When L1 interferes with English learning
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
As I wrote back in 2015, the accepted patterns of English rhetoric must be taught through a systematic approach that gives the writers plenty of opportunity for revision and extensive outside reading.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of English writing is style and rhetoric. The transfer of cultural thought patterns from one linguistic base to another results in comments on student papers such as "loose ends, vague or wordy."
In this article, we will see how students' home languages may cause interference when they start learning English. Items include similar words with different meanings, sounds that exist in one language but not the other, different writing patterns, paralinguistic features and idioms.
L1 patterns can interfere with reading. What takes one word in L1 may take two or three words in English. Also, the way students read is often different. They must develop good reading skills in English just as they did in their home languages.
Good readers can identify important information in a text and are aware of how other textual information relates to the important propositions. They can do this even when, as often happens, the text is not well organized.
These readers are applying cognitive patterns — rhetorical structures — that they have already acquired, first via their oral language experience and later via their reading. These patterns guide them to the recognition that (for example) a given text compares two entities, or that it presents a problem and a solution to that problem. Readers who can identify the structure of a text are better able to locate the information they need for successful comprehension.
Expository text is challenging for many students as it often deals with complex and unfamiliar content and is structured in a variety of ways. Although recently there has been a press toward providing all students with more exposure to expository text, many students are still often finding expository text hard to understand. One problem is that the instruction in many classrooms is discussion-based, with little or no explicit instruction.
As the ESL student attempts to communicate, he or she draws upon the L1 database and communication strategies. The first language may substitute for English when the writer or speaker has to produce but has not acquired enough English to do so.
Research has shown that first language influence is strongest in complex word order and in word-for-word translations of phrases. The ESL learners have experience and knowledge drawn from their own language and culture, and crossover (interference) is likely as they try to communicate in the new language using the skills they already possess. Interlingual transfer is especially prevalent at the beginning stages of language learning, and the result in errors attributed to linguistic interference.
According to Marc Phillip Yablonka, a Vietnamese ESL teacher in Vietnam had these comments on the writing patterns of her students: "Though we Vietnamese ask questions very directly, when we talk amongst ourselves or write, we go around the subject; we don't get right to the point. Therefore, it is very difficult for us to teach the students to write effective paragraphs."
Words and expressions do not translate exactly. In English the verb listen uses a preposition: ("listen to + NP"), while French uses the form, ecouter NP as in "ecoutez moi!" ("Listen to me!") Conversely, the English verb obey takes a direct object, "obey + NP," while in French the expression is "obeir a NP."
Thus, English learners of French may produce interlanguage forms as the following: ecouter a/obeir rather than the correct French forms: ecouter/obeir a. The interference comes from the English forms "listen to/obey."
Here is a writing sample from a Japanese student: "I quit the job three years ago. I had set a goal that I will become the boss someday in this company. But this simple goal did not come true. Because my boss disliked me and I hated him very much. I thought deeply what can I do to rest of my life. Then I got an idea in my head. It was a new goal."
This is from a Chinese student: "Recently the young people like wear with the two-different way, one of is the Hip-pop style which style is loose and comfortable. One of is the punk style is really tight and usually with lot of hole, earring, necklace and another special stuff. What different between the Hippop and punk in played."
ESL teachers need to keep these sociolinguistic distinctions and psychological meanings in mind when presenting material. Students will need practice in some basic encounters and even in using the telephone.
For example, learners need to be able to predict regular speaker change in conversation and the verbal and nonverbal signs involved. Practicing routines and role playing will help set the material in deep memory; another possible aid is videos that show the social functions of the language.
Error production involves a variety of factors. There is L1/L2 interference, but errors can also be attributed to factors such as overgeneralization.
A learner of French may say, Vous disez rather than the correct form, Vous dites,making the assumption that the PN Vous requires the ending -ez as with most other French verbs. Other errors arise from the learners' need to make themselves understood by whatever means possible.
Not all errors are equally disruptive: "Errors of vocabulary, for example, are less general and predictable than errors of grammar, but they are usually more disruptive of communication…Above all, error analysis is complicated by the fact that it is often unclear what the learner intended to say, and thus how to identify the error that has been made."
Example of crossover errors: An English speaker learning French uses the form, entrer rather than the correct form entrer dans; A German leaning English uses the following form to make a question: "Came you home early?"
Culture and language go together: "Through the study of other languages, students gain a knowledge and understanding of the cultures that use that language and, in fact, cannot truly master the language until they have also mastered the cultural contexts in which the language occurs."
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