com- morning tomorrow you should plete (p. they use no end-point are expressed by the progres- adverbs of time. pp. actions such as went and sold take the high school exam‟ (p. 549). point leads to the result of the state or the live place different already. học đệ tứ. be.‟ tions with no end-point. and đang in sen. bây giờ [now.‟ indicate actions happening in the past. tôi đang Back then I marker (7) Nó đã bán cuốn sách đó. 551). or action. tions with an end-point that were completed take (exam) high school exam. and (9) Nó đang bán cuốn sách đó. khi In contrast. 1998. For example: „If you are moving in two months. In Cao‟s viewpoint. They marker go arrive school „They went to school. In that are still happening at the time of speak- reality. Do đã and đang use of tense and aspect in English and Viet- markers always indicate past and present namese: tenses in Vietnamese? In Cao‟s approach. đang in sentences (4) and (5) 551-553). 547). In addition. „He is selling the book‟ (Cao.‟ (4) Hồi ấy. in the future] (p.‟ còn anh đang chuẩn bị as for you marker prepare These sentences (6 and 7) express ac- thi tú tài. Instead. such as trước đây [ago. 548). fore]. and 9) expresses actions. an action. action. For „Tomorrow morning. they definitely do not. Yesterday. these actions with express when something happened. 550). He emphasized that an action with an end- 39 . 551). (6) Họ đã đi đến trường. an action with no end- come really early when point does not lead to the result of the state cả nhà tôi đang ngủ. I buy two book pressing actions with an end-point or ac. does not express actions happening in the present. at the moment]. đến thật sớm. but rather states an action that is all family I marker sleep still happening at the time of speaking. you should come instance: early when my family will be sleeping‟ (p. The marker đang in these sentences (8 tions happening in the past. he stated that (10) Hôm qua tôi mua hai cuốn sách. such as go and sell tence (5) denotes an action in the future. They marker go arrive school Đã in sentences (2) and (3) does not „They are going to school.

is. and unlike English. Unfortunately for language learners. p. (2001) said “là is rarely used to link a subject has more distinct forms with respect to per. including am. being. 238). p. which can be a noun or an adjective (p. 54). number. là is usually omitted. marker would result in an unnatural sound. and Copula in English and in 17). is suitable to talk about the future. „Now. but not always. the copula be is the main verb in Viet- Vietnamese namese (Diep. For instance: sentence with a predicate. gentleman there be soldier presses unfulfilled actions or uncertainty. According to Celce- Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999). 87). 493). it is an aspect marker which happens to be suitable (17) Tên của tôi là Nam to talk about a certain time frame. and tense than any other verb With adjectives. 54). “In Vi- uncertainty of an event in the future. Dam which is the most frequent verb in English. changed into bought in English. 99). are.‟ were. In example 10.‟ carries some of the same meaning as Eng- lish be. sẽ is used to indicate According to Stassen (1997). and it im. Diep (2004) pointed out According to Celce-Murcia & Larsen. This does p. nominal predicates strongly prefer the presence of the particle „là’. be. plies the past.(11) Anh ấy đang ngủ. it „He is / was a soldier‟ (Stassen. 16. The Copula in Vietnamese Brother there marker sleep Although Vietnamese has a word là that „He is sleeping. hôm qua [yesterday] in First. in English” (p. 40 .” son. 87). that the Vietnamese là is also used with pos- Freeman (1999). frame. indicate a future time „My name is Nam‟ (Cao. 1998. which can be (12) Trời sẽ mưa characterized as a general „identificational Sky marker rain marker‟” (p. not mean that sẽ is a tense marker. According to Cao (1998). (19) Bây giờ.‟ (13) He is a professor. but the verb buy has to be 'He is a doctor'. In sentence 12 below. The Copula in English Secondly.1 Thus. In these cases (sentences 15. “Be. 1997. the house is yours. was. 2004. since sẽ ex. it is not used in quite the same way.‟ (16) Ông ấy là lính. Now house be của anh. Brother there be doctor ing sentence. Thirdly. etnamese. It links the subject of a to someone (p. and been. Vietnamese uses là when the predicate Vietnamese is the adverb of time. of you be has many forms. ngôi nhà là (14) Cotton is light. the verb to be serves as the sessions to indicate something that belongs copula in English. No tense marker is needed in this sentence because adding the tense (15) Anh ấy là bác sĩ. sẽ Name of me be Nam can. with its predicative adjective in Vietnamese. „It will rain. is a noun. Here are two (18) Quyển sách này là của tôi examples: Book this be of I „This book is mine.

