Differences between English and one's native language

I’m conducting some polls on important issues of mastering various aspects of English as a second and a foreign language.
Do you agree with the allegations below? I’d appreciate your response.

Differences between one’s native language and English in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and stylistic usage should not be ignored by foreign learners living and learning English in non-English speaking countries to master English thoroughly. When learning and using English foreign learners cannot but notice those differences between English and their native language. Knowledge of those differences by foreign learners of English is essential for understanding correct forms, meaning and use of English grammar and for vocabulary usage to reduce making mistakes in English as much as possible, especially in fine tricky points of English grammar, vocabulary and stylistic usage. Native language interference when learning and using English by foreign learners is a natural thing equally as translation is a natural language activity in human communication. Therefore native language interference when learning and using English cannot be prevented or eliminated until English has been mastered by foreign learners as good as their native language. Knowledge of phonetic, grammatical, lexical and stylistic differences between English and one’s native language weakens natural native language interference when learning and using English.

In my view it is easier for foreign learners, especially for absolute beginners to study English for easier, better and quicker understanding through their native language explanations of English pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. As you know there are also English courses in English only for learning and practising all four skills in one course in each lesson (listening, speaking, reading and writing alongside pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary). Four skills English courses include textbooks with audio and video recordings for all levels including for beginners and are suitable for self-study as well. There are also online English learning courses in English only. I believe English communicative integrated skills courses that practise listening, speaking, reading and writing alongside pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary are the most effective and the most comprehensive courses for adult learners of English. Would most foreign learners of English prefer bilingual English learning courses to monolingual English courses?

Hi Competent,

I firmly believe that it is a great mistake to constantly compare English with one’s native language. A lot of non-native speakers do this subconsciously (perhaps because they were taught in school to do it) and therefore never get rid of the grammatical structure and speaking pattern of their native tongue. In my opinion, the best way to get a feel for any new language is to pretend that one’s native language doesn’t exist. Don’t keep translating and converting sentences into your own tongue; it will only slow you down and it will constantly make you fall back into the pattern of your native language.


I believe only adequate long-term exposure by foreign learners to authentic daily life English and practising listening, speaking, reading and even writing in English, especially oral and written communication with native English speakers can substantially reduce negative impact (transfer) of foreign learners’ native language when learning and using English.

Most ESL learners don’t need ‘explanations of grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary’. What they need is constant exposure to the language rather than explanations. Who really cares why native speakers use certain phrases in a certain way? Can ESL speakers explain all aspects of their native language?[YSaerTTEW443543]

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It would take foreign learners of English much less time to learn grammar rules that are explained to learners than to figure out grammar rules on their own intuitively from English reading and listening because grammar rules may have exceptions and other peculiarities.
Grammar books with explanations and exercises have been published by knowledgeable language specialists to make learning grammar easier so that learners don’t have to discover grammar rules anew the hard long way. All ESL/EFL courses recognised and accepted by educational institutions worldwide include English grammar explanations with examples and exercises for practice.

If those so called ESL/EFL courses were that efficient, none of their participants would look for other resources on the web. Telling that native speakers speak in a certain way because they follow ‘grammar rules’ is very misleading. There are no grammar rules, only certain patterns that language seems to show. Nobody knows or can predict how language develops. Nobody writes any grammar rules. So linguists can only analyze language and try to come up with some patterns which constantly change. Do you really think anyone is interested in doing so called ‘grammar exercises’? It’s a fact that most ESL materials are dull, contrived and artificial. Who is interested in this kind of material? You can learn English much faster by watching cartoons with English subtitles than by trying to ‘study’ English.

By the way, how many languages have those ‘knowledgeable language specialists’ learned themselves using their methods?

Alan has written an excellent piece on how to learn English grammar which you can read here: english-test.net/lessons/index.html[YSaerTTEW443543]

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I wonder what a baby would do with a grammar book. The little cutie would probably rip it up and put the pages in his or her mouth.


A baby educated by knowledgeable language specialists would start learning the grammar rules ;-)[YSaerTTEW443543]

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Either that or rip up the knowledgeable language specialists and put their body parts in his or her mouth.



I’m stunned that you as a learning coach do not know the difference between grammatical rules and grammatical patterns. All ESL/EFL teachers and learners will tell you that English grammar rules exist which you deny.
English grammar rules govern the formation, meaning and use of all verb tenses, the verb moods, the Infinitives, the Participles, the Gerund, the sequence of tenses, the Passive Voice; the formation of plural for nouns; the meaning, the use and the absence of articles, and so on. Grammatical patterns are the types of examples illustrating or occurring with particular grammatical structures. Grammatical patterns are very numerous. Knowing English grammar rules that should be practised in exercises with communicative real life content, a foreign learner can creatively construct English grammatical patterns.
Conventional communicative English teaching and learning supported with adequate regular long-term practice in listening comprehension and speaking in English yield effective results. Lack of such practice in English by learners produces speculations that conventional English learning and teaching methods don’t work.
Knowledge of grammar rules reduces making mistakes by learners. Without adequate knowledge of English grammar rules learners often cannot create their own grammatically correct sentences and often cannot understand what they read or hear in English exactly.

