Giờ Mở Cửa

Liên Lạc

Thắc Mắc

Tài Liệu‎ > ‎Biên Khảo‎ > ‎Khảo Luận‎ > ‎

Linguistic Considerations for English Language Learners

posted Feb 17, 2010, 11:49 AM by Quốc-Anh Vương   [ updated Feb 19, 2010, 12:32 PM by Doãn-Vượng Nguyễn ]

 

Phap Dam, Ph.D.

Texas Woman’s University.

 

 

Introduction

 

              This paper suggests linguistic considerations for English language learners whose native languages are Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, and Vietnamese. It lists common errors in pronunciation and grammar in English made by such learners due to significant differences between their native language and English.

 

              An asterisk (*) is put in front of a flawed sentence: *How you like America? *We learn English for six months already.

 

              Phonemic symbols used in this paper include the following:

 

Vowels: [iy] eat, [i] it, [ey] ate, [e] bed, [æ] bad, [∂] ago, [a] car, [uw] Luke, [u] look, [ow] own, [ô] all.

 

Diphthongs: [ay] buy, [aw] how, [oy] boy.

 

Semi-consonants:  [w] wet, [y] yet.

 

Consonants: [p] pet, [b] bet, [t] to, [d] do, [k] kill, [g] gill, [hw] whet, [f] fan, [v] van, [θ] thigh, [ð] thy, [s] sue, [z] zoo, [l] lake, [r] rake, [š] sheep, [ž] measure, [č] cheap, [j] jeep, [h] home, [m] month, [n] number, [ŋ] song.

 

Arabic-speaking learners

 

The Arabic and English phonologies differ not only in the inventories of sounds but also in the emphasis on vowels and consonants to convey meaning. While there are 22 vowels and diphthongs and 24 consonants in English, there are 8 vowels and diphthongs and 32 consonants in Arabic (Smith, 1987).

 

Vowel pronunciation contrasts

 

Arabic speakers have difficulty with the following vowel pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Smith, 1987):

 

[i] and [e] (as in the minimal pair sit/set)

 

[ey] and [e] (as in the minimal pair late/let)

 

[ey] and [æ] (as in the minimal pair rain/ran)

 

[e] and [∂] (as in the minimal pair get/gut)

 

[e] and [a] (as in the minimal pair pet/pot)

 

[∂] and [a] (as in the minimal pair hut/hot)

 

[∂] and [ow] (as in the minimal pair cut/coat)

 

[∂] and [ô] (as in the minimal pair but/bought)

 

[a] and [ow] (as in the minimal pair cot/coat)

 

[a] and [ô] (as in the minimal pair cot/caught)

 

[a] and [aw] (as in the minimal pair dot/doubt)

 

[oy] and [ay] (as in the minimal pair boy/buy)

 

Consonant pronunciation contrasts

 

              Arabic speakers have difficulty with the following consonant pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Smith, 1987):

 

[p] and [b] (as in the minimal pairs pan/ban, rapid/rabid, cap/cab)

 

[w] and [v] (as in the minimal pairs wet/vet, rowing/roving, row/rove)

 

[f] and [v] (as in the minimal pairs fan/van, rifle/rival, safe/save)

 

[f] and [θ] (as in the minimal pairs fin/thin, roofless/ruthless, deaf/death)

 

[v] and [ð] (as in the minimal pairs van/than, lever/leather, live/lithe)

 

] and [t] (as in the minimal pairs thin/tin, ether/eater, death/debt)

 

[θ] and [s] (as in the minimal pairs thank/sank, faithless/faceless, bath/bass)

 

] and [ð] (as in the minimal pairs thigh/thy, ether/either, teeth/teethe)

 

[ð] and [d] (as in the minimal pairs they/day, breathing/breeding, seethe/seed)

 

[ð] and [z] (as in the minimal pairs then/Zen, teething/teasing, bathe/bays)

 

[č] and [š] (as in the minimal pairs chip/ship, watching/washing, leech/leash)

 

[j] and [č] (as in the minimal pairs joke/choke, ridges/riches, surge/search)

 

Consonant clusters

 

              Arabic has far fewer consonant clusters than English. The common initial English clusters [pr], [pl], [gr], [gl], [θr], [sp], [spr], [skr], [str], and [spl] do not exist in Arabic at all (Smith, 1987). Learners tend to insert a vowel as if to facilitate pronunciation, saying [θ∂riy] for [θriy] (“three”), [espriŋ] for [spriŋ] (“spring”), and [m∂nθis] for [m∂nθs] (“months”).

 

Grammar

 

The grammatical structure of Arabic (a Semitic language) is quite different from that of English (an Indo-European language). Thus, there exist far more areas of interference than areas of facilitation (Smith, 1987).

 

              The Arabic sentence usually begins with a verb. This habit may carry over into English: *Arrived the teacher this morning quite late.

 

              Arabic does not have an equivalent for the English auxiliaries “do, does, did.”  Learners tend to omit them: *Where you met him?  *We not understand you, please explain again.

 

              Arabic has no equivalent for “to be.” Learners, therefore, frequently omit this important copula in English: *He doctor.   *The teacher very good.   *We going to school now.

 

              The present tense in Arabic can function as the present, present continuous, present perfect, and future tenses in English. This can carry over into English, causing serious interference errors: *Abdul eats dinner now.   *We learn English for six months already.   *When you come back, tomorrow?

 

              The passive voice is seldom used in Arabic. Therefore, the structure and usage of the passive voice in English is a potential difficulty for Arabic-speaking learners.

 

              In Arabic, adjectives follow their nouns. This syntactic feature may carry over into English: *They are people rich.

 

              Learners frequently confuse between the adjective and the adverb forms in English, with the adjective form as the preferred one: *We will work very careful.

