Teaching Regional Grammatical Features to Immigrants

Sometimes we ESL teachers forget that an important feature of our training programs is to help our students achieve as competent a level of language as is necessary, to help these good people to "fit in," as new Texans. In that process, we must eschew total formality and assist them to sound as authentic as possible in regional American English. In my "Applied Phonology" workshops, the objective is to train the ears to hear and discriminate new sounds in their second language and raise students' speech to the level that it is understood in malls, banks, libraries and saloons. Sometimes specific grammatical features also need to be covered, including those regional structures that endear us to each other and enhance communication. I have decided to include the following structures in a future textbook: 1. "THE FUTURE FIXATIVE TENSE." The future-fixative tense covers near-term intentions. This functional concept seem to be lacking in other parts of our great nation, with the possible exception of the "future-about-to tense," used in New England and parts of the Rocky Mountains, such as in "I'm about to catch a lobster," or "I'm about to whack that elk."

Example: "I'm fixin' to go to Amarillo." This is a nearer-term variation on the future tense, which is normally expressed by including a future time marker, such as "I will go to Amarillo next week." The future fixative tense doesn't have to include a time marker, as other Texans can perceive the soon-to-happen inevitability of the action. After a brief explanation, the following mixed-substitution exercise should reinforce this tense.

I'm fixin' to brush my teeth.
(armadillo) I'm fixin' to brush my armadillo.
(We) We're fixin' to brush our armadillo.
(Hummer) We're fixin' to brush our Hummer.
(Mary Sue) Mary Sue is fixin' to brush her Hummer.
(drive) Mary Sue is fixin' to drive her Hummer.

Another important regional structure is the 2. "FUTURE AGONNATIVE TENSE." This structure is normally preceded by a pronoun and is perhaps indicative of an even firmer intention to communicate immediacy.

Example: "We're a gonna' bust your jaw, if you don't clean up that mess." There is a semantic trace of threat in this tense, and it tends to get even more reaction than the future fixative tense, which most of the time is more neutral in intentional aspects. This tense can also be taught and reinforced through substitution exercises, perhaps with the jaw more clenched than in the previous exercise. For example:

I'm a gonna' whomp you.
(kick) I'm a gonna' kick you.
(chase) I'm a gonna' chase you.
(We're) We're a gonna chase you.
(him) We're a gonna chase him.

We must continue remember that part of our function as ESL teachers is to help our students to assimilate linguistically and culturally, as fully as possible.

© '04-Ted Klein