always pre- ways in which languages arrange the consti. in context.‟ In this paper. „For me. with adjectives. For example: Butler and Mahnke (2004) noted that (21) Theo ý tôi.‟ that adverbs of manner describe the action of the verb and are placed after the verb and Diep added that the Vietnamese là is the object. 43). or of manner come (32) hơi đẹp after the verb and its object. (29) rất thích low are some examples: very much like „like very much‟ (23) like English very much (verb phrase) (30) rất đẹp (24) dance beautifully (verb phrase) very much beautiful „very beautiful‟ (25) very beautiful (adjective phrase) (31) hơi thích According to English grammar rules. may precede or adjectives in non-emphatic contexts. an ad- „That habit is good‟ (Diep. For example: này là đẹp this be beautiful (28) She sometimes drinks coffee. if any (Krohn. con- firm. hơi [little]. For example: used with adjectives only to emphasize. cực kỳ Phrasal Structures in English [extremely].(20) Tôi đói.. generally precedes and mod- 105).2 According to Phrasal Structures in English and in Diep (2004). a main verb) in the Vietnamese verb phrases and adjective sentence to link the subject with predicate phrases are constructed slightly differently nouns. verb. adverbs of place. possessive phrases. This paper will focus on verb phrases and adjective phrases. in Vietnamese. hơi [little].e. I hungry Similarly. For example: „little beautiful‟ (26) He studies English here. little like in verb phrases. It is or adjective phrases. some adverbs. p. „like little‟ ferent positions. Be. this picture is beautiful. follow the verb or adjective. 2004. when there from English phrases. To summarize. which show the degrees of the Phrasal structures refer to many different verbs or adjectives they modify. often omitted when occurring with predicate such as rất [very]. tuyệt [absolutely]. if present. depending on the lexical type of the adverb. adverbs can appear in dif. In Vietnamese verb is a need for emphasis. I will only discuss the (22) Thói quen đó là tốt adverb of manner. such as rất Vietnamese [very]. as in example (27). Holschuh (1991) mentioned „I am hungry. if any (p. cede the verb or adjective. or assert the meaning of the sentence (27) He does his work carefully. and. of time. little beautiful 1977. ifies the adjective as in example (25). 21). 41 . p. là is Phrasal Structures in Vietnamese used as a copula (i. bức tranh adverbs of frequency usually precede the Following idea I picture main verb. For example: tuents of sentences. For instance. Habit that be good In English adjective phrases. of degree. the adverb of manner.

Similarly. students may (34) mệt lắm also use the progressive aspect when the tired very much simple aspect is appropriate. always follow a verb or an ad. which also show degrees of verbs 287). hungry very much The reason why many students were „very hungry‟ confused about these two aspects might be that they do not realize that stative verbs. the modifier is Smith and Celce-Murcia and Larsen- placed in opposite positions. nity College. lắm [very]. These errors are similar to those Common Problems with the Copula be made by Vietnamese students. some Japanese students or adjectives. 1999. the office at the moment. p. I have realized that many Viet- ifier. pects of English which many Asian students make. (35) thích quá 1999. They also say He is Common Problems with Tense and Aspect work in the office at the moment or He working in Swan and Smith (2001) listed several mis. 2001. However. 2001. 315). modifier in the case of verb phrases. Students have problems with both the head word in the two languages. write sentences. the position of the namese learners have trouble with learning modifier in verb phrases and adjective tense and aspect in English and make the phrases in the two languages matches up kind of mistakes mentioned by Swan and well. which results in their mistakes. such as We are write to each jective to express some Vietnamese people‟s other in English instead of saying We write to speaking preferences (pp. In some cases. in the office at the moment. and sensory per- between English and Vietnamese is that in ception verbs are not used with the progres- English. 2001. As previously mentioned. They tend to omit the copula be in Common Problems of Vietnamese the progressive aspect before they add (-ing) Learners of English with Tense and to the main verb. but in some cases. or I am believing you instead of I believe you (Celce-Murcia & Lar- (36) đói quá sen-Freeman. For example. such Vietnamese when connecting a subject with as They eat dinner tonight instead of They are an adjective. thì can be omitted in donesian students produce sentences. „like very much‟ Further. sive aspect. according to Dam they reported that many Malaysian and In. p. 121). p. (2001). the copula là. Thus. stance: 301). I „very tired‟ am knowing the answer instead of saying I know the answer (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman. some adverbs. the Copula be. instead of She prac- Structures tices English every afternoon. I am wanting to see you instead of like very much I want to see you (Celce-Murcia & Larsen- „like very much‟ Freeman. p. 133). the copula be cannot 42 . In my thirteen years of teaching Eng- ever. each other in English (Swan & Smith. the position of the lish to EFL students at Kiengiang Commu- modifier depends only on the type of mod. Also. 460-461). 1999. some Chinese learners produce sentences. according to Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999). the position of the modifier de. For in. 122). a contrast in phrasal structures mental perception verbs. p. p. the forms and the context of use for English tenses. such as What do you read? instead (33) thích lắm of the correct sentence What are you reading? like very much (Swan & Smith. in Vietnamese. For instance. For example. How. quá [very]. instead of He is working takes about the simple and progressive as. and Phrasal She practice English every afternoon or She is prac- tice English every afternoon. as well as on the type of is progressive. they may say Aspect. These students may think that pends on whether the head of the phrase is a an action happening at the time of speaking verb or an adjective. before or after Freeman. eating dinner tonight (Swan & Smith. However.