 

              Phrasal verbs such as “look up to,” “look down on,” and “put up with” are unknown in Arabic. They are certainly a major learning difficulty for learners.

 

              In Arabic, the object of a verb in a relative clause must be mentioned. Even advanced learners make interference errors because of this habit: *This is the man whom I met him last week.

 

Chinese-speaking learners

 

              The Chinese language consists of eight dialect groups: Northern Chinese (or Mandarin), Wu, Hsiang, Kan, Hakka, Northern Min, Southern Min, and Yueh (or Cantonese). Mandarin, the native dialect of over 70% of the Chinese population, has become the national language. These different dialects share a common writing system and fundamental basic features at all structural levels (Chang, 1987). Since English and Chinese originate from different language families (Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan, respectively), many structural differences exist between them.

 

Vowel pronunciation contrasts

 

              The contrast between [iy] and [i] has no equivalent in any of the dialects of Chinese. For this reason, learners confuse such minimal pairs as eat/it  and sheep/ship.

 

              The same is true with [uw] and [u], which leads to learners’ confusion between such minimal pairs as fool/full and cooed/could.

 

              [æ] is unknown in Chinese. Learners tend to nasalize it or confuse it with [∂] or [e]. Thus, “bat” may be confused with “but” or “bet.”

 

              Chinese speakers also have difficulty with the following vowel pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Chang, 1987):

 

[æ] and [ay] (as in the minimal pair bat/bite)

 

[∂] and [a] (as in the minimal pair hut/hot)

 

[∂] and [u] (as in the minimal pair buck/book)

 

[∂] and [ô] (as in the minimal pair dug/dog)

 

[a] and [ow] (as in the minimal pair not/note)

 

[a] and [aw] (as in the minimal pair bond/bound)

 

Consonant pronunciation contrasts

 

              The unaspirated stops [b], [d], [g] are voiced in English but voiceless in Chinese. Learners, therefore, tend to ignore the voiced feature of these sounds in English, saying “big” as “pig,” “add” as “at,” and “bag” as “back.”

 

              [v] does not exist in most dialects. Learners tend to replace it with [w] or [f], saying “vine” as “wine” and “save” as “safe.”

 

              [θ] does not exist in Chinese and is likely to be substituted by [t], [f], or [s]. Thus, learners may pronounce “thin” as “tin,” “fin,” or “sin.”

 

              [ð] is also unknown in Chinese and frequently substituted by [d] or [z]. Thus, learners may pronounce “then” as “den” or “Zen.”

 

              Chinese speakers also have difficulty with the following consonant pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Chang, 1987):

 

[n] and [l] (as in the minimal pairs night/light, snob/slob, ten/tell)

 

[n] and [ŋ] (as in the minimal pairs sinner/singer, kin/king)

 

[l] and [r] (as in the minimal pairs lice/rice, flee/free, mile/mire)

 

[s] and [z] (as in the minimal pairs sue/zoo, racing/raising, peace/peas)

 

              English final consonants are a pronunciation challenge, as there are few final consonants in Chinese. As a result, learners tend to drop the consonant or to add a vowel at the end to facilitate pronunciation. Thus, “road” may be heard as [ro] or [rod∂].

 

              English consonant clusters, whether in initial or final position, are troublesome, as consonant clusters do not exist in Chinese. For initial consonant clusters, learners tend to insert a vowel between the consonants, pronouncing “speak” as [sipiyk], for example. With final consonant clusters, they tend to drop the final consonant or create superfluous syllables to facilitate pronunciation. Thus, “cats” may be pronounced as [kæt] or [kætis], and “tests” as [test] or [tesitisi].

 

Parts of speech

 

              As cogently expressed by Chang (1987, p. 228): “Parts of speech in Chinese are not always formally distinguished. There is no established comprehensive grammatical classification, and the same word may often serve different structural functions.” Because of this, learners have no choice but remember the part of speech for every English word as well as its function in a sentence. Yet, they frequently make errors in part of speech and function, as in the following examples: *It’s quite difficulty to master English grammar.   *We like dance at the party.

 

Verb tenses

 

              Verbs are not conjugated in Chinese. A single form of the verb is used regardless of the tense, aspect, modality of the sentence or the number and gender of the subject (Ross, 2007). As a result, learners tend to have difficulty dealing with the complexity of English tenses and aspects. Errors like the following are common: *We left Beijing since last month.   *I have done my work two days ago.   *What do you do? (for “What are you doing?”).

 

Verb patterns

 

              Learners may use transitive verbs intransitively or intransitive verbs transitively, causing syntactical infelicities: *My sister married with an American businessman.   *We talked a few words with our new principal.

 

              In Chinese, the verb “be” is frequently dropped when it is followed by predicative adjectives. This syntactic feature tends to carry over into English: *We very busy right now.   *She happy with her new job.

 

              The difference between subjunctive mood and indicative mood is unknown in Chinese. Errors like these are common: *We really wish you can visit us in Taiwan.   *If I am you, I would walk away.   *They recommend that Lisa will be promoted.

 

Articles

 

              Articles do not exist in Chinese. Learners, therefore, find English articles difficult to use and frequently make errors: *Can you play piano?   *We finished the school last week.   *I was in a pain after the surgery.   *My little sister is a smartest student in her class.

 

Pronouns

 

              Chinese uses pronouns much less than English. Chinese pronouns tend to be omitted when they are readily understood. This practice frequently carries over into English: *They studied very hard before took the test.   *Look at my new camera. I bought in Shanghai, you know.

 

Word order

 

              Statements and questions have the same word order in Chinese. Because of this fact, learners have the tendency to ignore the inversion required by English questions: *You are studying what now?   *When and where he was born?   *What is called the movie?

