Components of Language Learning

According to Penny Ur (1991) three components should be included in a language course, that is the three main components of a language – phonology (pronunciation), lexis (vocabulary) and structure (grammar). Phonology is the system of the sound segments that humans use to build up words. Each language has a different set of these segments or phonemes, and children quickly come to recognize and then produce the speech segments that are characteristic of their native language. Lexis is the set of words and phrases which express concepts. In order to serve as a means of communication between people, words must have a shared or conventional meaning. Structure refers to the system of rules by which words and phrases are arranged to make meaningful statements.

Teaching grammar has been highly controversial from the point of view of how much to focus on it in the process of language teaching. For many years the Grammar Translation method has been the most common and it is still used nowadays in teaching English. This method is based on analysis of the language and comparing it with the mother tongue. Supporters of this kind of teaching think that analyzing the grammar will help learners to master the language because they find out how the language is constructed (Harmer, 1998).“Increased opportunities for communication among Europeans created a demand for oral proficiency in foreign languages” (Richards, Rodgers, 1986, p. 5). Since the 1970s the Grammar-Translation method has declined in popularity because the emphasis on translation was seen as a barrier to such oral proficiency.

Communicative Language Teaching started to be seen as the most beneficial way of teaching a foreign language. This means that attention has shifted from ways of teaching grammar to ways of getting learners to communicate. Communicative language teaching meant that teaching languages was not only about teaching bits of grammar but teaching language functions and learners were provided with instructions only in the target language, teachers taught only real-life sentences and vocabulary, the inductive approach was mostly used, teachers used a lot of visual prompts to teach vocabulary. Teachers had to encourage direct and spontaneous use of the foreign language in the classroom. Learners would then be able to induce rules of grammar. According to Harmer (1998, p.32) “if students get enough exposure to language and opportunities for its use – and if they are motivated – then language learning will take care of itself.”

In terms of motivation and learner success with languages, grammar has been seen to be a problem and to stand in the way of helping learners to communicate fluently. The hard fact that most teachers face is that learners often find it difficult to make flexible use of the rules of grammar taught in the classroom. They may know the rules perfectly but are incapable of applying them in their own use of the language. In addition, when learners learn a language, they need four aspects – to be in interaction with a foreign language as much as possible, to understand its meaning, to understand its form or structure to be able to use it, and to have as much practice as possible. All these components need to be included in the learning process so that it is successful, but a big part of that success depends on motivation.


1. Ur, P. (1991). A Course in Language Teaching: Practice and Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2. Harmer, J. (1998). How to teach English.Harlow: Longman
3. Richards, J.C. Rodgers,T.S (1986). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


prof. Mădălina Simpf

Școala Gimnazială Rákóczi Ferenc, Satu-Mare (Satu-Mare) , România
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