such as adverb copula be must be present in the English phrases and verb phrases in Vietnamese. each other. ers (see Swan and Smith [2001] for similar have different types of teachers. but the lutely]. the Vietnamese influ- „He is poor. illustrated this by giving some examples: we very often fight each other * My sister and me we very often fight (37) Nó đói. As mentioned above. my students often mi- tive phrases because they are similar in Vi. equivalents. (41) Chị tôi và tôi etnamese learners omit the required form of older sister I and I be while making English sentences. Dam chúng tôi rất hay đánh nhau. The following examples many Vietnamese students may come from are very common among Vietnamese learn. suse the simple and progressive aspects. Non-English majors study English as a re- 43 . weather in Hawaii ‘My child is very sick today. or have different levels of motivation. the fact that they use different textbooks. He hungry „My sister and I fight each other very * He hungry. many Vi. (38) Hôm nay con tôi ốm nặng. 285). „He is omitted in English. (39) Chị ấy đẹp. often‟ (Swan & Smith. We very like Today child I sick heavy thời tiết ở Hawaii * My child very sick today. the copula be. The students‟ English sentences differ from those in English. neither là nor adjectives rất [very]. tuyệt [abso- thì is used in Vietnamese sentences. The biggest contrast is between English majors and non-English majors. The tive phrase rule to some verb phrases. If phrasal structures. hơi [little]. grammar mistakes at different rates. „He likes English very much. Common Problems with Phrasal Structures The Study Vietnamese learners seem not to have prob. 2001. the etnamese and English. Background lems with the positions of adverbs in adjec.’ * We very like weather in Hawaii.‟ (40) Anh ấy nghèo.‟ my students‟ actual sentences: (43) Anh ấy rất.‟ ence leads learners to produce correct utter- ances like examples (30 and 32) with In examples (39 and 40). older brother there very Older sister there beautiful thích tiếng Anh. p. the Vietnamese are ungrammatical because they follow the interference leads students to produce errors Vietnamese sentential structure.’ (42) Chúng tôi rất thích. like English „She is beautiful.‟ * He very like English. „We like the weather in Hawaii very The following (marked with an asterisk) are much. they different language proficiency levels of will make mistakes. * She beautiful. etnamese and English. older brother there poor When phrasal structures are the same in Vi- * He poor. as in examples (41-43). If students try to apply the adjec. and verb and adjective phrasal positions of adverbs in verb phrases in Eng. Students at different levels and in lish and Vietnamese sentences are slightly different majors seemed to make English different. However. follow dif- mistakes among Asian students of English). In reality. ferent curricula. structures.

when they that tested students on their use of the co- study listening and speaking skills. ranging from twenty to thirty between English majors and non. 3. the following questions were specifically formulated for this study: Subjects 1. Students were asked to finish the self and administered by my colleague at test in 30 minutes without discussion or ref- Kiengiang Community College in Vietnam. They objectively and to see the students‟ recogni- have only three 60-period semesters of tion knowledge on the two aspects. such as an oral interview. and majors and 47 were non-English majors. of the Vietnamese text may induce more ent proficiency levels among my students. namese into English. I transfer from the native language than other asked both English majors and non-English formats. For example. so both teachers and students thermore. Fur- their careers. Is there transfer from Vietnamese to The teacher had thirteen years of English English in the students‟ use of the teaching experience. I counted the number of students part of the test used a multiple-choice for. the the same teacher. Howev- English. the copula be. However. the multiple choice technique also allows books for non-English majors. However. They use integrated skills text. How seriously and frequently do Viet. their main goals in learning English are to which means that I could not know exactly read books and to do research related to if students really understood or not. the level of vocabulary and Research Questions grammar structures was set to be simple Based on the literature review and my own and familiar to students. the multiple choice format does focus on grammar. The second part the other hand. Seventy-two students took the test. copula be. who chose each option for the multiple mat with four options per item. The selected stu- Instrument dents were not informed about the test in A test (see Appendix) was designed by my. tested students on the two grammar items: After getting the results from the the simple and progressive aspects. have. Realizing the differ. phrasal structures? majoring in computer science and business administration. erence materials. Unlike the listening and speaking skills textbooks and multiple-choice section. they use pula be and phrasal structures. the presence sters to learn English. cause they attended classes taught by the mar problems? same teacher who participated in this study. The mul- 44 . required students to show their English lan- They have a total of five 60-period seme. Among namese students make mistakes with these students. The test was scored by simple and progressive aspects. advance. might majors to participate in this study. from Viet- four skills in separate courses using differ.g. and vocabulary not show how students would use the rather than on speaking and listening. teaching experience. and phrasal structures? Procedure The teacher gave the test to her classes dur- Methodology ing normal class hours. students to have a 25% chance of guessing. English majors study all of the test was a translation task. the teacher collected and graded part included ten multiple choice items that the answers. 25 were first year English English aspect. the translation part just focus on practicing these two skills. The students were selected be- English majors regarding these gram. reading.. er.quired course in their academic program tiple choice technique allowed me to score (e. Is there a difference in performance 29 males. The first the test. This teacher. with twelve sentences ent books for each. business or computer science). Since the students‟ level was pre- intermediate. There were 43 females and 2. years of age. After the students finished The test consisted of two parts. On forms in real life situations. guage ability in use.

