English is referred to as the Lingua Franca of the globe. Due to technological evolution and growth of e-learning systems, English language has become one the most significant instruments of formal communication across the globe. Since the world’s knowledge is commonly upheld in English, it is considered as a common tool of communication across diverse nationalities. Being a global and most preferred language, English is able to deal with the issue of cross-cultural communication.
Teaching of this language is invariably difficult. In regions and countries where English is a primary native language, it seems more crucial and painstaking to teach non-native learners and vice versa. Teaching and learning of English language in native countries in general grabs the attention of many scholars and researchers particularly when the use is chiefly associated with the classroom situations.
The current essay deals with the formal and semantic complexities in Modality during the course of English language teaching to Saudi learners. The present study attempts to examine the syntactic and semantic aspects of modal perfect constructions, and intends to investigate whether Saudi EFL learners are able to master the nuances of meaning and usage of such constructions. In addition, the essay reviews previous literature of the studies that investigated the processing of English modal syntactic structures by Saudi-origin students. It identifies the problems in this area and presents some interesting findings.
Language teachers and pedagogues have varying perspectives about the teaching and learning of English. A few masters feel that English language can be taught by translating the target language into the mother-tongue, as opposed to views from other researchers who are of the opinion that the teaching must be done in the same approach in which the first language is taught to ensure that the skills are focused. Some masters think that the teaching of the aspects such as meaning, words, grammar, structure, and so on, are more crucial as compared to the skills such as listening, writing, reading and speaking. Nonetheless, main emphasis should be brought on outcome-oriented education. Language masters who have been following various learning theories of psychology have shortlisted few goals and advocated a wide array of approaches/ strategies/ methods like oral method, audio-lingual technique, situational teaching, communication strategy, bilingual approach, the Neutral methods, and so on. A majority of modern teachers believe in the idea of situational approach whereas there are few who prefer teaching via grammar-translation approach.
Modality expresses the subjective opinions and attitude, such as possibility, necessity, probability, permissibility, desire, obligation, ability, and contingency of a speaker. English language sees modality expressed via modal verbs and grammatical moods such as indicative, subjunctive, and imperative mood. Modal verbs are supporting verbs which express modality in the English language.
Language is not just applied for conveying actual information. It lets a speaker to suggest the level of certainty with which he/she makes a statement, or seeks to urge other people via different ways: to exercise authority, or indicate compliance with someone else’s authority , to give or ask for permission, make or stop people to do things. The semantic categories fundamental to all these uses of language are included in the term modality. As a semantic category, Modality is a highly complex system both in form as well as meaning. Modality can be expressed by both or either of the two components: 1. Verbal, and 2. Non-verbal. The verbal forms are the modal items and the non-verbal forms are lexical auxiliaries like certain, possible, obviously, perhaps, and so on. Furthermore, use of ‘modal auxiliaries’ is considered very problematic in English grammar. Modals, in form, are very non-uniform in conjugation and rather different from other ordinary verbs in terms of interrogation and negation. As a matter of fact, these verbs are quite neglected as grammatical items. In English, the modal system is unique and different from one section of the English speaking world to the other. As a matter of fact, the combination of modality and perfective aspect is among the most controversial and most debatable subject in the area of L2 learning process. To teachers, it is useful for proposing the best way of presenting modality and perfective aspect, thereby resulting into an improved learning situation of the language. While learners are enabled to diagnose the issues they encounter and can determine appropriate remedies.
Modal auxiliary verbs referring to obligation and permission comprise of:
1. Can and could to express permission
2. Should, must and have (got) to convey various forms of obligation
3. Don’t have to to present a lack of obligation
4. Be allowed to to convey permission.
According to New Headway Intermediate Teacher’s Book, fundamental issues usually arise when rules for regular verbs are applied to modals; for example: Do you can play football?, He musted, I must to go. In such cases, learners must be made aware that these verbs act like auxiliaries. Similarly, have to is more difficult tougher since it is modal in use but follows the form rules of a full verb (Soars, et al., (n.d.)).
