L1 Influence on the Use of the English Present Perfect: A Corpus Analysis of Russian and Spanish Learners’ Essays

Keywords: Present Perfect, Russian, Spanish, L1 transfer, learner corpora


Background: Mastering verbal tenses, especially those expressing aspect, in a second language presents a challenge as learners frequently link the semantic nuances of verbal forms in their second language (L2) to the characteristics of the verbal systems in their native languages (L1). This study explores the impact of L1 on the usage of the English Present Perfect (PP) among non-native speakers.

Purpose: In an effort to contribute to the ongoing research on the mechanisms governing the acquisition of English tenses, this study focuses on the variations that affect the usage of the PP in the writing of English learners. The investigation is particularly centered on university students whose L1 is Russian and Spanish, seeking to delve into the ways in which their first language influences the utilisation of the PP in their English writing.

Method: Analysis of L2 English by Russian and Spanish learners, based on corpora of argumentative essays written by undergraduate Russian and Spanish learners of English, controlled by a corpus of essays produced by native speakers of English; frequency and distribution of the PP in learner writings; examination of semantic contexts;  identification of error types.

Results: The findings indicate that, despite a higher occurrence of the PP in texts produced by Spanish learners compared to Russian learners, the rate of errors in its application is nearly identical in both learner corpora. These errors are likely attributable to challenges in comprehending the functions of the PP and in distinguishing its semantics from those of other English tenses, particularly the Past Simple.

Conclusion: The study suggests that the increased prevalence of PP usage by L2 learners may be attributed to positive transfer from their L1 when it exhibits structures analogous to the English PP. Conversely, patterns indicative of, for example, undergeneralisation of semantic contexts suggesting the relevance of an action, or of overgeneralisation of adverbs compatible with the PP can be interpreted as evidence of negative transfer. The results of this study hold significance for language pedagogy, as they highlight potential challenges in acquiring the PP that learners from diverse L1 backgrounds may encounter.


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How to Cite
Perez-GuerraJ., & SmirnovaE. (2024). L1 Influence on the Use of the English Present Perfect: A Corpus Analysis of Russian and Spanish Learners’ Essays. Journal of Language and Education, 10(1), 101-114. https://doi.org/10.17323/jle.2024.16720