 

Postmodifiers

 

              No matter how long they can be, noun modifiers in Chinese precede the nouns they modify. For this reason, English postmodifiers may hamper learners’ comprehension. Learners may make such interference errors as: *My mother is very important someone to me.   *Unemployment can be an extremely hard to solve problem.

 

Conjunctions

 

              Even advanced learners tend to use a superfluous conjunction in an English complex sentence that begins with the subordinate clause, which reflects Chinese syntax: *Because he worked hard, so he graduated from college with top honors.   *Although we are poor, but we are quite happy together.

 

Prepositions

 

              Learners in general find the use of English prepositions difficult. Examples of typical errors follow: *We will go London next week.   *Mr. Smith is married with my older sister.   *English prepositions are very difficult to foreign students.

 

Farsi-speaking learners

 

              Farsi (also called Persian) is spoken by about 30 million people in Iran. It is also spoken by 5.5 million people in Afghanistan, where it is known as Dari (Crystal, 1992). While there are 11 vowels and diphthongs and 32 consonants in Farsi, there are 22 vowels and diphthongs and 24 consonants in English. Thus, Farsi-speaking learners have great difficulty in recognizing and pronouncing the much larger inventory of English vowels and diphthongs (Wilson & Wilson, 1987).

 

Vowel pronunciation contrasts

 

              Farsi speakers have difficulty with the following vowel pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Wilson & Wilson, 1987):

 

[iy] and [i] (as in the minimal pair beat/bit)

 

[i] and [e] (as in the minimal pair bit/bet)

 

[e] and [æ] (as in the minimal pair bet/bat)

 

[æ] and [∂] (as in the minimal pair bat/but)

 

[∂] and [a] (as in the minimal pair cut/cot)

 

[∂] and [ô] (as in the minimal pair but/bought)

 

[a] and [ô] (as in the minimal pair cot/caught)

 

[uw] and [u] (as in the minimal pair pool/pull)

 

Consonant pronunciation contrasts

 

              Farsi speakers have difficulty with the following consonant pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Wilson & Wilson, 1987):

 

[w] and [v] (as in the minimal pairs west/vest, rowing/roving, row/rove)

 

[f] and [θ] (as in the minimal pairs fin/thin, roofless/ruthless, deaf/death)

 

[v] and [b] (as in the minimal pairs vat/bat, marvel/marble, curve/curb)

 

[v] and [ð] (as in the minimal pairs vat/that, lever/leather, live/lithe)

 

[t] and [d] (as in the minimal pairs till/dill, patting/padding, at/add)

 

[j] and [y] (as in the minimal pair jet/yet)

 

[θ] and [t] (as in the minimal pairs thank/tank, ether/eater, death/debt)

 

] and [š] (as in the minimal pairs thank/shank, rethread/reshred, with/wish)

 

] and [ð] (as in the minimal pairs thigh/thy, ether/either, teeth/teethe)

 

[ð] and [d] (as in the minimal pairs then/den, breathing/breeding, seethe/seed)

 

[n] and [ŋ] (as in the minimal pairs sinner/singer, fan/fang)

 

Consonant clusters

 

              Consonant clusters are a challenge for learners, as they do not exist in Farsi. Learners are prone to add a vowel before or in the middle of an English consonant cluster, producing pronunciations like [eskuwl] for [skuwl] (“school”), [p∂raym] for [praym] (“prime”), and [g∂liym] for [gliym] (“gleam”).

 

Word order

 

              According to Wilson and Wilson (1987, p. 134), “Word order in Farsi is fundamentally different from English and will cause difficulties in the early stages. Adjectives always follow their nouns; verbs are usually placed at the end of a sentence: *Yesterday girl beautiful (I) saw.”

 

Auxiliaries

 

The auxiliaries “do, does, did” do not have their equivalents in Farsi, in which questions are marked by a function word or by the use of a rising pitch. This fact causes learners to omit the auxiliary and to overuse intonation when forming questions in English:  *How you like soccer?   *You want to wait for me? (with a rising pitch at the end of sentence).

 

Articles

 

              Articles do not exist in Farsi, which uses suffixes instead to mark nouns as definite or indefinite. Learners find English articles (“a,” “an,” “the”) difficult to use:  *My mother is lawyer.   *Do you go to the school everyday?

 

Negation

 

              Negation in Farsi is simply done by putting a function word in front of the verb. This practice may carry over into English, causing errors:  *We not speak English yet, sorry!

 

The copula “to be”

 

              The equivalent of the English copula “be” is frequently dropped in Farsi. Interference errors may thus be made by learners:  *We happy in your class. You very good teacher!

 

He and she

 

              A single pronoun is used for both “he” and “she” in Farsi. Learners tend to make interference errors in English:  *Our mother does not work; he stays home to take care of us.

 

Verb tenses

 

              The present tense in Farsi can cover the present continuous, the present perfect, and the future tenses in English. This fact leads learners to make serious errors in English verb tenses: *I read my favorite book now.   *We live here since 1998.   *He comes this evening to see us.

 

              The past tense and the present perfect tense can be used interchangeably in Farsi. This fact can cause interference errors in English: *I lost my book. Did anyone see it?

 

Relative pronouns

 

              Farsi speakers have great difficulty with relative pronouns in English because Farsi has only one relative pronoun which applies to people, animals, and things and has the same form whether it is the subject or object of the verb (Wilson & Wilson, 1987). Examples of typical interference errors follow: *The teacher which was sick had to stay home.   *The doctor which we saw him is my father’s friend.  Please note that in the second example, the superfluous object pronoun “him” is included. This inclusion reflects Farsi syntax for relative clauses.

