The role of l1 in the acquisition of a second languageIntroductionLanguage acquisition involves the process through which human beings obtain the capability to recognize, produce and utilize words to comprehend and communicate.
This capability involves the acquisition of varied abilities which include phonetics, syntax and a variety of vocabulary (Tomasello, 2008). The language being acquired could be manual as in the case of sign language or vocal as in speech. Language acquisition is majorly in reference to acquisition of the first language, mainly the acquisition of the native language by infants. Second language acquisition has to do with acquiring additional languages both in adults and children (Tomasello, 2008).Acquisition of a second language is both hindered and enhanced by the first language or the native language of the learner. There exist certain norms in syntax and pronunciation of a first language, which may be different from those existing in the second language that might come in the way of using the second language. On the contrary, cognitive development and literacy in the native or first language can be beneficial for the second language learner since concepts can be transferred from their first language and applied to the second language being learnt (Guo, 2005).
Various factors which are related to the first language of a second language learner determine the learning of the second language, as mentioned earlier, and this include proficiency level of the learner of their first language, whether the dialect spoken by the student is standard or not, the linguistic distance between the first language and the language being learnt, as well as status of the learner’s first language and societal attitudes towards the language (Walqui, 2000).The first language is commonly used as an instrument for communicating meaning as a way of interaction in other foreign languages in classrooms as well as English institutes of language. According to research, doing away with the first language in a second language situation is not appropriate. Using the first language appropriately in a second language situation can be of great benefit. As observed through research, the first language can act as a facilitating factor as opposed to an interfering factor. Teachers thus are encouraged to integrate the first language into their lessons because beginning with the first language gives the learner a sense of security as well as validates the lived experiences of the learner thus allowing them self expression (Nazary, 2008).
There is a close relationship between transfer of language and behaviorist theories of second language learning. According to these behaviorist theories, the process of learning a language is a habit formation process and old habits that were formed while learning the first language can easily hinder the learning of new habits in the second language which would lead to errors (Guo, 2005). As will be discussed in this paper, the first language can influence the learning of a second language both positively and negatively (Brice, 2001).
Communicating meaning and ContentAccording to research, the first language plays a small, yet very important function in passing across content as well as meaning of the second language being learnt. The same patterns used in the first language in comprehension and listening, writing and reading, repetition, conversation, role play, signs, maps, charts, and audio visual aids are the same ones used in teaching the second language (Alleyne, 2010). Most individuals have a tendency to transfer the meanings and forms as well as the distribution of meanings and forms of their first language and culture to the foreign culture and language (Brice, 2001). This is evident both in an attempt to speak the language as well as to acting the culture and when trying to understand and grasp the culture and the language as the natives of the language do it (Guo, 2005) which is both beneficial as well as interfering in learning the second language, as all structures from the first language may not be similar to the second language.Similarities in Language OriginsIt is much easier to learn a second language if it is similar to the native or first language of the learner.
Chinese people would, for example, find it easier to learn Japanese or for Britons to learn French (Guo, 2005), since their origins are similar. It can be noted that similarities exist between some languages and this is largely attributable to their origins. For example, romance languages have their origin from Latin and these existing similarities can make it possible for one to learn a second language from the first language by using the similar word roots and also endings of words that may be equal to endings in a different language (Alleyne, 2010). For instance, words which end in “dad” in Spanish equate to words in English ending in “ity”. Words ending in “te” in French equal those ending in “ity” in English. Some words are also exactly alike in several languages (Alleyne, 2010). It is thus easier for one to learn a second language which has the same origins as the first language as opposed to learning a language whose origin is totally different from the first language. The learning of another language is thus, unconsciously, greatly influenced by the first language (Guo, 2005).
Learning can be easy if patterns of the first and second language are identical and it would be difficult if the patterns are different due to what Guo (2005) refers to as the interference or negative transfer.AccentAs observed by Guo (2005), it is common to make a guess of the background of a speaker from their foreign accent. Learning the second language is adversely influenced by the accent of the learner’s first language. This is usually due to the attempt by the learner to pronounce the new language the way it is written or in a manner similar to their native language which often results in misunderstanding and sometimes embarrassment (Alleyne, 2010). Accent of the first language is, in this case, seen to play an inhibitory role in the acquisition of a second language.ErrorsThe native or first language sometimes encourages errors while learning the second language. The errors are usually as a result of learners attempting to literally translate phrases (Alleyne, 2010), thus inhibiting the learning of the second language. Analysis of errors was first recognized in the 1970s as a part of applied linguistics.
This can be attributed to Corder, who put attention to the role of errors in acquisition of the second language by showing how helpful they would be to students, researchers as well as teachers (Karra, 2006) and thus painting errors as playing an important role in enhancing the learning of a second language. According to Corder, learners of a language have an in-built syllabus which is said to be more efficient than that of the teacher. The existence of a learner’s inbuilt syllabus can be confirmed by the errors of the learner (Karra, 2006). There are two types of errors: systematic and non-systematic. Unsystematic errors take place in the first language or the native language of the individual and these are refered to as mistakes and are not significant to the language learning process. The systematic errors are what Corder refers to as errors and these occur in a second language (Karra, 2006). These errors are important in three ways: the learner can learn from them, the researcher can learn from them the means of language acquisition and the strategies used by the learner while the teacher is able to know the progress of the learner through these errors (Karra, 2006).
