The Acquisition of Prepositions Especially Prepositional Phrases among Arab Learners of EFL

The Acquisition of Prepositions Especially Prepositional Phrases among Arab Learners of EFL

Arabic and English are two plain language families. English belongs to the Germanic languages whereas the Arabic belongs to the Semitic family. As a result, the two language families have two different systems of preposition which defines their characteristic features. On the other hand, language acquisition and learning involve understanding as well as mastery of what constitutes its grammar. However, in learning a new language, mild attention should be given to several grammatical aspects and their origin. The relationship between these aspects reveals, and the interesting correlation between the two distinct styles and allows learners to adapt quickly with the new version. Similarly, in acquiring the second language, learners need to pay much attention to a preposition and their correct use.

Impressive, regardless of the mother tongue of a person, dealing with prepositions in the English language is remarkably the wildest thing to deal with as far as English as learners of Foreign Language (EFL). This usually happens because most EFL learners tend to relate the El prepositions with the ones in their mother tongue (Rizwan, Akhtar & Sohail, 2017). Lack of one to one mapping and the difference in the number of preposition between the languages is the leading cause. Conversely, due to the tremendous idiomatic relationship in the EL prepositional usage, specifically with prepositional verbs and phrasal verbs and, English prepositions’ nuances in the natural manner of using such approaches make it difficult for EFL learners to bring a comprehensive relationship (Rizwan, Akhtar & Sohail, 2017). As a result, the most native EL speakers who are not sure of the proper form of usage of language and their proposition tend to find the whole process hard to go through especially in attempts to face the difference with a clear concept.

Additionally, application of the communicative approach in teaching and learning the second language has been seen as the primary cause of change in the language emphasis from one form to meaning. Consequently, the focus on grammar has experienced a massive reduction, especially in oral forms.  Similarly, the position of prepositions and the prepositional phrases adequately changed as rapid learning takes place for the negotiation in meanings of the acquired forms. It has also been realized that second language conversational interactions are not the best avenue for learners to learn the new language for communication but rather a channel where other distinct features and aspects of the word are combined for the success of the process. However, among the Arabic learners, the use of prepositional phrases in the EFL rely more on associative memory, not on the grammatical emphasis. This gives learning to have a specific pattern in the acquisition process.

Moreover, the experience of a foreign language has been met with challenges which are associated with inference.  Inference refers to the negative influence which the mother language, L1 has on the performance of the word being targeted (Cook, 2016). Research shows that the acquisition of the second language has a passive relationship with the acknowledgment of their linguistic influence which makes them be easily transferred.  However, when the foreign language teacher decides to share his or her L1 with the students who have been foreign language learners, distinctive transfer errors is usually evident in a more natural way. This is a common issue between ESL learners and the author (Al-Bayati, 2013). The problem is apparent in most Arabic learners who have significant differences in their L1 and the ESL.

From EFL to ESL among Arabic Learners

Second Language Acquisition adequately provides long-established research in the difference between English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL). The differences portrayed in this research were presented as a dichotomy to help in establishing a proper rationale between the languages (Götz, 2015). However, a complexity was gradually evident during the learning processes are associated with the environmental setting in which the learner came from. Among the Arabic EFL learners, it is evident that the complexity in learning different grammatical aspects in the L2 is associated with the type of exposure they get in the two learning contexts.

Similarly, although ICLE is essential in EFL learning process, several factors can blur the situation between the two languages. The amount of exposure that a learner gets in its learning environment, as well as the quality of the teachers’ talk inside a classroom, determines the quantity of L2 acquired (Rautionaho & Deshors, 2018). Similarly, in the case of EFL learners, the amount of time taken while talking in a foreign language is directly proportional to the presumed quantity of L2 which he will acquire (Götz, 2015). However, among the Arabic learners who have enormous difficulties in using the ICLE interface in the learning process, only a few selected grammatical words are acquired and used in their L2 developments.

The Arabic Prepositional and Prepositional Phrase System

There are several differences between the Arabic preposition and English. First, Arabic preposition is less in number as compared to their English counterpart thus making the learning and acquisition extremely challenging (Al-Bayati, 2013). The English language has approximately one hundred prepositions which differ significantly in certain aspects, whereas the number of Arabic prepositions is about twenty. Similarly, acquiring the second language among the Arabic learners becomes a challenge become of the possibility of groupings in the English preposition into both simple and complex forms while in Arabic there are no such classifications.

