I used to be an ESL teacher of adult learners for about 4 years. I noticed one common mistake students made when practicing present simple tense. Even now, I have still seen it in my daily conversation with my colleagues and friends. I used to discuss this issue with my fellow teachers before when i was a teacher, and they said they experienced the same problem. That common mistake which I am trying to say is this:

Instead of saying “I do not eat fish.”, some students say “I am not eat fish.”. Another example is, instead of saying, “I have 2 sisters.”, they say, ” I am have 2 sisters.”. Can you spot the mistake in each example?

In both examples, we do not use auxiliary verb “be”. In the first example, “eat” is a verb. In a negative sentence, we use “do not or don’t ” for the first person singular and first person plural such as I, You, We, They. In the second example, “have” is also a verb, and it is used in a positive sentence. Therefore, it does not need any auxiliary verbs.

I used to wonder why some students still made this mistake though I repeatedly explained to them in various ways. Until one day, I realized a root cause of their not understanding. In this article, I would love to share with you with ESL teachers and learners who are struggling with this issue and how you can resolve it.

The root cause which I found was some of my students did not learn about word classes or parts of speech before. They could not identify which word is a noun, adjective, or a verb, for example. Therefore, they did not catch it when I told them we did not use the auxiliary verb “be(am/is/are)” in a positive sentence because there was a verb “have” already, they could only remember that “have” is a verb. Thus, when they saw new words, they made the same mistake again because they did not know whether that new word was a verb. Having figured out this issue, I taught them some basic about parts of speech. Then, they became clearer and did not make that mistake like they did before. I was so happy.

After all, there could be other factors as well. However, this is my experience when I was a teacher. If you have not tried my technique yet, I think you should try. If you already tried, and it did not work, please feel free to share your experience in the comments below. I would love to know too.