Without any doubt, the use of phrasal verbs when speaking can turn out to be a challenge for our Spanish-speaking students. These idiomatic collocations, which native talkers use so naturally in their discourse, are difficult for foreign learners to acquire and, therefore, to deal with. It’s worth then summarizing the reasons why our students find them so difficult and how our methodology could help them.
Usually we give our students lots of practice in understanding the form of phrasal verbs since their arrangement can be confusing if we consider that there are two-word phrasal verbs or three-word phrasal verbs. Compare: look up vs. look up to. Also, if we match break into vs. break in, we’ll come up with another classification: transitive and intransitive verbs. Finally, there is another important aspect that has to do with the form affecting meaning. If we compare pick up (the noun) vs pick up (the verb) we’ll notice that the stress on the preposition will make the difference on whether we are using the noun or the verb.
Another source of difficulty lies in deducing the meaning of phrasal verbs as in the case of “keep up with” where the three words together are acting as a unit of meaning.
Finally, their use proves to be very challenging. We know that our students are reluctant to incorporating them in their oral production in spite of the fact that their use is a very natural trait of native speakers. Spanish-speaking students, in particular, would tend to select a single-word verb instead of a phrasal verb.
If the meaning and use of phrasal verbs are as difficult as their form, then our practice in class should go beyond intensive form practice such as determining whether phrasal verbs are transitive or intransitive. If we bear in mind that the meaning and use of phrasal verbs are as important as their form, then we would be leading a more communicative practice aiming to facilitate their acquisition.
What do YOU think?
Do you also find it difficult to learn (and use) them?
How do you deal with incorporating them in your everyday speech?