Sometimes I ask myself if anything that I do makes any sense. What is my goal in life? Where do I go? What is the purpose of my existence?! Yesterday I had a lesson with Robert. He seems unable to remember to use articles in front of nouns, although we have practiced it for ages now. It is still: ‘I went to cinema to see film’. I have used all my language teacher tricks of trade: explanation, examples, drills, comparison, I pleaded with him and threatened him…. Nothing seems to work!
There is a good fifty percent chance that Robert is just at a particular stage in his interlanguage development and at some point he will overcome “the articles problem”. Interlanguage competence is an internalized representation of the regularities that learners discover in the linguistic data to which they are exposed. So long as learners continue to learn, this internal representation is changing and developing. Learners construct hypotheses about the new language and then test them against the data they receive. If the hypotheses turn out to be false, learners invent new ones and the hypothesis testing continues.
Interlanguage competence, thus, goes through many intermediate stages, such as underdifferentiation in the first phase, then reinterpretation, hypercorrection and analogy in the following stages. We can imagine that Robert, right now at the stage of underdifferentiation (ignoring the existence of articles), will start applying them in some cases (reinterpretation), and will go through a period of hypercorrection – he will insert articles everywhere, needed or not: Where is the book of the Anna? Finally, he will apply analogy, based on the English input texts and his article usage will become similar to that of a native speaker.
Interlanguage in learners is a temporary phenomenon used during a restricted period of time and should lead to full language competence. There may occur a tendency, however, to change the intermediate competence into a permanent one. The incorrect rules of interlanguage do not retract even after the learner is provided with explanation and positive input, as well as drills and exercises. No matter how much input and no matter in what form the input is provided, the learner does not learn. This situation of ‘frozen competence’ is called fossilization, and is linked to lack of motivation, the moment the level of fluency needed for conversation on everyday basis is reached.
For those of you who despair that after ten years of studying you are still unable to form a decent grammatical construction, be frank to yourselves: Are you motivated enough? Maybe you think: Hey, I can communicate well enough, who needs that passato remoto anyway?! Well, good for you!
For those who would rather not give up just yet, I suggest you give yourselves time and do not take this upper intermediate class for the third time again! Dare to aim higher and sign in for that advanced level class. The appropriate use of Past Tense and Present Perfect will dawn on you at the least expected moment.