A functional perspective on the challenges of teaching English tenses to speakers of other languages

the case of adult speakers of Serbian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Systemic-functional linguistics (SFL)describes the English TENSE system as a logical ideational resource for representing experience of time. There is a gap in research, however, exploring the applications of an SFL-based tense description in second language acquisition (SLA). Using the SFL framework, this paper investigates the difficulties arising for adult Serbian speakers when learning English tenses and offers practical pedagogical strategies. Data were collected through surveys and interviews with English teachers in Serbia. The findings indicate that learners struggle when tense forms reflect more than one temporal relation, arguably due to the Serbian tense system. The study also suggests learners’ tendencies to misinterpret English progressive tenses as equivalent to Serbian imperfective aspect. The concept of relative tenses can be used to observe all time references influencing tense selection. It can also be employed to mitigate the negative L1 transfer in terms of aspect. The key implication of this study pertains to the benefits of adopting a systemic-functional perspective on time realisation in SLA research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-90
Number of pages12
JournalLinguistics and Education
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Adult language learners
  • English TENSE system
  • Second language acquisition
  • Serbian TENSE system
  • Systemic-functional grammar

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