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Reported Speech
A Common Sense Approach
by Kendall Peet
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Specific Problems

1. Pre-intermediate Level

The students at pre-intermediate level find the language of reported speech challenging. The reason for this is that students at this level are usually not yet comfortable using all the tenses. For example, some students still have problems using the past form correctly, especially in the negative and in regard to auxiliary verbs, and often confuse the past simple and past perfect. Therefore, students attempting to use reported speech often have problems reporting V1 into V2, and even more problems reporting V2 using V3; this is especially true of learners whose L1 has no perfect tense, such as Turkish and Chinese learners.

Secondly, learners are usually not confident with modals at this level and so they often have problems reporting modals, especially Turkish students without comparable modals in their L1.

Thirdly, learners working with both say and tell typically make mistakes with the form:

He said him to sit down.

or He told to him to sit down.

Fourthly, some students have problems using the correct pronoun; particularly learners who do not use pronouns in the same way in their L1, such as Turkish learners who mainly use suffixes.

Finally, confusion can arise from the fact that something can be reported in a variety of ways depending on the perspective and the lexis available to the person reporting. For example:

He said he would meet you later/ later on/ in a while/ when he’s free/finished.

He asked me to tell you he would meet you later/ see you later/ catch up with you later.

He wanted me to let you know that he will meet you later/ bump into you later/ hook up with you later.

2. Intermediate level

Students who studied reported speech at pre-intermediate level will have the chance to reinforce what they have learnt and to extend their understanding. Students learning reported speech for the first time at this level (toward the end of most intermediate class texts) usually find it less difficult than students at pre-intermediate level, but to a large extent experience similar problems in regard to the areas discussed in Part One.

The main problem at this level relates to the reporting of questions. Adult learners often have difficulty with the inverted word order and the use of if for yes/no questions:

“Can I start early tomorrow?” is often reported He asked could he start work tomorrow.

They also commonly make errors when reporting questions with do, did, and does:

“Did you have a good day?” is often reported She asked if he did have a good day.

or She asked to John if he did have a good day.

“When did you arrive?” is often reported She asked when did you arrive.

As a side note, adult learners also often confuse the use of the passive, which is usually placed just before or after reported speech in most class text, with reported speech as both forms are commonly used in newspapers to report. In most cases the confusion mainly occurs with students mistakenly back-shifting the tense in the passive. Though this does not affect reported speech, the two are connected and so it is good for teachers to be aware of this problem.

3. Upper-intermediate Level and Above

Finally, at the upper intermediate level and above class texts begin to extend the students range of reporting verbs, so additional problems inherent at this level relate to the variety of collocation patterns, with learners collocating verbs incorrectly (refer Appendix 3, 4).

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