Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Language Learning Phenomena, with Examples

Allow me to introduce my readers to an item of ESOL jargon: L1 interference. It's an admirably appropriate label: efficiently descriptive. It is the phenomenon where a language learner inappropriately applies principles of his or her own language, such as grammar or syntax, to the production of the language that they are studying.

Some examples of Russian grammar that occasionally produce problems with L1 interference are:

Russian does not include the use of grammatical articles.

Question formation in Russian comes from an alteration of intonation at the sentential level, and not, as is the case in English, by way of a change of word order.

Abstract concepts are typically referred to using a proximate spatial metaphor, whereas, in English, it is far more common to hear a speaker employ a distal spatial metaphor for this purpose.

Additionally, because the Russian language employs roughly half the number of vowels that English does, Russian learners of English do not always appropriately differentiate different vowels in their production of English. For instance, the vowel sounds in hut, hat and heart are often realised in the same way, as something between hut and heart.

All of these examples of L1 interference converging upon a student of mine, as she attempted to ask "Is that a fact?" needless to say, came as a little bit of a shock to me.


IMM said...

Ha! I would've crumbled. It would've been like hearing the scream of every marker I've ever had.

O Graeme Burns said...

Hey, another reader! That makes a confirmed readership of 15! Now, I don't want to offend anyone, but I'm not quite sure who confirmed reader number 15 IS. I'm sorry, but I can't extrapolate a name from the initials. Can you help me out here?

IMM said...

Oh it's just Iain, just Iain. Matheson.

O Graeme Burns said...

Aah, right. Of course. I really should have guessed. I didn't though. I was actually getting a little excited that maybe I had a random reader: one who I had never met. Although I'm glad that you're reading, naturally. God dammit that was a lot of adverbials.

O Graeme Burns said...

At the request of a loyal reader, I offer an explanation for this slightly cryptic post. So, here goes. I will explain what I said, and show how it affected the target sentence: "Is that a fact?"

Articles: in English, we have two, "the" and "a/an". In Russian, they don't have any. Where we would say "the" or "a", a person speaking Russian would simply not say anything.

This makes "Is that a fact?" "Is that fact?"

Question formation: compare, in English:
It was interesting. (declarative)
Was it interesting? (interrogative)

In Russian, the two sentences would be:
Eto interesniy. (declarative)
Eto interesniy? (interrogative)

The fact that it is a question is marked by a rising in intonation. It takes a little while for Russian learners to get used to the fact that you MUST re-arrange the sentence to make a question.

This makes the sentence "This is fact."

In English, it's very common to call things "that" when we aren't near them, spatially or temporally. For instance, my friend, a native speaker of English, speaking of teaching children, said that she had "one hanging onto that leg, and one hanging onto the other." Her boyfriend replied "THAT? It's attached to you! How much closer does it need to be for you to call it 'this'?" As far as I can work out, we call things "this" only if we are sitting in front of it, and talking about it in the present tense. Non-English speakers, more-often-than-not, will call things "This".

This makes our sentence: "This is fact."

Finally: "hat" is to "hut" as "fact" is to "------".

In conclusion, she said: "This if fucked." Quite innocently, too.

Fifi said...

Needles? Boy oh boy what have you gotten into?

Hehe :)

O Graeme Burns said...

Bugger, I need to find a proof-reader to look at these things before I post them.

Thanks, Fi.

Asher said...

Oh, I'm a random reader. Although I'm a friend of le Fincham's.

P.S. Should I be concerned that "frobb" is my word for verification?

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