 

Japanese-speaking learners

 

              The Japanese phonemic inventory consists of 5 vowels: [i, e, a, o, u]; 2 semi-vowels: [j, w]; 6 stops: [p, b, t, d, k, g]; 3 fricatives: [s, z, h]; 3 nasals: [m, n, ŋ]; and 1 flap: [r] (Campbell, 1995). Moreover, Japanese has a very simple syllabic structure and very few consonant clusters. Learners, consequently, find the more complex English sounds difficult to articulate. They also find it even harder to perceive what is said (Thompson, 1987).

 

              The salient syntactic features of Japanese are as follows, based on Thompson (1987): (1) Japanese is a subject-object-verb language. (2) Modifier precedes its modified, topic precedes comment, subordinate clause precedes main clause. (3) What functions like English prepositions follows the noun. (4) Subordinating conjunctions follow their clause. (5) Modal verbs follow lexical verbs. (6) Regardless of length, all adjectival precede their substantive.

 

Vowel pronunciation contrasts

 

              Japanese speakers have difficulty with the following vowel pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Thompson, 1987):

 

[iy] and [i] (as in the minimal pair beat/bit)

 

[ey] and [e] (as in the minimal pair bait/bet)

 

[ey] and [æ] (as in the minimal pair bait/bat)

 

[e] and [æ] (as in the minimal pair bet/bat)

 

[æ] and [∂] (as in the minimal pair bat/but)

 

[∂] and [a] (as in the minimal pair cut/cot)

 

[∂] and [u] (as in the minimal pair buck/book)

 

[∂] and [ô] (as in the minimal pair but/bought)

 

[a] and [ow] (as in the minimal pair cot/coat)

 

[a] and [ô] (as in the minimal pair cot/caught)

 

[a] and [aw] (as in the minimal pair dot/doubt)

 

Consonant pronunciation contrasts

 

              Japanese speakers have difficulty with the following consonant pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Thompson, 1987):

 

[w] and [hw] (as in the minimal pair wail/whale)

 

[f] and [v] (as in the minimal pairs fine/vine, rifle/rival, safe/save)

 

[f] and [h] (as in the minimal pair fat/hat)

 

[v] and [b] (as in the minimal pairs vat/bat, marvel/marble, curve/curb)

 

[θ] and [t] (as in the minimal pairs thank/tank, ether/eater, death/debt)

 

] and [s] (as in the minimal pair thank/sank, faithless/faceless, bath/bass)

 

[ð] and [d] (as in the minimal pairs then/den, breathing/breeding, seethe/seed)

 

[ð] and [z] (as in the minimal pairs then/Zen, teething/teasing, bathe/bays)

 

[n] and [ŋ] (as in the minimal pairs sinner/singer, kin/king)

 

[d] and [z] (as in the minimal pairs doom/zoom, lady/lazy, made/maze)

 

[d] and [j] (as in the minimal pairs deep/jeep, aiding/aging, paid/page)

             

[s] and [š] (as in the minimal pairs seek/sheik, last/lashed, lease/leash)

 

Adjectives

 

              Possessive adjectives are not expressed in Japanese. This habit carries over into English: *My sister is washing face and brushing teeth.

 

              Learners frequently use English nouns as adjectives: *Japan is industry country.

 

              Inflections for comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs do not exist in Japanese. This fact can lead to errors in English: *I promise to work hard more in the future.

 

Conjunctions

 

              Learners have great difficulty with English conjunctions, which do not have one-to-one equivalents in Japanese. Thus, learners do not appreciate the clause-combining function of English conjunctions. This leads to a strong tendency to use them in choppy one-clause sentences: *They work very hard. As they want to make a lot of money. But they are also very tired. So they complain all the time!

 

Verb usage

 

              The copula “be” is frequently dropped in Japanese. This leads to interference errors in English: *We very tired already.

 

              Learners tend to use the simple present tense for a future activity: *We see you next Saturday morning.

 

              Even advanced learners have problems distinguishing “unreal conditionals” (as in “if I were rich”) from “real conditionals” (as in “if I am rich”).

 

              Learners are prone to making interference errors in English passive voice:  *The woman was died her husband.   *I was stolen all my money.   *She is very easy to get sick.

 

Russian-speaking learners

 

              The paramount difference between Russian and English vowel systems is noted by Monk and Burak (1987, p.117) as follows: “The two major features which distinguish the Russian sound system from English are the absence of the of the short-long vowel differentiation and the absence of diphthongs.”

 

              The salient features of Russian syntax include the following, based on Monk and Burak (1987): (1) Russian has a very complicated system of noun and adjective declensions and verb conjugation. (2) Word order is not fixed in a sentence. (3) There are only 3 tenses; present, past, future. (4) The verb system is based on the notion of aspect. (5) Continuous and perfect verb forms do not exist. (6) Phrasal verbs do not exist. (7) Articles do not exist. (8) Nouns have grammatical gender.

 

Vowel pronunciation contrasts

 

              Russian speakers have difficulty with the following vowel pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Monk & Burak, 1987):

 

[iy] and [i] (as in the minimal pair beat/bit)

 

[e] and [æ] (as in the minimal pair bet/bat)

 

[∂] and [a] (as in the minimal pair cut/cot)

 

[a] and [ô] (as in the minimal pair cot/caught)

 

Consonant pronunciation contrasts

 

              Russian speakers have difficulty with the following consonant pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Monk & Burak, 1987):

 

[b] and [p] (as in the minimal pair cab/cap)

 

[d] and [t] (as in the minimal pair mad/mat)

 

[g] and [k] (as in the minimal pair league/leak)

 

[n] and [ŋ] (as in the minimal pairs sinner/singer, kin/king)

 

[g] and [ŋ] (as in the minimal pair wig/wing)

 

[m] and [ŋ] (as in the minimal pairs hammer/hanger, brim/bring)

 

[h] and [hw] (as in the minimal pair high/why)

 

[w] and [hw] (as in the minimal pair wit/whit)

 

