Monday, July 23, 2007

Tag Questions for ESL Students

"Tag questions" are one of the more difficult areas for ESL and EFL students. They know that you are asking a question, but the difficulty is in figuring out whether their answer should be a positive (yes) or a negative (no) answer. This is the first problem.

Understanding intonation is the other difficult area of tag questions for ESL students. As most native English speakers know, when a tag question is used, it can be used in two ways: (1) when the speaker doesn't know the answer to the question and is asking for an answer, and (2) when the speaker is not really asking a question, but rather, is asking for agreement from the listener. For example, "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?" The speaker isn't really asking for a weather report, but rather, is making a comment and asking the speaker to agree with him or her.

Whether the speaker asking a tag question is really asking a question or just asking for agreement is a matter of intonation (another difficult area for English language learners). If the tag question "goes up," then the speaker is really asking for an answer. If the tag question "goes down," then the speaker is asking for agreement.

There are two forms of tag questions:

affirmative sentence + negative tag question = an affirmative answer is expected

negative sentence + affirmative tag question = a negative answer is expected

I find that after the basic above formulas are taught to my ESL students, then we really need to practice with drills in order for them to truly get it.


1 comment:

EvaSensei said...

I'm a newish ESL teacher and I recently confused myself when trying to explain how to answer negative questions. For example:

Don't you like pizza? --> I think the person doesn't like pizza; I expect him to answer "No I don't."

Can't you swim? --> same thing.


Isn't it a beautiful day? --> I think it IS a beautiful day and I expect the person to answer "Yes it is."

Why is there this discrepancy in anticipated answers (affirmative vs. negative)? Is it because of the be-verb?

Any help anyone can give will be much appreciated!