For the past two weekends I have been filling in for my colleague who teaches the beginner class, and it is very frustrating. Almost all of the students come from two closely related countries which speak more-or-less the same language, and spend more time speaking that language than they do English. Today, one student said he was travelling to his country for a holiday tomorrow, and I said “Safe trip” as a throwaway comment. We immediately got bogged down on the difference between travel and trip. It would be nice if one was purely a verb and the other purely a noun, but both are both, and while travel has basically the same meaning as a verb or noun, trip is entirely different as a verb. When the student used his translator, I couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t getting the stumble meaning. (Also, travel as a noun is uncountable, while trip is countable.)
He then flicked back a few pages in his notebook and said “Can I say I’m travel go home?”. I had no idea where to start with that one. The short answer is no. The only thing I could salvage from it is that I understand what he means – almost.
Present simple is I travel and present continuous is I’m travelling. You can’t mix the two and say either I travelling or I’m travel (though the first is perhaps ‘less wrong’ than the second). Then you can’t follow either I travel or I’m travelling with the bare infinitive go.
I asked if the other teacher (a native speaker of that language and a second language speaker of English) had told him that, and he said yes. I sincerely hope not. I would prefer that he had misheard/misunderstood/miswritten than any English teacher had mistaught that badly. Either way, I’m further behind teaching them standard English. I was in in a bind – I needed to fix the bad mistake while not undermining the authority of the other teacher.
It occurred to me while typing this that the other teacher might have said I’m travel to home, which removes one issue (go) while introducing another (to home). I could (just) cope with I travel/I’m travelling to home as it fits the pattern of travelling to most places. (Home/here/there/somewhere/around are all adverbs and therefore don’t use to. Of these, home sounds the most like a noun.) In fact, another student asked if we could say I’m travelling to go home, which is not quite right enough to be right, and not quite wrong enough to be wrong. We can say I’m planning to go home, because we are planning now to go home in the future, but travel and go are essentially the same action. Could we say I’m travelling to go home on the bus or train or even on the plane?
(There was a side issue. Another student thought that a trip couldn’t be home – it could only be away or a round trip. Google Ngrams shows that trip home is about 10 times as common as trip away.)
So, frustrating for me and probably for them as well.
PS In the middle of all this, one of those students picked up on safe and asked if it was the same word as save. It’s not the same word, but it is related, which I explained by way of a soccer goalkeeper (which is the best I could think of on the spot).
One of the difficulties I have faced is knowing how much these students know, and especially the grammatical terms of noun, verb and adjective etc. My colleague sent an email saying “We’ve finished page x of textbook y” but that wouldn’t really help me at the best of times and certainly didn’t help me when I couldn’t find the book.