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Modern grammar development in the english language



Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. 

– Lao Tzu

"Using words to talk of words is like using a pencil to draw a picture of itself, on itself. Impossible. Confusing. Frustrating ... but there are other ways to understanding." 

- Patrick Ruthfuss


One of the main difficulties in learning a foreign language is being gradually exposed to the language in such a way that your brain is able to absorb the new sounds, rhythms, uses, structures and tones in order to fit them into a new way of thinking and referring to ideas, culture and objects. That is to say, that the learner needs to gradually improve and increase the foreign language material that he/she is exposed to. 

But the issue in learning a new language is to find the correct or appropriate resources or ways to do it in order to begin that process and reach a high level with a solid foundation of basic, intermediate or advance general knowledge of the L2 in all the linguistics areas that are involved when learning a second language, but sometimes the journey is a bit confusing and challenging.

To begin with, this essay has to do with the process of analyzing a research area which explores problems that concern learning a second language mainly in the discipline of grammar and its structures when Spanish students learn the English language.

According to the innatist view, which is the theory that claims the fact that human beings are genetically pre-programmed to learn any language has been popularized most effectively by many of the American linguists such as Noam Chomsky. Our brain needs something basic around which it can start to build a framework of understanding for the foreign language based on the pre- knowledge of languages a person has.

Thus, people have to start out rather simple but they should quickly be able to advance and improve because the brain is capable of amazing feats of memory. During childhood, the language process is a natural consequence of a prolonged and daily exposure to a language.  A spoken language does not need to be formally taught to a child in order to be learned. Any small child will acquire native fluency in any language if exposed to it on a consistent basis and in a social setting.

A child can naturally acquire native fluency in more than one language based on these circumstances.      In the overwhelming majority of individuals, however, this natural capacity to acquire spoken language without deliberate effort begins to diminish harshly at about the age of puberty (12-14 years of age). 

Teenagers exposed to a new language after this age will acquire it with definite interference from whatever language or languages they had been exposed to before puberty.

According to (DeKeyser, 2000) it is said that the organic ability to acquire a new language gradually comes to an end and is replaced by a systematic way which draws on conscious/learning problem-solving capacities to accomplish the same tasks done in the L1 because the mind distributes the second language (L2) across different neural tissue and calls in for help to other parts of the brain.

In other words, it could be said that whereas children learn the language as they develop emotionally with the implications of the limbic system (Lieberman, 2000), adults turn to their intelligence and language skills to accomplish the same tasks, hence the so many noticeable individual differences in learning any L2.

The main aim of any language is communication which carries to a latter point which is a function of social and human interaction, but requires some features such as the ability to communicate at a structural level, even grammatical levels, and through formal use of language. Language is not a simple objective reality, and therefore the study of language in any aspect or its components is seen as necessary.

Given the view that language and its structures are the basic factors for the expression of perception, feeling, thought and judgment; learning, its cultivation and development should be understood not only as a need or intercommunication tool, but also as an essential factor for the appropriate development of linguistic competences, values, personality, consciousness and cultural and social identity. The thing is that students can understand these concepts about it, but acquiring them becomes what could be called the problem. Any language is realized through grammatical structures (morphology and syntax.

The grammar of a language exists because it is a set of rules as union of words in the sentence, it is not carried out through an arbitrary combination, but according to a governing system that any language has. Students need to know that understanding grammar concepts could be an aim when learning a second language.

Some grammar difficulties face by Spanish learners could be studied or understood in the sense that sometimes the lack of understanding of how morphology and syntax work in a specific language affects the process of learning/acquiring a second one.

Indeed, they are independent of each other in their basis or definitions because morphology researches forms; syntax researches the relationship between constituents. Therefore, we should use different concepts for them. However, in the factual situation of language, nothing is independent. Syntax requires of words to have certain forms, and the usage of certain forms or structures can require certain syntax. This is known as morphosyntax — where word forms and clausal level work together.

The Spanish learner has problems with the adjective and noun formation. Each can affect the other in the Spanish language. When adjectives and nouns "agree" in categories like number and gender that is a syntactic relationship and it can be showed up in morphological features. In any language like in Spanish and English many morphological forms assume a certain syntactic role like noun, verb etc., which are different in both languages, because in Spanish the adjectives and nouns are related in gender and number, but this is not seen in the English language.

Another problematic situation for beginners is the formation of interrogatives or negatives statements in English. The absence of an auxiliary in such structures in Spanish may cause learners to say: Why you say that? / Who he saw? / Do you saw him? / I no see him. / I not saw him./she no talk with me…. among others.

The grammar-order is without doubt tricky for Spanish speakers because the word order is generally subject-verb-object, like in English. However, the Spanish structure allows more flexibility than English, and generally places at the end of the sentence words that need to be emphasized.

This may result in a non-standard syntax when Spanish learners speak or write English causing them much confusion. Another problem is the use of many adjectives or nouns before a single noun. Long noun groups such as the standard language classroom teacher-student interaction pattern, commonly found in academic English text, are troublesome for Spanish speakers, whose language post-modifies nouns.

