Qualitative and Quantitative differences in the way L2 Learners


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Qualitative and Quantitative differences in the way L2 Learners of English of Different Languages use the Modal Verb Should


English language learners are required to understand the perspective view and descriptive rules of the language to be skilful, capable and proficient in performing the language task efficiently. The second language functions and procedures need to be more simplified to increase one’s proficiency in learning it and know the different kinds of grammatical knowledge. Research has shown that learners taking English as the second language in learning apply modal verbs more in a variety of contexts as opposed to native learners, or second language learners of the English language use modals in a completely different way from the natives. It is important for a teacher teaching the L2 to distinguish the problems that the L2 learners may encounter when learning modal verbs like ‘should’ to enable them to find the necessary actions and measures of correcting them because modal verbs play a significant role in a sentence or expression and the reason that learners of English originate from different countries where modal verbs are applied depending on the use of L1. There is a lot of indecisiveness on what to teach and what to leave out because of the existence of a strong doubt in the unambiguous grammar lessons and the role they play in the acquisition of L2. The English modal verbs have been of significant concern among linguists interested in the classification of their usage in various English varieties and font-type genres.

Background of the study

The study has found out that many linguists encounter many challenges and difficulties when using modal verbs to convey meaning accurately. The main verb’s meaning is conveyed using the modal auxiliaries and accurate modal verb use is essential when learning English as a second language, although deciding on the right modal verb to use to convey an accurate meaning is a challenge for second language learners. The English modal verbs include; shall, can, could, may, should, might, would, will, and must. This paper will look at the quantitative and qualitative differences in the use of the modal verb ‘should’ between the L1 and L2 learners of the English language from countries such as Sweden, Germany, French, and china.

Material and method used

The study is explanatory because it aims at ascertaining the variation in the use of the modal verb ‘should’ between the users of the English language as L1 and L2 users from the four countries, Germany, Sweden, France, and China. It involves both a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the differences experienced on the regular application of the modal verb ‘should’. The quantitative part emphasizes how regular the modal verb is used, while the qualitative section deals with the functions of the modal verb ‘should’.

Data analysis

A corpus-based study analysis is adopted on reliance on the corpus methods and tools as analytic ways that can work with corpus data to develop the sketches, frequency, and concordances. The analysis comprises two sections, functions and frequency. The study focuses on the interpretation of the modal verb ‘should’ to provide an in-depth analysis. In comparison to using the modal verb should, there is no balance in its use on learners learning English as their second language because of their differences in the first language. The occurrence rate of the modal verb ‘should is either low, high or medium. Non-natives or speakers of English as their first language normally utilize should, unlike other modal verbs. The German, Swedish, French, and Chinese learners of English as their second language, utilize almost every modal verb equally because of the effect impacted from their first languages.

The analysis

The functional analysis of the modal verb should is presented. There are many sentences in the corpora where there is no specific function addressed because the meaning is not clear. Such instances are referred to us as unclear use of the modal verb ‘should’. As a modal auxiliary, should is characterized by the third person singular inflexion, no passive voice, interrogative and negative not do-supported. Therefore, it is not easy to use a single assessment of the modal verb ‘should’ to meet the learners of English as their L2 and judge their progress.  Should is used to express different meanings depending on the country of origin of the learner; the meanings can be necessity, obligation, conditionality, hypothetically, and obligation. For example, among the German learners of English as their L2, the sentence below conveys a meaning of obligation.

Wir sollen die Hausaufgaben machen. (Germany)

We should do our homework. (English)

Both sentences convey the meaning of obligation that one will account for their actions at own will

In the Chinese language, the use of the modal verb ‘should’ is regarded to have a middle value in terms of usage. Chinese learning English as their second language tend to misuse the modal verb should especially in speaking and writing.

Among the French learners taking English as the second language, learners of English use the modal verb frequently at all levels because they have not grasped the grammatical content and usage respectively.

Swedish learners of English as L2 use the modal verb more frequently in speaking and writing their academic work as compared to the L1 English users.


The analysis shows that there is a significant variation in the use of the modal verb should among the four countries where English learners take the language as L2. The variations occur in the frequency and functional levels. The modal verb ‘should’ is underutilized among some learners, in others it takes the middle position, and among the Swedish learners, it is frequently used in both speaking and writing. The modal verb should indicate that it is significantly underused in terms of frequency as compared to its function.  Should appear to function as a met discourse, predicting and predicting, functions which are commonly underutilized by L2 English learners because they have not mastered grammatical rules and regulations. The metadiscourse function in many cases is utilized by the native speakers of English. Sometimes the modal verb is replaced by other guiders or teachers with will in situations like correcting learners in the L2 language thus making errors that could be avoided. The modal verb ‘should’ can also be noted in the context of intonation refereeing its relativity to the height of the pitch used in the user’s range. More studies should be done to convey the type of second language that the learners are exposed to when learning English. When should is allocated the function of obligation and necessity, overusing the modal verb should be in academic writing because the L2 English learners tend to offer a strong and direct way of persuasion to their audience. Other modal verbs also take the place of ‘should’ because of errors caused by first language modal verbs.


Modal verbs such as ‘should’ appear frequently in natural discourse, for instance, among the German learners of English as their L2, they experience challenges in understanding and applying different semantic meanings in the right way. The challenge is a result of the polysemous nature of the first language modal verbs and how individual senses are not always transparent to the learner. The reliance on traditional methods to teach the second language has failed because to provide precise meanings of modal verbs and clear explanations of their relationships between epistemic and prototypical senses. The results suggest that the use of the modal verb ‘should’ varies significantly among learners of English as their L2 depending on their linguistic knowledge of their first language. The study also focused on the analysis of frequencies and the functions of should among different L2 learners English. The collocational aspects of the modal verb ‘should’ and comparing them with those of the native speakers to identify the patterns used by L1 speakers. It could help in the development of a clear view of the aspects related to the modal verb. Second language learning is significantly affected by the modal verbs used in learning the first language; therefore, the need to understand the requirements and patterns of the second language to gain proficiency and skills and also invest in improving the teaching skills that teachers use in second language learning. The use of should’ in learning the English language as L2 is either overutilization or underutilization of the modal verb.



Work cited

DE CLERCQ, BASTIEN, and ALEX HOUSEN. “A Cross-Linguistic Perspective on Syntactic Complexity in L2 Development: Syntactic Elaboration and Diversity.” The Modern Language Journal, vol. 101, no. 2, 2017, pp. 315–334. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44980980. Accessed 13 May 2021.


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