[w] and [v] (as in the minimal pairs wine/vine, rowing/roving, row/rove)

 

[w] and [r] (as in the minimal pair wait/rate)

 

[f] and [θ] (as in the minimal pairs fought/thought, roofless/ruthless, deaf/death)

 

[s] and [θ] (as in the minimal pairs sing/thing, faceless/faithless, bass/bath)

 

[z] and [ð] (as in the minimal pairs Zen/then, teasing/teething, bays/bathe)

 

[v] and [ð] (as in the minimal pairs van/than, lever/leather, live/lithe)

 

] and [t] (as in the minimal pairs thank/tank, ether/eater, death/debt)

 

[ð] and [d] (as in the minimal pairs then/den, breathing/breeding, seethe/seed)

 

] and [ð] (as in the minimal pair thigh/thy, ether/either, teeth/teethe)

 

Articles

 

              Articles are unknown in Russian. Learners are prone to making errors in English articles: *Have you car?   *Is that man a teacher you saw yesterday?

 

Gender

 

              There are 3 genders for nouns in Russian: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Learners may make interference errors with personal pronouns in English: (Question) Where’s your book? (Answer) *She is on the table over there.

 

Auxiliaries

 

              Russian has no equivalents for the English auxiliaries “do, have, will, be.” This discrepancy leads learners to make errors in declarations, questions, and responses in English:  *We no speak English yet.   *When he came?  (Question) Do you like dancing? (Answer) *Yes, I like.

 

Verb usage

 

              The linking verb “be” is omitted in Russian. This practice carries over into English, causing errors: *We happy in America.   *They not kind to us.

 

              The passive voice in English is troublesome to learners, especially in its continuous and perfect forms (such as “is being built” and “has been written”). This can lead learners to make errors like: *A new school is building.  *The letter has written.

 

              In Russian, the simple present tense can signal a future activity. Learners tend to apply this usage in English: *We come tomorrow, we promise.

 

              The present perfect tense (such as “have lived”) and the present continuous tense (such as “are going”) do not exist in Russian. This discrepancy is responsible for frequent learner errors:  *How long do you live here?  *Where do you go now?

 

              The past perfect tense (such as “had finished”) and the past continuous tense (such as “was eating”) are unknown in Russian. This discrepancy can lead to such learner errors as:  *I ate lunch when you called.  *They told me they finished work. 

 

Word order

 

              Word order is more flexible in Russian than in English. Russian sentences frequently begin with prepositional phrases of time and place; this practice leads to interference-induced errors:  *Last week on campus we met.

 

 

Spanish-speaking learners

 

              Spanish is spoken by about 50 million people in Spain and about 300 million people in a long chain of countries in Latin America, running from Mexico to Argentina – the latter number includes speakers in Puerto Rico and certain areas in the United States (Campbell, 1995). All Spanish varieties are mutually intelligible, despite the fact that slight differences exist in pronunciation and vocabularies (Coe, 1987).

 

              Following are the salient phonological and grammatical differences and similarities between Spanish and English, based on Coe (1987): (1) Spanish and English consonant systems share many similarities, but vowel systems and sentence stress show considerable differences. (2) Spanish has 5 pure vowels. Typically, 2 English vowels share the “phonetic space” occupied by 1 Spanish vowel; for example, English [iy] in eat and [i] in it share the same high-front articulation space with Spanish [i] as in ido. Thus one-to-one correspondences between Spanish and English vowels are impossible. (3) The vowels [æ] and [∂] do not exist in Spanish. (4) Spanish initial voiceless stops [p, t, k] are not aspirated as in English, so they sound like the voiced stops [b, d, g] to English ears. (5) Word-final voiced stops are rare in Spanish; learners tend to use [t] for [d], [p] for [b], and [k] for [g] in word-final position. (6) [z] does not exist in Spanish, so learners say “pence” for both “pence” and “pens.” (7) Spanish has 1 sound (a labial continuant) in the area of [b] and [v], causing confusion in the minimal pair bowels/vowels. (8) English has more consonant clusters than Spanish. Learners tend to simplify English consonant clusters, saying “brefas” for breakfast and “tes”  for test and text. (9) In Spanish, all syllables take about the same amount of time to pronounce. On the other hand, English stressed syllables are pronounced more slowly and distinctly. (10) Grammatical similarities between Spanish and English abound: singular and plural forms of nouns; definite and indefinite articles; regular and irregular verbs; past, present, future tenses; perfect and progressive verb forms. (11) Spanish has a much freer word order than English. (12) Spanish shows gender and number in adjectives and nouns. (13) Spanish does not use the passive voice as much as English. (14) Spanish has an active subjunctive mood.

 

Vowel pronunciation contrasts

              Spanish speakers have difficulty with the following vowel pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Coe, 1987):

 

[iy] and [i] (as in the minimal pair beat/bit)

 

[i] and [∂] (as in the minimal pair bit/but)

 

[ey] and [e] (as in the minimal pair bait/bet)

 

[e] and [æ] (as in the minimal pair bet/bat)

 

[e] and [∂] (as in the minimal pair bet/but)

 

[æ] and [∂] (as in the minimal pair bat/but)

 

[∂] and [a] (as in the minimal pair cut/cot)

 

[∂] and [u] (as in the minimal pair buck/book)

 

[∂] and [ô] (as in the minimal pair but/bought)

 

[a] and [ow] (as in the minimal pair cot/coat)

 

[a] and [ô] (as in the minimal pair cot/caught)

 

[uw] and [u] (as in the minimal pair pool/pull)

 

[u] and [ow] (as in the minimal pair could/code)

 

Consonant pronunciation contrasts

 

              Spanish speakers have difficulty with the following consonant pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Coe, 1987):

 

[m] and [ŋ] (as in the minimal pair rim/ring)

 

