Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why is word order so hard...

Depressing moment looking at some students doing review problem sets for me.... 100% of my students can tell me that "te quiero" means "I love you." I'm pretty sure, also, that they could tell you that "te" means "you" in that sentence, and that the "o" ending there means "I."

However, applying this same pattern to any other sentence (any sentence not already memorized as a stock phrase) is shockingly hard for even bright kids to do consistently.

For example, if I give a test with "la quiero" or "me dan una coca cola", a good percentage of students will answer "she wants" or "I give them a soda."

I've hammered on this fundamental bit of Spanish just about every way I can think of, yet I still can't say I've made half as much progress with this as I'd like to. It seems to take well over a year for this pattern to really sink in... if I weren't speaking from experience, I'd think it could be done with one day's lesson.

4 comments:

Michael said...
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Michael said...

I would say that this was not intuitive to me after six years of learning Spanish. I think a general explanation of how different languages can have different word order in sentences, and that English is a SVO language and that Spanish is SVO except when the object is a pronoun, in which case it is OVS (am I right?) would have been helpful for me, at least.

Michael said...

well, I guess it's actually SOV in those cases, i.e. yo la quiero, if you were going to included the subject pronoun.

Tom Hinkle said...

Actually, like many languages on the synthetic end of the spectrum, Spanish does not rigidly specify the order. The order depends on your meaning.

The following are all valid sentences, with subtle differences in emphasis:

La quiero.
Yo la quiero.
La quiero yo.

And, in many dialects, the following are also possible (though discouraged with DO pronouns in official Spanish -- these are required with IDO pronouns in all variants of Spanish):

La quiero a ella.
A ella la quiero.
Yo a ella la quiero.
A ella la quiero yo.
Yo la quiero a ella.
La quiero yo a ella.
La quiero a ella yo.
A ella yo la quiero.
etc.