3% 8 22* 17* 2 23 0 2 1 5 88% 36. What is the name of that pic. I _________ her every day and (a) I don't often travel (*) she never says hello to me. (d) not understanding terisk (*) indicates the correct answer.6% 10 5 8 12* 12* 0 3 8 24 20% 17% 48% 25.2% 4% 10. Maj.3% 32% 51% Notes.7% 8% 4. An as.7% 12% 29. I grouped the sen- such as adverbs of frequency or adverbs of tences into two types: sentences with ad- 45 . _______ every single thing and percentage of students who chose each which that man says? option for the first part of the test. 1 19* 25* 1 14 2 2 3 6 76% 53. (a) try ture which you _________ on the wall? (b) am trying (*) (a) are look at (c) will trying (b) is looking at (d) am try (c) are looking at (*) (d) look at Table 1 below presents the number Question 4. (a) Do you believe (*) (b) Is you believing Table 1 English Majors’ and Non-English Majors’ Responses to the Multiple Choice Items (English majors: n=25.3 Question 8. Therefore. „I _______ to remember your (d) am see name but I'm afraid I can't remember it‟. Non-m. Maj.5% 0% 6.2% 4% 29. Non-m. Maj.1% 8% 48. Students’ Errors with the Simple and (a) don‟t understand (*) Progressive Aspects (b) am not understanding The sentences below are selected from the (c) understand not first part of the test for the analysis.: Non-English majors. Non-English majors: n=47) Item Options number A B C D Maj.9% 20% 8. _______ by air because the cost of flying is very high. (d) Are you believe Question 5.1% 8% 6.5% 20% 14.5% 4 18* 19* 0 1 2 20 5 7 72% 40.7% 0% 2.4% 0% 2.2% 12% 12. Non-m.1% 8% 42.5% 0% 0% 52% 48. Maj.8% 5 20* 29* 3 14 0 1 2 3 80% 61. which helped them realize which as- did better on sentences containing clues.choice items and recorded what the students (c) Are you believing wrote in the translation section. Non-m.9% 0% 4. Non-m. pect to use. Sometimes I _______ what Findings the teacher says to me. (b) I'm not often traveling (a) see (*) (c) I'll not often traveling (b) am seeing (d) I am not often travel (c) will see Question 10.: English majors. *: Answer key One observation is that the students time. Question 2.7% 2 7 20 0 0 13* 23* 5 4 28% 42. Question 1.

and this meant that they students. with question 10. progressive aspect in option B. non-English majors did not chose the correct answer. just 36.7% of non. non-English majors still seemed to be con- sive aspects.1% compared to 48. was majors and 53. quency sometimes. were still confused used to indicate the simple aspect. which low. was confused between the simple and progres- low: 52% for English majors and 48. That the presence of non-English majors chose option A. fused about the simple and progressive as- Similarly with sentence 5. chose option A. pect. and non-English majors choosing the cor. on question English majors and 51% for non-English 2. 25. perhaps thanks to the adverb of pared to 42. 20% of English majors and 17% of Adverbs of Time. and D. For example. However. the correct answer (A) was low. Of note. This suggests chose option B. so they still chose options C and D. option D.5% of non-English Students made fewer errors on the two as- majors chose option D. maybe because of the adverb of fre. about using the forms of the simple and quite a few non-English majors chose op.7% of non-English choosing the correct answer (A) was very majors chose the correct answer (A). simple and progressive aspects well. which shows that the majority and 88% of them chose the correct answer of first year English majors have learned the (A). 76% of English correct answer (A). Sentences with Adverbs of Frequency or Ad. The gests that many students understood the percentage of non-English majors choosing difference between the simple and progres. majors and non-English majors mistook the English majors.8% did not realize that the adverb every day is of non-English majors. However. both English 12% of English majors and 29. Some stu. the number of students who chose more problems with the simple and progres. the progressive aspect. which means that tage of students choosing option B was very they still did not have a clear idea about the low. which con. 40. verbs of Time.verbs and sentences without adverbs. This sug. 20% of English majors and 14. the simple aspect. the incorrect formulations of the sive aspects when there was no adverb of two aspects. aspects. English majors did well on question 4. A that most students understood the differ. English majors and 8. some still chose option C. the percentage of both English majors majors. which frequency every day. some students. Many stu- Sentences without Adverbs of Frequency or dents. In ad- English majors and non-English majors had dition. Finally.5% for non-English majors. The percen- dents chose option D. Also. was still very high. Students did well on sentences The percentage of students choosing the 1 and 5. pects with the presence of these adverbs as and 28% of English majors and 42.5% of in sentences 1 and 5. With question 1.4% com- sive aspects. the simple aspect. progressive aspects and chose options B tion B. still chose option B which simple aspect in option A for the correct contains the progressive aspect. containing the simple aspect. (A). the progressive aspect. However.9% for sive aspects when there are no clues to help non-English majors. few students did not understand how the ence between the simple and progressive simple and progressive aspects are formed. some students contains the progressive aspect. this option. only 48% for English majors and form of these aspects. aspects. Only one English major student chose English majors did well on question 8. 80% of pects because the percentage of students English majors and 61. understand the uses and the forms of the tains the simple form of the verb. many students were still rect answer (C). 32% for frequency or time. Twenty percent of them to distinguish between the two aspects. In general. the in. adverbs of time and frequency influences the students‟ errors more or less may be 46 .9% who contains the simple aspect. which contains the progressive as. for accurate forms of the simple and progressive analysis and discussion. The results show that both non-English majors. distinction between the simple and progres. However.5% who chose option C.2% of non-English majors 72%.