[n] and [ŋ] (as in the minimal pair fan/fang)

 

[p] and [b] (as in the minimal pairs pack/back, rapid/rabid, cap/cab)

 

[v] and [b] (as in the minimal pairs van/ban, marvel/marble, curve/curb)

 

[hw] and [h] (as in the minimal pair why/hi)

 

[hw] and [w] (as in the minimal pair whit/wit)

 

[w] and [g] (as in the minimal pairs wait/gate, cooer/cougar, row/rogue)

 

] and [f] (as in the minimal pairs thin/fin, ruthless/roofless, death/deaf)

 

] and [t] (as in the minimal pairs thank/tank, ether/eater, death/debt)

 

] and [s] (as in the minimal pairs thank/sank, faithless/faceless, bath/bass)

 

] and [š] (as in the minimal pairs thank/shank, rethread/reshred, with/wish)

 

] and [ð] (as in the minimal pairs thigh/thy, ether/either, teeth/teethe)

 

[ð] and [d] (as in the minimal pairs then/den, breathing/breeding, seethe/seed)

 

[ð] and [z] (as in the minimal pairs then/Zen, teething/teasing, bathe/bays)

 

[s] and [z] (as in the minimal pairs sue/zoo, racing/raising, peace/peas)

 

[s] and [š] (as in the minimal pairs see/she, last/lashed, lease/leash)

 

[č] and [š] (as in the minimal pairs chair/share, watching/washing, leech/leash)

 

[j] and [š] (as in the minimal pairs jade/shade, margin/Martian, badge/bash)

 

[j] and [č] (as in the minimal pairs gin/chin, ridges/riches, surge/search)

 

[j] and [y] (as in the minimal pair jam/yam)

 

Grammatical gender

 

              Grammatical gender is assigned to nouns in Spanish; for example, the sun (el sol) is masculine and the moon (la luna) is feminine. This assignment of gender can carry over into English: *The moon is so bright, look at her!

 

Number

 

              In Spanish, the plural marker applies not only to nouns, but also to articles, descriptive adjectives, and possessive adjectives. Learners may apply this rule in English: *Yours news friends are very sweets.

 

Prepositions

 

              Learners have considerable difficulty with English prepositions. Interference errors like these are common: *For what did they come? *We talk by the phone everyday. *The tourists arrived to London last night. *After to eat breakfast, we all go to school.

 

Personal pronouns

 

              When the context is clear, subject pronouns are regularly dropped in Spanish, which is a “pro-drop” language. Learners frequently apply this Spanish rule in English: *Juan is not from Mexico. Is from Cuba.

 

Relative pronouns

 

              No distinction is made between personal and non-personal relative pronouns in Spanish. Interference errors like these are common: *The students which we met were very friendly. *The last song who was played at the dance was romantic.

 

Question formation

 

              In Spanish, word order is not fixed for questions, and there are no equivalents for the English auxiliaries “do, does, did.” Interference errors like these are common:  *Has read Maria my letter? *When Juan left? *Juan left when? *Juan, when left?

 

Adverbs of frequency

 

              In Spanish, adverbs of frequency have various possible positions in the sentence, but not the typical central position as in English. Thus, “They have often visited us” may be expressed by learners as *Often they have visited us or *They often have visited us.

 

Post-modified head nouns

 

              In Spanish, head nouns are typically post-modified, in opposition to English. Thus, “The Dallas Soccer Club” tends to be expressed by learners as *The Club of Soccer of Dallas.

 

Prepositional phrase and direct object

 

              In Spanish, a prepositional phrase is regularly put in front of a direct object. Thus, “Luis took his favorite books to class” is prone to be expressed by learners as *Luis took to class his favorite books.

 

Adverbial phrase and direct object

 

              In Spanish, an adverbial phrase is regularly put in front of a direct object. Thus, “Mr. Jones speaks Spanish very well” is prone to be expressed as *Mr. Jones speaks very well Spanish.

 

Swahili-speaking learners

 

              A Bantu language, Swahili is spoken natively by about 4 million people in Tanzania and Kenya. It is also used as a lingua franca by about 30 million people throughout East Africa (Crystal, 1992). Swahili has far fewer vowels (5 versus 22) but more consonants (28 versus 24) than English. It does not have consonant clusters, and all its syllables end with a vowel sound (Grant, 1987). According to Lyovin (1997), the salient features of Swahili syntax include the following: (1) Modifiers follow what they modify. (2) Statements and questions have the same word order (subject-verb-object). (3) Questions differ from statements only in intonation or the use of question words. (4) Regarding the order of a series modifiers in a phrase, Lyovin (1997, p. 230) has this to say: “The order of various nominal modifiers is a mirror image of the usual order of such elements in English: noun + adjective + number + demonstrative or possessive pronoun. Thus ‘my two big baskets’ would be ‘baskets big two my’ in Swahili.”

 

Vowel pronunciation contrasts

 

              Swahili speakers have difficulty with the following vowel pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Grant, 1987):

 

[iy] and [i] (as in the minimal pair beat/bit)

 

[i] and [æ] (as in the minimal pair bit/bat)

 

[ey] and [e] (as in the minimal pair bait/bet)

 

[ey] and [æ] (as in the minimal pair bait/bat)

 

[∂] and [a] (as in the minimal pair cub/cob)

 

[∂] and [ô] (as in the minimal pair but/bought)

 

Consonant pronunciation contrasts

 

              Swahili speakers have difficulty with the following consonant pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Grant, 1987):

 

[w] and [hw] (as in the minimal pair wet/whet)

 

[θ] and [t] (as in the minimal pairs thank/tank, ether/eater, death/debt)

 

[ð] and [θ] (as in the minimal pairs thy/thigh, either/ether, teethe/teeth)

 

[ð] and [d] (as in the minimal pairs then/den, breathing/breeding, seethe/seed)

 

[l] and [r] (as in the minimal pairs light/right, flee/free, mile/mire)

 

[č] and [š] (as in the minimal pairs chip/ship, watching/washing, leech/leash)

 

[j] and [č] (as in the minimal pairs jeer/cheer, ridges/riches, surge/search)

 

Auxiliaries

 

              Learners frequently misuse or omit the auxiliaries “do, does, did”, because “Swahili does not have anything quite like the English auxiliary verb system for asking questions, indicating tenses and modality” (Grant, 1987, p. 199). Examples of typical errors follow: *We not go to school yesterday.  *Why the teacher likes you?  *They arrived when?  *Did you went to London last week?

