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Learning the Grammar of a Second Language

Postpubescent adolescents and adults need to pay some attention to the form of the target language. If they do not, they ultimately develop an incomplete and imperfect interlanguage that reflects learning problems such as negative transfer from the native language, simplification, overgeneralization, erroneous rule formation, and so forth (Celca-Murcia 406).

Experience has clearly shown that adults with no formal grammar instruction during the formative stage of learning another language eventually plateau at, at best, an intermediate level of proficiency (Higgs and Clifford). Moreover, if the adult student wishes to progress to advanced levels of proficiency, absorption by immersion will take a lifetime. The formal learning of grammar, whether considered necessary or not, is doubtlessly an expeditious method to circumvent the protracted acquisition process.

Bowen, Madsen, and Hilferty remark that "our grammatical tradition comes almost exclusively from the written language. It is only recently that we have recognized and described the structural characteristics that apply only to the oral language" (161). If there is indeed an "oral grammar" as opposed to a "written grammar", the formal laxity, ambiguity, imprecision, vagueness, indistinctness, fuzziness of the current generation's speech explain why young people cannot write a grammatically correct sentence. They may deserve an A+ in oral grammar, but never having learned written grammar, they transfer their oral form to the written form, their fuzzy logic of speech to what ought to be the precise logic of writing.

Should there be--or is there--an essential difference between the spoken and written languages of educated people? Some of the finest contemporary writers do not think so. What counts is precision in meaning, which can only be constructed through precision in the architecture of language---assuming there is precision in thinking. Significant two-way interaction o...

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Learning the Grammar of a Second Language. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 18:08, August 18, 2017, from
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