Arabic prepositions are categorized into two distinct classes, semi-prepositions, and correct prepositions. Right prepositions class contains the language structure which functions only as of the preposition and the prepositional phrase. Similarly, they can be divided into separable and inseparable courses based on the role they do within a sentence (Suzanne, 2017). However, most errors that are made by students especially the Arabic EFL learners in some prepositional words such in, at and on are caused by the interference of the mother tongue or the learners’ L1. Most people especially writers assume that most learners regardless of their origin use English for communication, but most of them cannot satisfactorily separate the distinct features that grammatical words have in the English language thereby making such leaners prone to mistakes (Cook, 2016). Evidently, due to such variations, some learners will be heard saying on the page instead of on page, among others. These errors are standard because in most cases the first language of the learner prepositions such as in, on and at are viewed as the same. Nothing distinct separates them from each other.

English Prepositions

English preposition is divided into two distinct types based on the number of words which are a preposition. They include single-word or straightforward preposition; these comprise of only one word. For example around, into, in, at, on, below, under and of among others are the most common prepositions that make learning a big challenge (Suzanne, 2017). The following types of English preposition are the Complex or multi-word; they contain two or three words in their form such as according to, about, on behalf of among others. Notably, the complexity of this type of preposition makes them hard for foreign learners to adequately comprehend their characteristics during construction. Moreover, most English propositions are not considered as a preposition with the Arabic language but instead portrayed as adverbs such as beneath, below, as down and over among others.

Types of Prepositions

Prepositions vary depending on the functions it does in a sentence. It can represent time, for example, on, at, in since, by, from, until and for among others; place such as on, in, under, over, below, beside or introduces an object, for example, about, for, among, between and due to. This functionality helps in identifying the different types of prepositional phrases and their functions within a sentence (Richards, 2015). The EFL learners can, therefore, find the relationship that these words have while learning the new language. However, among Arabic, some prepositions can be used interchangeably while writing some grammatical concepts or referring to specific items.

Functions of English Prepositions

The role and position of a proposition in a sentence serve as a link between two grammatical elements. For instance, English preposition can be used to join one noun to the other two show their relationship in a sentence (Chorbwhan & McLellan, 2016). However, among the EFL Arabic learners, knowing this relationship is a significant challenge that startles their significance in a sentence as well as in language acquisition. Interestingly, as the Arabic EFL learners transgress into the prepositional element variation, a distinct category of simple features are being discovered.

The preposition “into

This type of preposition has been regarded as the most problematic one among non-native English speakers. The preposition, ‘into’ is easily omitted by learners in both its normal forms as well as in the prepositional phrase. It is a specific type of preposition from the SLA perspective and is linked with the other preposition ‘in’ leading to a possible confusion among non-native English speakers (Götz, 2015). As a result, learners often use ‘in’ instead of ‘into’ because of low, similar contrast in the first languages.


The coin rolled slowly *in the hole (wrong).

The coin rolled slowly into the hole (right).

There are so many fans just coming in the country.

There are so many fans just coming into the country.

These variations are gradually disappearing in most indigenized English varieties thus making it hard for the Arabic EFL learners to have a challenge in addressing different prepositional phrases.

Common Grammatical Errors in Second Language Acquisition

Additional language acquisition among the Arabic learner to develop a coherent relationship with the differences which exist between the L1 and the language they intend to learn. Many errors cause massive stalemate during acquisition and determining the second language (Suzanne, 2017).  Notably, the common mistakes that are made by the Arabic learners in attempts to acquire the Second Language are related to articles, agreement ad propositions.

Notably, the agreement has approximately eighty errors and is based on the contract of the Arabic verb with their person, gender and number with the subject. Most Arab students find it extremely hard to distinguish between common errors (Al-Bayati, 2013). Similarly, the agreement between the adverbs or adjectives and the nouns which they modify reveals other types of agreement error.  In English, significant few articles portray noun number which they change, thereby making it hard to create a comprehensive relationship between the nouns and their adjectival counterparts.

Prepositional Errors

The position of the proposition is a great difficulty for most ESL learners due to the existence of various English prepositions that have similar functions.  Prepositions such as ‘in,’ ‘on’ and ‘at’ when used in a sentence indicate place and usage with subtle differences (Johansson, 2017). As a result, most ESL learners are not sure of the right preposition to use specific sentences. Occasionally, they compare such sentences with the Arabic prepositions in English and end up with substantial contrasting issues (Albirini, Saadah & Alhawary, 2019).  Prepositions do not have a unified correlation mainly when two different languages are used in making a comparison.  On Arabic preposition can be translated in several forms in the English usage thereby making the translations to have errors; halting the process.

Analysis of Prepositional Phrase Errors

Grammatical mistakes and error have almost the same based on the similar characteristics which learners have about them (Tahaineh, 2014). Errors and mistakes are identical but different. Notably, learners can easily correct mistakes, but the same is impossible when it comes to handling errors. This means that the improvement of language ability concerning grammatical correlations is severely affected by mistakes.