Since my goal is to Sentence 7.‟ contains Vietnamese sentences with là. it is produced the sentence marked with (*).1%) non-English majors First. verbs. in the other type of sen- sentences into English.‟ As shown in Table 2. where Sentence 4. ing. 47 . „I am very hungry. 5 Công việc đầu tiên của tôi là Three out of 25 (12%) English majors Job first of I be and 11 out of 47 (23. tence. Vietnamese learners omitted be forms when „Although my parents are poor. Tôi đói lắm. tense and aspect are largely indicated by ad. Seven out of 25 (28%) Eng- Sentence 1.2%) non-English majors sentence. but in contexts where it cannot be translated as Three out of 25 (12%) English majors and be in English. of the Vietnamese copula influenced pro- duction of be in English. form of be when translating the Vietnamese In contrast. the percentage of errors was the highest in sentence 3. without the copula là or thì.‟ Students’ Errors with the Copula Be Four out of 25 (16%) English majors and 9 The second part of the test (see Appendix) out of 47 (19. The Seven out of 25 (28%) English majors and reason could be that sentence 3 is a complex 18 out of 47 (38. consisting of 2 clauses. many students omitted required wrote the sentence marked with (*). they are translating these sentences. nhưng họ rất rộng lượng. very generous. một kỹ sư đã làm cho jors wrote the sentence marked with (*).another transfer from Vietnamese. was consistent with what I expected. 5 out of 47 (11. that non-English majors I hungry very much made more mistakes than English majors * I very hungry. but they very Table 2 below summarizes how the generous. „He is very intelligent.‟ but they very generous * Although my parents poor. when there was là in a sentence.4%) non-English ma. divided the sentences into two types: the Today miss there tired very much first type contains Vietnamese sentences *Today she very tired. see if there is transfer from Vietnamese. possible that L1 influence was interacting with L2 complexity in this case.2%) non- Anh ấy rất thông minh. „My first job as an engineer made me tired. dents tended to translate là into the English be incorrectly. Sentence 3. I Hôm nay cô ấy mệt lắm.1%) non-English majors was collected and analyzed to see how use wrote the sentence marked with (*).‟ Sentence 12. I tired Mặc dù cha mẹ tôi nghèo * My first job is an engineer make me bor- Although parents I poor. one engineer marker make give tôi mệt. stu- sults of the test. lish majors and 18 out of 47 (38.4 * He very intelligent. Overall. Thus. English majors wrote the sentence without Brother there very intelligent the copula be. Below are some re. the second type „She is very tired today. The predic- tion from the Contrastive Analysis Hypo- thesis may be too simplistic to account for cases like this.

* Although my parents poor. 6. very generous. For sentences with verb phrases (the the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis was second group). * I very hungry. Tôi đói lắm. guages matches (sentences 1. the adjective (or verb) in their English. and 8. 6. the students made errors only partially supported by the data.1% Students’ Errors with Phrasal Structures Sentence 3.2% Sentence 4 4 9 đói lắm [very hungry] 16% 19. verbs precede the verbs in the original Viet- ers to place an intensifier adverb before an namese. Sen. The second group in. I hungry very much rectly when the word order in the two lan. 3.Table 2 Omission of the Copula be Number and percentage of learners omitting the copula Test sentences be English majors Non-English majors (n= 25) (n=47) Sentence 1 3 11 rất thông minh [very intelligent] 12% 23. nhưng họ rất rộng lượng. but they very cludes sentences 2. Anh ấy rất thông minh. The first group in. most stu.6 tion (Zobl. „He is very intelligent. For sentences with adjective phrases „Although my parents are poor. and 4 in part 2 of the but they very generous test (see Appendix). they are (English word order: modifier + adjective.1% Sentence 7 3 5 mệt lắm [very tired] 12% 11. p. with verbal phrases in sentences 2. In this case. 2006. cludes sentences 1. For ease of reference. and 8. dents placed the adverbs and adjectives cor. Brother there very intelligent * He very intelligent. the ad- Spada. generous. Sentence 1. Thus. tence 4 might exemplify an overgeneraliza. the verb phrase group. depending on Sentence 4.4% Sentence 3 7 18 rất rộng lượng [very generous] 28% 38. 79) by the Vietnamese learn. 1980.‟ 48 . the modifier‟s lexical features). Mặc dù cha mẹ tôi nghèo tences into the adjective phrase group and Although parents I poor. as cited in Lightbown & perhaps because in these sentences. 3) as well as „I am very hungry.‟ when the word order between the two lan- guages does not match (sentence 4). influence of Vietnamese on English may have led students to make errors (Table 3). I divided the sen. unlike in English. all of which contain the verb thích [like].‟ Vietnamese word order: modifier + adjec- tive or adjective + modifier.

