A cognitive-operative approach to improve the L2 learning of the Spanish subjunctive

  • Elena Sola Simon

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The Spanish subjunctive has proved to be quite difficult for L2 learners to acquire. Previous studies have mostly focused on L2 learners with English as L1 and have concluded that not having a distinctive subjunctive morphology in English or lacking knowledge of complex syntax represent important reasons for those difficulties. Another important reason is the way Spanish mood contrast is generally introduced in the L2 classroom, that is, by means of the traditional approach. This method encourages the memorisation of lengthy lists of subordinate structures depending on the multifarious syntactic-semantic connections between the matrix and the embedded verb (plus a different list of exceptions in which those connections do not apply). Moreover, the traditional approach does not seem to consider important discourse-pragmatic factors which also affect mood contrast. Firstly, this investigation aimed to corroborate, by means of a series of perception and production tasks, whether the aforementioned difficulties were common to L2 learners within a specific setting, that is, UK undergraduate students taking Spanish as a subject of study. The methodology also comprised a teacher questionnaire and class observation in order to examine teachers’ views on the difficulties in acquiring the Spanish subjunctive and the teaching method/s most commonly employed to introduce this mood to their students. One of the main outcomes confirmed that a traditional approach to teaching mood contrast generally prevails in the SFL (Spanish as a Foreign Language) classroom with unsatisfactory results. A central aspect of this investigation involved an intervention study in which a new method to introduce mood contrast for the first time based on a Cognitive-Operative approach was tested. This method is grounded on the single binary opposition of declaration/non-declaration proposed by Ruiz Campillo (2004), which constitutes a single operative value/mechanism to explain all the mood choices without exception. The results were very positive and provided sufficient empirical evidence to demonstrate that this approach has higher effectiveness than the traditional method and thus the potential to improve the L2 learning of Spanish mood contrast.
Date of Award11 Nov 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorNigel Fabb (Supervisor) & Joanna McPake (Supervisor)

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