Most of these errors occur due to the attempt by the learner to employ structures from their first language. As earlier mentioned the presence of these errors, according to Corder, are not necessarily inhibitory, but only serve as proof of the learner’s strategies of learning (Karra, 2006) which is an important factor in the learning of a second language.The first language of the learner can thus facilitate learning of the second language and facilitation, seen in the above explanation, does not imply a complete absence of errors, rather it means a higher learning rate (Guo, 2005).Avoidance and OveruseThere is a tendency for learners to avoid using structures of language that they find difficult because of differences existing between the language they are learning and their first language. This holding on to the structures in the first language can be a hindrance to the process of learning the second language especially since most languages, and particularly those with different origins, possess different structures (Guo, 2005). The knowledge of the first language by the learner, as well as the knowledge of the second language and the attitudes they hold towards their culture and the culture of the second language are among the factors that determine the avoidance behavior (Guo, 2005).
In learning the second language, learners might prefer certain forms of grammar, discourse types and words in the second language as a consequence of underproduction or avoidance of some improper expression or difficult structures (Guo, 2005). This phenomenon is refered to as overuse and inhibits the learning of the second language since what is perceived as easy is overly used at the expense of learning new material.Structural factorsPhonetic and phonological transferThe phonetics and phonology of the first language powerfully influence pronunciation in the second language being learnt. By the mere fact that it is possible to notice the language origin of a second language speaker through their accent implies that sounds from the first language can be transferred to the second language. It is for this reason that a Chinese speaker, learning English, for example, would find it hard to pronounce English interdental pronunciations (Guo, 2005). It is also evident that learners commonly make attempts to transfer the syllable structure of their first language to the second language.
When syllable structures, not allowed in the first language, are permitted in the second language, there is a tendency for learners to make errors which have to do with changing the structures to fit what the first language allows. It is also possible, as observed through research, for social values of sounds in the first language to be transferred to the second language (Guo, 2005), which inhibits the learning of the second language since it is interpreted from the perspective of the first language, which might be different in may ways from the first language.SyntaxThe order of words in a language is one of the syntactic properties. Word order in the first language affects learning of a second language (Odlin, 1989). This is due to the attempt by learners of a second language to order words in a sentence according to the structure of their native language which might be different from the second language.SemanticsTwo types of semantics exist: prepositional and lexical semantics. According to research, similarities in lexical semantics between the first and the second language can have significant influence on the comprehension and production in the second language.
The importance of linguistic relativism is however, less clear (Guo, 2005).DiscourseAnalyzing discourse involves both the non structural and structural characteristics thus posing a challenge in its contrastive analysis. Differences in discourse across languages may affect the production and comprehension of a second language (Odlin, 1989).
Misunderstandings that result from discourse differences across languages can easily be dangerous particularly in the areas of coherence and politeness. When the discourse of the second language are interpreted by a leaner in terms of the norms of the first language, the learner might be mistaken to believe that the native speakers of the first second language being learnt are not being proper when they, as dictated by the discourse of their language and their norms, are in essence, behaving appropriately (Odlin, 1989). For instance, while writing in English is supposed to be to the point and direct, Chinese writing tends to be indirect. This makes it difficult for Chinese students to come up with English writings that are satisfactory (Odlin, 1989) because they are interpreting it from their own acceptable norms which are not the case in English norms.The iceberg TheoryLearning a second language becomes easier if the learner already possesses literacy in the first language, as already mentioned. This is majorly because the learner will not have to learn again, in the second language what is already known to them from their first language. Similarities in grammar and the structure of language can be applied across various languages (Odlin, 1989). Comprehending a concept in the first language will only require one to re-label the terms in the new language and not a learning again of the concept since the concept is already learnt from the first language.
Skills and concepts are normally learnt and developed in the first language before being transferred to the second language. It is for this reason that learners are required to continue getting the input and experience of their native or first language. This phenomenon, where languages depend on each other is called the linguistic interdependence theory or the iceberg theory and it was developed by Jim Cummings (Odlin, 1989) and plays a central role in the acquisition of a second language.
Acquisition of ArticlesPeople learning English as a second language often have difficulty with the use of articles until later stages of acquiring the language. Bare nouns are mostly used where not appropriate and the article ‘the’ is especially overused or substituted with the article ‘a’ (Zdorenko & Johanne, 2007).ConclusionIt is not stressful to acquire a language and the role of a first language in learning a second language can be enjoyable and entertaining (Alleyne, 2010).
Even though it is not the sole determining factor, and might not be the most significant, the first language of a learner is a significant determinant of second language acquisition.The level of exposure as well as the availability of models of language also has an influence on the acquisition of the second language. Emotional conditions which also affect learning of a second language are refered to as the affective filter and this include lack of motivation, poor self image, anxiety and fear. These are very important factors to consider and this is particularly so because they affect the tolerance of the individual to their errors during learning as well as the extent to which the learner is able to develop self confidence to engage in learning the second language (Odlin, 1989).Most learners require motivation, discipline and willingness to learn, but in addition to these, those learning a second language require sufficient guidance because careful attention needs to be paid to detail.ReferencesAlleyne, C.
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