On the Mongolian Students’ Difficulties in Acquiring English Relative Clauses, Due to Syntactic Structure Difference

Part of the Second Language Learning and Teaching book series (SLLT)


According to researchers of applied linguistics, the basic problems of foreign language learning arise not out of any essential difficulty in the features of the new language itself, but primarily out of first language habits. English and Mongolian relative clauses are greatly different from each other with regards to their phrase structure. This paper examines evidence for structural differences such as head-directionality, which cause difficulties for Mongolian learners in mastering the English relative clause. 100 students between grades 10 and 12 (aged between 15 and 18) who have studied English for 5–7 years were chosen in the study. First, in order to check the students’ background knowledge of relative clauses, the students were given an exam with 2 tasks: (1) to translate Mongolian sentences into English and (2) to create sentences by putting given words in the correct order. According to the study, most students had problems with English relative clause structure: omitting the relative pronoun altogether, selecting the wrong relative pronoun, or disordering the constituents of the syntactic structure. Second, we carried out an experiment on the same students in order to examine the importance of translation for learning complex structures in the English relative clause. According to the study, I hypothesize L1 grammar influences the foreign language learners and I argue that a grammar-translation method is the most effective way to teach and learn L2 complex grammar attributes based on the result of the second experiment.


Relative clause Head-direction parameter Interference Error analysis Translation method 



I am very grateful to the TAL conference organizing committee of Department of Applied Linguistics in Institute of English of Opole University for giving me such a good opportunity to submit my paper for the book At the crossroads: Challenges of foreign language learning.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Language and LiteratureMongolian Academy of SciencesUlaanbaatarMongolia

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