Saudi ESL Challenges: Problems with Present Simple


The following information is intended to assist teachers understand the background of a typical adult ESL learner in Saudi Arabia.

Typical Saudi ESL learners, even those with high levels of fluency, may face difficulty in using the present simple verb tense, in various ways.

Present simple used for the past!

A student who forgot his homework may say, “I don’t do my homework.” Or a student may say, “Yesterday I go to the beach.”

Flawed construction of present simple verbs

A student may say, “I am go to the beach every day,” or, “She is go to the mall.”

Misuse of the -s ending

A student may say, “He study English.” Leaving out the -s ending is much more common than adding it mistakenly.

They may also use present simple, or a flawed attempt at present simple, when other verb tenses are required.

Origin: Fossilized error acquired from non-native speakers

Suggested methods of correction:

Constant focus on correct usage of present simple

Put on a friendly show of misunderstanding based on what their language really conveys. Example: “I do not do my homework.” (intending: I forgot my homework today.) Say: Oh really!? How long have you had this policy?

Lots of conversation practice about habits and policies.

Never repeat the mistake or lower yourself to using the language incorrectly to convey any message! (I actually heard a teacher say once, “Oh, you don’t do your homework yesterday? No problem, just be sure to do it tonight.”)

Remember that students need to hear correct usage of the language in all situations.  Repeating a mistake or using bad language, even as an example or a “fix the mistake” activity, could actually work against you. 

The series of posts beginning with “Saudi ESL Challenges…” seeks to address some of the specific problems related to typical Saudi English learners.

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