Modality when combined with perfective aspect conveys a broad array of meanings that are many-sided and intricate. Modal perfect constructions do not constitute an individual class; both their forms together with interpretations can impose grave problems for learner of English as their second language. Saudi learners of English language face obstacles in both speaking as well as writing, alike, as clearly stated by scholars like Harrison et al (1975) and Abdul Haq (1982). There are numerous obstacles confronting Saudi learners in their course of acquiring English as a second language. According to Abdul Haq (1982), many Arab learners usually fumble while writing in English. He also concluded that majority of English teachers and University officials reported complaints regarding the consistent worsening of the mastery of the second language amongst the learners. In yet another research conducted by Zughoul (1984) supported the results of Abdul Haq, and confirmed that most Saudi learners enrolled in EFL courses have weak oral communication skills, since they commonly commit gross lexical errors.
Formal semantics literature comprises of vital information about modality. Previous research pertaining to the interaction between modality and aspect, for example, has placed emphasis on the imperfective, and specifically the progressive subtype of imperfective in English language. English teaching from teacher’s perspective and acquiring English as a second language for Saudi leaners is crucial within the system of undergraduate or higher education. English being an essential tool of communication as an effective medium of instruction, the language appears to hold greater importance in a developed country like New Zealand. However, there are several different elements affecting the learning of English for Saudi students. As opposed to any other factors, the concerns that are directly linked to pedagogy are more important. Amongst others, teacher element is always accounted to be extra crucial since they are the ones who are considered as the instruments of change. The teacher, in order to combat the pedagogic problems, must be well equipped and perform diagnostic studies so as to effectively analyse linguistically the type and nature of difficulties encountering the Saudi learners throughout the course of study. Doing so will allow the teachers to evolve some productive strategies and ideas for the teaching of English which will be able to reduce the difficulty level and obtain better and maximal results.
A profound study the combined use of modality and perfective aspect unavoidably raises concerns and witnesses problematic areas linked to the semantic interpretations and usage of modal perfect constructions. Every modal perfect expresses a collection of identical semantic notions in English, minus the distinct boundaries between its several meanings. Hence, operating with modal perfect constructions semantically seems a tad difficult considering the fact that modals themselves could have converging meanings (Al-Ma‘Moori, 2003). With varying viewpoints from various linguists and grammarians, it is clear that each one of them attempts to introduce a single, consistent and all-encompassing conceptual model for the analysis of modals.
Modals in the Classroom: Teachers must get the Saudi learners acquainted with the formal attributes of the different types of modal auxiliaries and semi-modals so they can learn how to manipulate those attributes suitably. Furthermore, Saudi learners, along with learning about three categories of modality, namely epistemic, deontic, and dynamic, along with the purposes of the several modals and semi-modals for every category, they also must know how to distinguish between the three categories. For example, if we consider the contrasting meanings of ‘can’t’ in the following three sentences:
1. You can’t be John’s sister – he’s an only child (epistemic, certainty);
2. I’m sorry, you can’t leave yet (deontic, permission)
3. You can’t cycle (dynamic, ability).
So, EFL students also need to be familiar with the pragmatic conditions of modality, like the difference between can and may while giving permission. However, these are of the current study’s scope.
There are numerous approaches that teachers can adopt to assist their students in mastering the complexities of modality. Foremost, teachers are recommended to design activities especially for lower-level students to allow them to research and get familiarized with the formal properties of modals and semi-modals. Teachers, while designing these activities, should keep in mind that the formal properties of one semi-modal might not transfer to the next semi-modal. As a matter of fact, majority of the errors committed by the students in terms of semi-modals originate from over-generalising formal properties.
While designing activities that mainly focus on the correct interpretation of modals and semi-modals, teacher need to ensure that there exists a powerful connection between the words and their meanings.