Torsten and all users of this forum,

There is no reason to verbally overreact, to use negatively sounding wording in statements or to have hard feelings because of differences of views on forum related issues. What really matters in this respect is evidence and facts.

English grammar books have been published by English language specialists (learned knowledgeable people in English usage) and not by people with low educational knowledge of English grammar, etc. Those books cover (explain) grammar rules for standard normal English usage. English grammar rules reflect the most common wide-spread usage practised by English people.
All English language specialists recognise in their publications that there are grammar rules for correct English usage. Yet you Torsten deny that English grammar rules exist, that is the rules for correct English grammar. You don’t see a difference between correct and incorrect English grammar usage, which is determined by the rules of English grammar.

I don’t see where Torsten denies that English grammar rules exist. The way I understand his statements is that they are not the most important thing to learn. Most native English speakers don’t know why they use their language the way they do. Why must non-native speakers bother to learn them then? I got your thread rolling because I said something in that vein this morning on another thread. I said, “I wish more people would think that way and join in. I see them constantly asking about grammar but never participating in a conversation. To me, a language is a living thing. Just learning the grammar of a language is like just studying the anatomy of a Homo sapiens. In the end, you know how a human is set up, but you don’t know the human.” And that is my humble opinion.

Don’t worry, nobody is overreacting verbally. We were just joking. Or have you ever seen a baby rip up a language specialist and devour him piece by piece?

All users of this forum

Hi Competent, have you read the article on how to learn English grammar by Alan? Also, would you say that Claudia’s grammar is very good if not perfect? As for the difference between grammar rules and grammar patterns I’m pretty sure most ESL learners don’t get your explanation/definition of both terms. How many of those so called rules and/or patterns are there? How many exceptions does each rule/pattern have? There must be thousands if not tens of thousands of them. Trying to learn them is not only impossible but utterly frustrating. I have not met a person who could tell me the exact number of ‘English grammar rules’. Why would I learn rules nobody knows the exact number of? This doesn’t make any sense.

I think what you really don’t want to accept is the fact that native speakers don’t speak English because they have learned grammar rules. They speak English a certain way because everyone around them speaks that way. Native speakers don’t learn English grammar rules. They listen to other native speakers and imitate them. There is a huge difference between a so called ‘grammar rule’ and a traffic rule. A traffic rules is consciously created by an authority. Traffic rules make sense. They have a function. Many so called ‘grammar rules’ don’t make any sense at all. No authority writes those so called ‘rules’.

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If I could take part in this discuss I would say so: English native speakers are allowed to bring us loose English language. It gives us an experience in a funny way of thinking by English people and their famous English sense of humour.

But, according to my opinion,- we, who are the students of our ETN, should put all of our efforts to write along proper way of English grammar. Because if we don’t do it , our writing can appear to be not funny, but just pitiful.


If you want to learn ‘proper’ English, you need to use those phrases and sentences that educated native speakers use. It’s impossible to study all so called ‘grammar rules’ let along learn proper English by this method.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC short conversations: A man gives his co-worker directions to a conference center[YSaerTTEW443543]

There is a lot of research on substantial differences between native language acquisition and learning a second/foreign language. To accelerate learning of a second/foreign language successfully, a learner cannot accomplish this goal exactly the way a learner (as a pre-school child) acquired his/her native language after several years of constant long-lasting exposure in exclusive native language only environment.
I never said that native speakers of English use word collocations because of grammar rules - so do not blame me for this Torsten. But English grammar rules set out in books are based on and reflect the most common wide-spread usage practised by native English speakers.

Competent, the problem with this approach is that it apparently doesn’t work very well.[YSaerTTEW443543]

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I believe what especially matters in effective teaching and learning of English grammar is how clearly and easily understandable all grammar rules are explained to foreign learners, and whether adequate supportive exercises with real life content are practised to master that material. I consider my article on learning English grammar for foreign learners more helpful than Alan’s article on this site.

English usage reference books help people avoid making mistakes in English. In such books learners and other users of English can find answers to their questions about correct English usage. I believe the following English usage reference books are comprehensive and very helpful:

  1. Longman Guide to English Usage.
  2. Practical English Usage (Michael Swan).
  3. An A-Z of English Grammar & Usage (Grammar Reference) [Paperback]
    Geoffrey N. Leech (Author), Benita Cruickshank (Author), Roz Ivanic (Author), 2001
  4. The Cambridge Guide to English Usage.
  5. Collins Cobuild English Usage.
  6. Fowler’s Modern English Usage.

Be sure to read the descriptions of these books (how useful they are) on amazon.com.

As you know the issue of how to learn and to teach English grammar is contentious. Supporters of unconventional learning/teaching methods of English as a second/foreign language claim that conscious learning of English grammar is unnecessary and advocate intuitive learning of English grammar. To learn more on this issue it would be a good idea to explore the following especially useful websites that deal with practical issues of learning and teaching English grammar and include new pertinent research articles:

azargrammar.com/assets/authorsCo … iption.pdf
mikeswan.co.uk/elt-applied-l … rammar.htm