In most spoken languages, the use of correct structure and word is very paramount in the written form. What the speaker utters should be clear to the listeners for comprehension. However, if the fabric is wrongly done, the error cab perpetuates to more issues especially in grammatical aspects such as preposition and prepositional phrases among EFL Arabic learners (Tahaineh, 2014). It is worth noting that most EFL learners find these significant challenges when they try to explicitly comprehend different forms of the language they want to acquire and learn about.  Notably, these errors expose students to reduced production in speaking and writing primarily in areas where appropriate feedback is needed.

The occurrence of errors in a particular language cannot be assumed nor neglected. EFL learners must be exposed to a conducive environment where learning takes place as a way of boosting their grammatical proficiency as opposed to other factors which are within their mother tongue (Qureshi & Nurmukhamedov, 2018). As a result, corrections should also be done to improve the ability of students in using the English language. Generally, errors which are present in the usage of English as a foreign language is tough to avoid especially in the learning and teaching process (Chorbwhan & McLellan, 2016). Most errors in the English language can be defined by first identifying, classifying as well as systemically interpreting every form of words produced. The analysis of errors must be supported by different principles and procedures which are available in the oral structures of the foreign language. Due to variations in learning English as a foreign language, most students are fond of making errors while trying to learn the language as well as in analyzing the errors before producing the actual English words. The intensity of errors also varies depending on the learner’s first language influence especially in the formulation of prepositions and prepositional phrases in their first language (Tahaineh, 2016). One of the most significant contributions of prepositional phrase Error Analysis lies in its success in boosting the status of other errors which come from the undesirable international processing that most learners embrace while acquiring the L2 knowledge as well as in using it for creating different forms of speech.  Some studies show that errors that Arabic learners make while purchasing preposition in the L2 lead to the emergence of new theories and methodologies which are essential in creating pedagogical language in the learning process (Zareva & Shehata, 2015).  Relationships which are common in building a cohesive learning process builds confidence among learners while they transgress into a new field of learning.  Interestingly, errors which are common among learners are indispensable because making such errors are viewed as a new way in which learners use their wits to learners the original language.

The most extensive history of different methods that learners can use in learning and analyzing a new language is stored in the EA.  This perspective reveals a comprehensive technique that Arabic learners can use to build their language especially the grammatical aspects. EA contains all the “bad” and “good” English those learners can choose from while trying to develop the competencies in the new language (Dan, Duc & Chau, 2017). EFL Arabic learners can adequately apply this technique to distinguish different forms of prepositions and prepositional phrases for their learning process (Shiri, Sadighi, Azizi & Nekoueizadeh, 2017). It is prudent for learners to create a correlating approach in addressing grammatical aspects of language. However, for EFL learners to fully understand EA and its relationship with their mother’s proper attention should be given to all morphological characters which create such similarity (Al-Jarf, 2017). EA acts as a type of linguistic analysis which focuses on the errors which learners make. It establishes a lucid comparison between the mistakes made by learners while producing the target language and the form of the target language which might lead to such errors.


In English, most abstract words which refer to the attribute, ideas or qualities do not require articles while referring to the attribute or the concept which is familiar to everything or everybody; However, in Arabic, the abstract words are preceded by specific items which are equivalent to “the” in English. As a result, this error which pertains to the misuse of English makes it difficult for the Arabic learner to have complete interrelations with the new language. For instance, most students usually write the following while trying to bring the relationship to a unified whole.

Similarly, to learn all the prepositions and prepositional phrases, Arabic learners must commit themselves to the variations which are becoming common is such languages. The difference must be addressed amicably and all prepositional modifications discussed with the learner’s acquisition proficiency before excellent illustrations are made. Prepositions serve different functions in a sentence and their relationship with the subject must be well known before concluding its credibility. Similarly, EFL learners must be equipped with diverse knowledge and understanding of the various grammatical errors that can occur if propositions are poorly placed in the sentence structure.

Moreover, many prepositions and prepositional phrases have several uses in sentence structures. In most dictionaries, the list of these propositions as well as the possible prepositional phrases has to be made to help EFL learner gain proper insights with their usage in a sentence during their learning process. It has been realized that the conversational interaction in second does not give EFL learners the best way to acquire the second language especially in the absence of the teacher. However, most Arabic learners prefer using prepositional phrases in their associative memory of the EFL learning as opposed to the grammatical emphasis, leading to specific patterns of knowledge which are particular to a particular acquisition process. Besides, it becomes a serious challenge when the learner tries to memories one aspect and relates it to the other especially if their mother tongue portray distinct features which are not present in the second language. As a result, learners irrationally use prepositions without identifying their actual meaning in semantic. Overall, the purpose of EPE in the dictionary of Arabic learners gives them adequate information which is necessary for the future learning process.




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