Even though the shared Latin influence English and Spanish have in morphology, many cognates and the corresponding collection of false friends, such as eventual, which in English is translated like  possible or the word particular which in English refers to private can cause severe problems to Spanish learners. Since the Latin-derived words in English tend to be more formal, the Spanish students will benefit when reading academic text. However, they may sound too formal, if using such words in everyday spoken English. Moreover, phrasal verbs, which are an essential aspect of colloquial English, are difficult for Spanish learners and may obstruct listening comprehension.

The Spanish language has a strong bond between the sound of a word and its spelling, but the irregularity of English in this respect causes predictable problems when Spanish learners see, listen or write a word, because they first meet in spoken language or say a word first met in written language.

Another specific problem concerns the spelling of English words with double letters due to the fact that Spanish has only 3 double-letter combinations cc, ll, rr, but, on the other hand, English has 5 times as many. Spanish learners often reduce English double letters to a single one, or overcompensate by doubling a letter unnecessarily; for example hopping for the present participle of hope.

Not using the present perfect is another infamous mistake that occurs because of differences in sentence construction used in Spanish. When English speakers are talking about how long they have been somewhere, in English they say, "we have been living in Ecuador for 3 years" or "we have lived in Ecuador for 3 years."  However, in Spanish, this is not the case. In Spanish it is said, "llevamos 3 años en Ecuador."  This is completely different in tense, so any time the Spanish speakers want to talk about how long they have been doing something it is important to make sure to use the present perfect.

One of the most difficult aspects of learning English is the lack of correct knowledge of rules. The confusion with the article and the use of "the" or no "the" is always problematic for Spanish speakers because the use of "the" (el/la/los/las) in Spanish is much more common than in the English language.

In the Spanish structure, every time a noun is used , it requires the use of articles. For example, if we were to talk about children and adults in general using Spanish, it would say, "los niños son más inocentes que los adultos." This is a perfectly correct sentence for Spanish speakers. However, "the children are more innocent than the adults" is technically not correct, because it is talking about children and adults in general. Therefore, the Spanish speaker needs to learn that she/he must say "children are more innocent than adults" because " the" is generally only used for specific things.

The use of prepositions may be one of the most disliked parts of the English language grammar for many learners. When Spanish learners face with a difficult challenge such as prepositions, they have two options. Option one is to become extremely frustrated and decide that English is crazy and give up or they can accept the fact that learning a language is a process, not a marathon, and learn them step at a time. Prepositions are simply different in English and Spanish, English has many prepositions and many combinations among them, but Spanish has no more than 28 prepositions

The persistence to continue learning is a key factor in learning a language. So, in short, the key is having good contact with the language, dedicate time to learn it and maintaining motivation. Another important key factor to having good contact with the language when learning it, which is seen like an artificial situation, is based on high-quality materials that gradually build student´s level of exposure.

For the purposes of this essay, grammar has been defined fairly broadly to include some morphology, parts of speech, syntax and lexis structures that are considered to be discomforted by Spanish learners.

Recognizing and understanding how morphology, which is the grammar of the make-up of words, and how syntax that is the grammar of the make-up of sentences work, will help Spanish learners understand by means of the combination of words how these two parts of grammar are developed on different scales of the structure of language. The place where they come across and relate is the level of the word/sentence formation, and the division between the two of them is based on the concept or perception of the word.

In addition, a good method is also incredibly important because it will help to a better interaction, ease learning the material that the student is exposed to and help maintain motivation by making the process as efficient as possible, even though is not a natural route. 

It is important to mention that the level of importance given to grammar has varied greatly over the years because now grammar is seen through another perspective or two different scenarios. One is based on those language courses that teach grammar almost exclusively, as if preparing the students to be grammarians of the second language rather than users and in the other extreme we have those "communicative" courses in which the only thing that is done is to talk about something or to read an article and comment on it, but in many cases, what is seen in one class has no resemblance to what is done in the next.

Students, however, know that grammar still has to be considered important and wish to avoid making grammatical errors. Although the concept of error has also been controversial, investigations show that students tend to want at least some error correction, as long as it is done delicately. The main goal of learning another language is to be prepared to actually engage in communicative situations using appropriate language and patterns


Cook, V. (2008). Second Language Learning and Language Teaching (4th ed.). London: Hodder Education.

DeKeyser, R. (2000). The Robustness of Critical Period Effects in Second Language Acquisition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 22, 499–533.

Lamendella, J. (1977). General principles of neurofunctional organization and their manifestation in primary and secondary language acquisition. Language Learning, 27, 155–196.

Lieberman, P. (2000). Human language and our reptilian brain. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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Petitto, L. A. (2009). New discoveries from the bilingual brain and mind across the life span: Implications for education. Mind, Brain, and Education, 3(4), 185–197.