It is difficult for Saudi EFL learners to master the semantic interpretations implies by the combination of modality and perfective aspect, owing to two key elements: 1. context of learning, and 2. complexity of these structures.
Saudi English learners are unaware of the fact that “perfectivization” in combination with “modality” is seen as an active component of signalling two things, namely precedence and unreality; it uniquely locates the situation into a certain time period together with the sense of unreality. Saudi EFL learners are unaware that there are no tenses for modal auxiliaries; they usually relate to a period of time undefined as to both occurrence and length and if they mark past time, they must be under specific conditions such as the rule of tense-series that is expected within reported speech. Moreover, the empirical findings of this essay indicate that Saudi learners continually use the morphological forms like maybe, should, could, might, and would as past time indicators.
Practical Implications and Recommendations for future studies:
Both teachers and syllabus designers of English as a second language could devise a framework or system, some orderliness in delivering the combination of modality and perfective aspect. They could consider the following steps:
1. Accurately determining the semantic categories of the combination of modality and perfective aspect, even though with basic semantic analysis for defining some reasonably clear limits. Furthermore, teachers are advised to approach the subject from the conceptual standpoint; conceptual interpretation eases the use of modal auxiliaries.
2. Depicting how these semantic categories can be understood lexically and syntactically. Syntactically means using the verbal forms (modal auxiliaries) and optional structures (periphrastic modals) such as “be allowed to”, “be able to”, “be compelled to”, etc. and lexically means using the non-verbal forms (lexical items) such as possible, perhaps, certain, and so on.
3. De-fossilizing the underlying meanings of “modals” by placing extra focus on other spectrum of meaning expressed by the combination of modality and perfective aspect.
4. Giving careful explanations that “modal auxiliaries” are tense-less and that they cannot be associated with “precedence” outside the area of “perfectivization” unless they are applied within reported speech that needs the pattern of tense-sequence. Current treatments applied to modals and modal perfect constructions in English grammar have been irregular and static; they only constitute a list of different uses of each modal or modal perfect construction. Most grammar materials fail to educate teachers on efficient and impactful teaching. By means of a well-structured and systematic framework, the combination of modality and perfective aspect will contribute to an enhanced learning position in terms of classification, grading, and presentation.
Al-Ma‘Moori, M. J. M. (2003). Investigating Iraqi (EFL) Undergraduate University
Students’ Recognition and Production of the combination of Modality and Perfective
Aspect. (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation). University of Baghdad, Baghdad.
Cover, R. T. (2010). Aspect, Modality, and Tense in Badiaranke. (Docorate Dissertation).
University of California, Berkeley.
Tonhauser, J. (2006). The Temporal Semantics of Noun Phrases: Evidence from
Guaran´. Stanford dissertation.
Soars, L., Soars, J., & Sayer, Mike. (n.d.). New Headway Intermediate Teacher’s Book. Oxford
University Press, London.
Mukattash, J. (1986). ‘Persistence of Fossilisation’. IRAL, 24(3), 187-203.
El-Badarin, M. N. (1983). Transfer, strategies, and structural complexity in the acquisition of
English syntax by Arabic Speakers. (Unpublished Doctorate Dissertation). The
University of Texas, Austin.
Asfoor, A. A. (1978). An analysis of selected errors of Arabic speakers learning English.
(Unpublished Doctorate Dissertation). University of Colorado.
Abdul Haq, F. (1982). An Analysis of Syntactic Errors in the Composition of Jordanian
Secondary Students. (Unpublished Masters Thesis). Yarmouk University, Jordon.
Harrison, W., Prator, C., & Tucker, G. (1975). English Language Policy Survey of Jordan.
Arlington. Centre for Applied Linguistics: USA.
Zughoul, M.R., & Taminian, L. (1984). ‘The Linguistic Attitudes of Arab University
Students: Factorial Structure and Intervening Variables’. Journal of the Jordanian
Academy of Arabic, 25(26), 148-200.