 

Prepositions

 

              Learners make frequent errors in English prepositions:  *They arrived 3:00 pm.  *They replied us very promptly.

 

Conjunctions

 

              The conjunction “but” is used in Swahili concessive sentences. This practice carries over into English:  *Although he was tired, but he kept on working.  *Despite the cold but they decided to go out.

 

Pronouns

 

              Because there is no gender marking in Swahili, learners may fail to distinguish between masculine and feminine pronouns:  *She lives with his husband.

 

              Redundant use of pronouns is common:  *Kukubo he is from Uganda.  *Lisa she teaches us English.

 

Verb usage

 

              Learners have difficulty distinguishing the present continuous and the present perfect tenses in English:  *I am living here since last year.

 

              Verbs dealing with prevention and denial in Swahili must be followed by a verb in the negative form (Grant, 1987).  This can carry over into English, causing interference errors:  *They prevented me not to speak to you.  *The thief denied that he did not take the watch.

 

Relative clause

 

              In a Swahili relative clause, the object of a verb must be included. This practice causes errors in English, even for advanced learners: *This is the book which we bought it for you.

 

Vietnamese-speaking learners

 

              A member of the Mon-Khmer language group, Vietnamese is spoken by about 65 million people in Vietnam and by at least another million people scattered overseas following the Vietnam War (Campbell, 1995). Specific phonological and grammatical features that distinguish Vietnamese from English are as follows, based on California State Department of Education (1982): (1) Vietnamese is a tonal, monosyllabic language in contrast to the intonational and multisyllabic nature of English. It has 6 tones, namely: level, breathy falling, falling-rising, creaky rising, low falling, breathy rising. (2) While intonation and stress play major roles in English, they are of limited use in Vietnamese. (3) Vietnamese has 11 vowels, which can occur in clusters to form  25 diphthongs and 7 triphthongs. (4) Vietnamese has 23 consonants, but only 10 of them can occur in the final position. (5) In sharp contrast to English, Vietnamese does not have consonant clusters, whether initially or finally. (6) Unlike English, Vietnamese is a non-inflectional language. Thus, the form of a word in Vietnamese cannot identify it as a definite part of speech. (7) Since Vietnamese words do not vary in form, there is no need for inflection or agreement. (8) In contrast to the use of auxiliaries in English, Vietnamese uses function words to form negative and interrogative sentences. (9) Unlike English, an affirmative reply to a negative question in Vietnamese has a negative meaning.

 

Vowel pronunciation contrasts

 

              Vietnamese speakers have difficulty with the following vowel pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Dam, 1981):

 

[iy] and [i] (as in the minimal pair beat/bit)

 

[i] and [e] (as in the minimal pair bit/bet)

 

[ey] and [e] (as in the minimal pair bait/bet)

 

[e] and [æ] (as in the minimal pair bet/bat)

 

[∂] and [a] (as in the minimal pair cut/cot)

 

[∂] and [u] (as in the minimal pair buck/book)

 

[∂] and [ow] (as in the minimal pair but/boat)

 

[a] and [ow] (as in the minimal pair cot/coat)

 

[a] and [ô] (as in the minimal pair cot/caught)

 

[u] and [uw] (as in the minimal pair pull/pool)

 

Consonant pronunciation contrasts

 

              Vietnamese speakers have difficulty with the following consonant pronunciation contrasts in English (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971; Dam, 1981):

 

[p] and [b] (as in the minimal pair cap/cab)

 

[p] and [f] (as in the minimal pair leap/leaf)

 

[k] and [g] (as in the minimal pair back/bag)

 

[t] and [d] (as in the minimal pair fat/fad)

 

[w] and [hw] (as in the minimal pair wear/where)

 

[f] and [v] (as in the minimal pair safe/save)

 

[f] and [θ] (as in the minimal pair deaf/death)

 

[v] and [ð] (as in the minimal pair clove/clothe)

 

] and [t] (as in the minimal pairs thank/tank, ether/eater, death, debt)

 

] and [s] (as in the minimal pairs thank/sank, faithless/faceless, bath/bass)

 

] and [š] (as in the minimal pairs thank/shank, rethread/reshred, with/wish)

 

] and [ð] (as in the minimal pairs thigh/thy, ether/either, teeth/teethe)

 

[ð] and [z] (as in the minimal pairs then/Zen, teething/teasing, bathe/bays)

 

[č] and [š] (as in the minimal pairs chair/share, watching/washing, leech/leash)

 

[j] and [š] (as in the minimal pairs jeep/sheep, margin/Martian, badge/bash)

 

[j] and [č] (as in the minimal pairs jest/chest, ridges/riches, surge/search)

 

[s] and [š] (as in the minimal pairs sack/shack, last/lashed, lease/leash)

 

[s] and [z] (as in the minimal pair peace/peas)

 

[n] and [l] (as in the minimal pair seen/seal)

 

Consonant clusters

 

              As Honey (1987, p. 240) put it succinctly:Many English consonant clusters are not found in Vietnamese, which gives rise to mistakes. The most prevalent is the omission of interconsonantal s: ‘abtrak’ for abstract; ‘kaptn’ for capstan. Final s, when following a consonant, is frequently omitted too.”