copula là. especially the simple and progressive mance between English majors and non- aspects. translating the Vietnamese of errors ranged from 0% to 28% for Eng. They translated the sen- linker.7% for students did better on sentences with ad. Third.Table 3 Errors with the Placement of Adverbs in Verb Phrases Number and percentage of learners mis- Test phrases placing adverbs in verb phrases English majors Non-English majors (n= 25) (n=47) Sentence 2 7 19 rất thích chơi đàn [like to play the guitar very much] 28% 40. 219-220). it The reason these students had such might lead students to make errors. High frequency of the input has fused about the positions of adverbs in verb been shown to help students learn a form phrases when translating Vietnamese sen- (e. Second. However.. gressive aspects. and the lack of knowledge about the differences between Discussion their native language and the target language. they usually omitted jors might be related to the fact that the ex. tences. 2008. English aspect. N. The re. there lowing ways: was a difference in performance between RQ1: How seriously and frequently do English majors and non-English majors re- Vietnamese students make mistakes with garding these grammar problems. problems? swer the three research questions in the fol. the copula be. According to the test results. thì was one of the major problems lish majors and from 21. the copula be.g. 2002. The results an. the percentage of English majors who on sentences that do not contain these ad. However.5 % to 61. lish majors and from 25. might be the lack of cues. the lack of là. specifically on the simple and pro- For the simple and progressive aspects. tween the two languages did not match. the percentages verbs. study. When students translated from Viet- rect rate for sentence 6 among English ma. many itself is more common than other two ex. In addi- verbs of frequency or adverbs of time than tion. and phrasal structures English majors regarding these grammar in Vietnamese and English. The results mean tences as if they were writing Vietnamese that when word order in verb phrases be. This study focused on examining tense and RQ 2: Is there a difference in perfor- aspect. thì [copula] in the orig- cy of input. the high cor.2% Sentence 8 5 15 rất thích thời tiết [like the weather very much] 25% 31. as cited in Gass & Se.4% Sentence 6 0 10 rất thích anh [like you very much] 0% 21.9% As shown in Table 3. Vietnamese students of English were con- pressions. serious problems with these grammar points sults thus supported the Contrastive Analy. Ellis. such as adverbs of sis Hypothesis to some extent and point to frequency or adverbs of time in some sen- other sources of errors such as low frequen. made errors with the copula be was lower 49 . non-English majors (see Table 1). the required be form or inserted it when the pression rất thích anh [like you very much] Vietnamese original used là. namese into English. sentences.2% to 40. Generally. The percentages of correct the overall finding showed that students had answers ranged from 48% to 88% for Eng- serious and frequent problems. pp. and phrasal English majors did better than non-English structures? majors. inal Vietnamese sentences.4% for for the English language learners in this non-English majors. tences into English.