 

The linking verb “to be”

 

              The Vietnamese equivalent of the linking verb “to be” is rarely used to connect a subject with its predicative adjective in Vietnamese. This practice may carry over into English: *Our teacher absent today!  *My parents not happy in Vietnam today.

 

Articles

 

              Because “a, an, the” have no exact counterparts in Vietnamese, Vietnamese speakers find them difficult to use and frequently misuse them: *His dream is to become lawyer, not teacher. *The tired worker went to the bed without eating dinner. *We hope to hear a good news soon.

 

Topic-comment pattern

 

              The topic-comment pattern is quite popular in Vietnamese (Dam, 1981; Nguyen, 1997). Learners are likely to transfer this into English, generating sentences with redundant subjects: *My teacher, she is so smart!  *This lesson here, it is too difficult to understand.

 

Verb tenses

 

              With their native tongue lacking the intricate structure for tenses and moods found in English, Vietnamese speakers find English verb tenses other than present, past, and future very hard to master. Indeed, the handling of complicated tenses involving auxiliaries and present or past participles (in such sentences as “We will have been living in America for twenty years by then” and “If my parents had been rich, they would have sent me to a private school in Switzerland”) could qualify as the problem area in which they make the most errors. Examples of verb tense errors follow: *We live in Texas for five years.  *I really wish I can speak English like you.  *If you are ten years younger, my brother will probably marry you.

 

Relative pronouns

 

              The use of relative pronouns is limited in Vietnamese. Learners find complex English sentences containing embedded clauses such as “The man whose son you went to college with is coming to see you” difficult to understand and to learn. For this reason, they tend to avoid using embedded structures in English.

 

Subject pronouns in a complex sentence

 

              In an English complex sentence, its subordinate clause, like its main clause, must have a subject and a verb. In a similar situation, however, the subordinate clause in Vietnamese usually does not require a subject. This syntactic discrepancy can lead to errors in English: *The man worked hard until fainted.  *If not have jobs, we will not have food to eat.

 

Direct object pronouns

 

              In Vietnamese sentences, direct object pronouns are frequently not expressed. This practice may carry over into English: *That man is very rude, so nobody likes.  *This camera is for you. I bought in Japan last week.

 

Complex sentences introduced by subordinate conjunctions

 

              In a Vietnamese complex sentence introduced by the subordinate conjunction “because” or “although,” it is usual for its main clause to begin with the balancing word “so” or “but.”  Even advanced learners frequently make this interference error in English: *Because he was reckless, so he caused a terrible accident.  *Although they are poor, but they are happy.

 

 

References

 

Akiyama, N., & Akiyama, C. (1995). Master the basics: Japanese. Hauppauge, NY:

              Barrons’ Educational Series, Inc.

 

Butt, J., & Benjamin, C. (2000). A new reference grammar of modern Spanish (3rd ed.).

              Chicago: NTC Publishing Group.

 

California State Department of Education. (1982). A handbook for teaching

Vietnamese-speaking students. Los Angeles: California State University

Evaluation, Dissemination and Assessment Center.

 

Campbell, G. L. (1995). Concise compendium of the world’s languages.

              London: Routledge.

 

Chang, J. (1987). Chinese speakers. In M. Swan & B. Smith (Eds.), Learner English

              (pp. 224-237). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

 

Coe, N. (1987). Speakers of Spanish and Catalan. In M. Swan and B. Smith (Eds.),

              Learner English (pp. 72-89). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

 

Comrie, B. (Ed.) (1987). The world’s major languages. New York: Oxford

              University Press.

 

Crystal, D. (1992). An encyclopedic dictionary of language and languages.

              London: Penguin Books.

 

Dam, P. (1981). A contrastive approach for teaching ESL to Indochinese students.

              San Antonio: Intercultural Development Research Association.

 

Dam, P. (2007). Mother-tongue interference in Spanish-speaking English language learners’

              interlanguage. In P. Dam & M. T. Cowart (Eds.), Intercultural understanding

              (pp. 44-57). Denton, TX: Federation of North Texas Area Universities.

 

Grant, N. (1987). Swahili speakers. In M. Swan & B. Smith (Eds.), Learner English

              (pp. 194-211). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

 

Honey, P. J. (1987). Vietnamese speakers. In M. Swan & B. Smith (Eds.), Learner English

              (pp. 238-251). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

 

Kendris, C. (1996). 501 Spanish verbs (4th ed.). Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s

              Educational Series, Inc.

 

Lyovin, A. V. (1997). An introduction to the languages of the world. New York:

              Oxford University Press.

 

Monk, B., & Burak, A. (1987). Russian speakers. In M. Swan & B. Smith (Eds.), Learner

              English (pp. 117-128). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

 

Nguyen, D. H. (1997). Vietnamese (Tieng Viet khong son phan). Philadelphia:

              John Benjamins Publishing Company.

 

Nilsen, D. F., & Nilsen, A. P. (1973). Pronunciation contrasts in English. New York:

              Regents Publishing Company.

 

Ross, C. (2004).  Schaum’s outline of Chinese grammar. New York:

              Mc Graw-Hill.

 

Smith, B. (1987). Arabic speakers. In M. Swan & B. Smith (Eds.), Learner English

              (pp. 142-157). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

 

Swan, M., & Smith, B. (Eds.) (1987). Learner English. Cambridge, England:

              Cambridge University Press.

 

Thompson, I. (1987). Japanese speakers. In M. Swan & B. Smith (Eds.), Learner English

              (pp. 212-223). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

 

Wilson, L., & Wilson, M. (1987). Farsi speakers. In M. Swan & B. Smith (Eds.), Learner

              English (pp. 129-141). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Comments