the findings also point to the limita- English majors. from Vietnamese to English in the simple My first suggestion is on the simple and progressive aspects. L1 influence. The per. L2 complexity. and students performed better when there was games. using the simple aspect. Students progressive aspect.2% to 40. students may be- es because the positions of adverbs and ad. Analysis Hypothesis to some extent. In addition. and other students make sentences by students influenced by the use of Vietnam. Although this is a preliminary study. 79). thentic listening activities. Similarly. How- tures. L1 influence was also happening with the sounds on the tape using seen in the students‟ insertion of the copula the progressive aspect. given more varied contexts. in front of the class. lish majors and 11.1% to 38. copula be. The teacher can also problems among Vietnamese while they ask some of them to show some pictures of were learning English grammar. such as picture de- the use of adverbs of time and frequency to scriptions. The teacher asks them to make sen- Secondly. and “learners‟ de- more class hours for English than non. All these specula. the aspects. and progressive aspects. sitions of adverbs and ordinary verbs are centages ranged from 12% to 28% for Eng. thì 50 . Teachers should fer seen in the high rate of errors with tense help students practice the two aspects in and aspect. influence of the Vietnamese copula là. sults provided some insights about the fre- RQ3: Is there transfer from Vietnam.4% for non-English majors. The findings support the Contrastive English majors. jors‟ courses were substantially different p. quency and nature of Vietnamese learners‟ ese to English in the simple and progressive errors with English tense and aspect. English majors did better than non. 2006. ever. Based on tures? these insights. The teacher can also be in English sentences when là appears in ask some volunteers to mime some actions Vietnamese sentences. errors may also be due to The reasons for the difference in perfor. students pictures of somebody‟s daily rou- tence. they had My next suggestion is to minimize the problems with verb phrases because the po. with phrasal struc. and phrasal structures. I propose some suggestions First of all. learners‟ overgeneralization. to ask students to listen to some sounds on lems with using the correct form of the co.2% for non. storytelling. somewhat the same. tine. information gap activities. In addition to 21. the influence of the Viet. However. According their family members‟ daily routines to the to the test results. the English ma. veloping knowledge of the structures of the English majors. au- indicate tense and aspect in Vietnamese. tences about that person‟s daily activities namese copula was definitely one of the using the simple aspect. For example.than that of non-English majors. the teacher may give an adverb of time or frequency in the sen. and the percentages ranged tions of the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis from 0% to 28% for English majors and in predicting learners‟ errors. the copula be. from those of non-English majors and that could have contributed to the difference. different in Vietnamese and English. Another example is ese là. but also in the fact that. mance might be that English majors had low frequency of input. the re- tions need further research to be confirmed. and other students The last L1 influence is seen in the make sentences about the actions using the students‟ use of phrasal structures. and phrasal struc. in contexts such as these. Teaching Implications for Further. a tape and make sentences about what is pula be in English. there seemed to be transfer for teaching. the language attitudes of English Vietnamese Students at Kiengiang majors were probably different from those Community College of non-English majors. By practicing sentences did not make mistakes with adjective phras. the percentages of the class. Not only was trans. come more aware of how to use the two jectives in English and Vietnamese are aspects. target language” (Lightbown & Spada. thì meant that the students had prob.

ngữ pháp. an experienced tutor who proofread my paper. ings of “tense” and “aspect” in Viet. and students can make sentences like His father likes jogging or His father likes jogging 4 With English majors. References Butler. Celce-Murcia. and helped make some sense of the confusion. the teacher can ask students to look can (e.g. two students omitted the co- pula be in the adverb clause. Tiếng Việt: Mấy vấn đề vietnamnet. I am. ble as an answer if it is said by a doctor about a pa- The teacher can ask students to translate tient who is anti-social or is not following American greeting rituals. L. not all verbs in Vietnamese can take a mod- ifier of manner such as rất [very]. Thành Phố Hồ (1999). 77). H. The grammar book: An Chí Minh: Nhà Xuất Bản Giáo Dục. hơi [rather]. my colleague and my wife. loquial Vietnamese. p. hơi [little]. Chuyện tiếng mẹ đẻ [On grammar links. Basic Cao. H. Hanh Nguyen who has been devoted to my study. X. [like]. and semantics]. 6This is a limitation of this study. of their families to class.and word order on English learning. First. New York: Houghton our mother tongue]. Hanh Nguyen and has given me the oppor- tunities to finish this study. Retrieved March Mifflin. tent errors in English written by Viet- 51 . Old habits die hard: Persis- namese]. With non-English other pictures in pairs or groups of three. ngữ âm. P. She participated in this study and always offers me support and love. from http://nguoivienxu. M. verb clause. M. or *rất ôm rather in adjective and verb phrases. lắm [very] of be as well as adverbs such as very. ESL/EFL teacher‟s course (2nd ed. pula be] rất [very]. lishing. Ngôn ngữ. and nine students omitted the copula the teacher can also design a questionnaire be in both clauses. or heavily influ- enced by English structure. or a table with sentences for students. p. I would like to express my deep thanks to Dr. D. photos in which they will need to use forms However. however. Students will make 2 According to Cao (1998). Đàm. and as in *rất mua [very buy]. at Nam‟s family photo that is hung on the 256).. Jean Kirschenmann who has worked with Dr. syn. 18.. 3 The correct answers only reflect common language Students can produce sentences like His usage. H. For example. ấp [very cuddle] while Vietnamese adjectives usually ample.. little. (2004). hơi mệt [little tired]. (1998). responsible for any remaining errors. 2008. To Phuong Nguyen. For ex. Stu- dents can talk with their friends about their 5 This sentence is rather bookish. X. Option B in Question 1 is possi- mother is rather thin or His mother is a bit thin.) Cao. a variety of verbs and adjectives should be used. In future research. Notes situated practice may help. hơi [rather] or thích [like]. & Larsen-Freeman. Acknowledgements This study would not have been possible without the support of many people. *rất đi [very walk]. I would like to thank Prof. the class copula be in the main clause. It could also be said by the patient sentences with rất [very]. It does not appear in col- family members in order to practice thì [co. one student omitted the very much. Also. read my numerous revisions. Cao. tax. Based on the sentences. (2001). or thích about the doctor. & Mahnke. rất thích [like very much] in real contexts. ngữ nghĩa [Vietnam. 2004/12/358660/ ese: Some problems in phonology. six students omitted the copula be in the ad- make students feel freer in communication. most Vietnamese verbs sentences about members in their family and adjectives share similar grammatical features. 2-31. Many thanks also to Dora Chee. rất đẹp [very beautiful]. the 1According to Le (1972. For example. board and make sentences with rather or little. and four students omit- can practice and do the same activities with ted the copula be in both clauses. X. Về ý nghĩa “Thì” và Boston: International Thompson Pub- “Thể” trong tiếng Việt [On the mean. I would like to express my special thanks. sẽ in this sentence teacher could ask students to bring photos indicates future tense. 5. (1998). To majors. (2004). three students omitted the copula be in the main clause.

Ngôn Ngữ. Intransitive Predication. Second lan. Retrieved October 5. & Smith. 2007. N. (1977). Hà Nội: Nhà Xuất [A preliminary review of Vietnamese Bản Giáo Dục. 2007. Learner Eng- ed. Krohn. W/W01/W01-0809. L. Dictionary of con- English-Test. & Selinker. UK: Oxford University Panilov. guages are learned (3rd ed. (1997). H. lish (2nd ed. 1-7. (2008). (2006). temporary English (3rd ed. UK: Cam- bridge University Press. grammar]. Martin‟s Press. B. from http://www. grammar. guage acquisition: An introductory course (3rd Swan.). Một lần nữa về phạm learn/english/grammar/ei010/ trù thì trong tiếng Việt [One more esl-test. Lê.php time on the notion of tense in Viet- Holschuh. from (2007). Ox- Gass.).. http://www. from http://acl. Burnt Mill. Stassen.english-test. (1972).d. P. (2004). (2002). 52 . How lan- machine translation. (1991). (n. Diệp.pdf Longman group Ltd (1995). Retrieved October 5.). Sơ Thảo Ngữ Pháp Tiếng Việt namese grammar]. Oxford. Longman Retrieved October 5. L. New York: Routledge.. UK: Longman. B. Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh: Đòan. Generation of Vietnamese for Nhà Xuất Bản Giáo Dục. New 2007. Q. 154.htm Press. namese York: Oxford University Press. French-Vietnamese and English-Vietnamese Lightbown. Cambridge. M. C..). The elements of English namese]. New York: St. (2001). ESL test present tense. English sentence structure. & Spada. ford. Michigan: The University of Michigan quangio/damtrungphap1101. Ngữ Pháp Tiếng Việt [Viet. L. L. S.ldc.).

.... Appendix Kiengiang Community College English Quiz Time allotted: 30 minutes (Answer keys are marked with an asterisk) Student‟s name: _________________________________________ Date of test: _____/______/_____ Part I: Choose the best answer to each of the sentences below.. (a)* see (b) am seeing (c) will see (d) am see 2.. Sometimes I ....... .... (a) are look at (b) is looking at (c)* are looking at (d) look at 3. every single thing which that man says? (a)* Do you believe (b) Is you believing (c) Are you believing (d) Are you believe 5.. (a)* don't understand (b) am not understanding (c) understand not (d) not understanding 53 .. What is the name of that picture which you .. 1.... I .. her every day and she never says hello to me................. to see that film that is on at the cinema next week? (a) Do you go (b) Is you going (c) Are you go (d)* Are you going 4.. . on the wall.. what the teacher says to me.

. late every time we arrange to meet? (a)* is he (b) he is (c) is he being (d) does he 8..english-test. Later tonight I . (a) try (b)* am trying (c) will trying (d) am try (Adapted from http://www. 4..... they are very generous. I am very hungry... . She likes to play the guitar very 2... Cô ấy rất thích chơi đàn ghi-ta. by air because the cost of flying is very high. Although my parents are poor. (a)* come (b) are come (c) are coming (d) is coming 10.... He is very intelligent. I . 3. to remember your name but I'm afraid I can't remember it.... (a)* I don't often travel (b) I'm not often travelling (c) I'll not often traveling (d) I am not often travel 9. Why . who is ill in hospital... Mặc dù cha mẹ tôi nghèo nhưng họ rất rộng lượng. you must bring that book..php) Part II: Translate into English (answer keys are provided) 1.. to my house. Next time you ... Tôi đói lắm.6. (a) visit (b) am visit (c) are visiting (d)* am visiting 7. Anh ấy rất thông minh.... 54 ........... my uncle..

5. I have met her before. very much. Anh ấy chẳng hiểu gì cả. He is sleeping/ he slept. She is very tired today. He is looking at the picture very carefully. Tôi rất thích thời tiết ở Mỹ. Anh ấy nhìn bức tranh chăm chú. My first job as an engineer made me bored. My mother likes you very much. 6. 55 . He doesn‟t understand at all. I like the weather in the U. Tôi đã gặp cô ấy rồi. 11. Công việc đầu tiên của tôi là một kỹ sư đã làm cho tôi mệt. Hôm nay cô ấy mệt lắm. Anh ấy ngủ. 10. 12.S. 7. 9. Mẹ tôi rất thích anh đấy. 8.

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