I have chosen to focus on a project I am currently involved with. The target group are Somali refugees. The project is an English Language group, for English learners who are undergoing an intense, fulltime course of English language study.
Cross-linguistic influences are important in this project especially in the field of Interlanguage Pragmatics (IP). This branch of SLA deals, amongst other things, with different perceptions and interpretations of appropriateness and politeness (Wannaruk 2008).
Cross-linguistic influences seemed particularly relevant for this paper, as I had discussed with colleagues the needs of the language group. One of the main issues that arose was the misunderstandings between the Somalis and the wider community, particularly in every day conversation, including making refusals.
In this respect, the reading of Wannaruk (2008) seemed to be specifically applicable. The refugees, in their compulsory government funded English classes, learn basic English, and little else. The way they use the English is often based on the use of corresponding terms in their native language.
Wannaruk (2008) talks about communication breakdowns occurring during cross-cultural communication due to different perceptions and interpretations. Specifically, Wannaruk (2008) describes pragmatic transfer as applying rules from the first language (L1) to a second or target language (TL). From past experience, this is one of the main problems I feel many immigrants are subjected to, which are not addressed by many language programs for migrants, particularly refugees.
To understand how such errors can be approached, it is helpful to understand the past models of language learning. To some extent, these past models, with their inadequacies, may still be practiced today, though the extent is uncertain.
Mitchell & Myles (2004) describe the historical theories of second language learning (SLL). The theorists have gone through various stages, and now, as in the past, are generally of the view that cross-linguistic influences play an important role in SLL.
Brown (2000) goes into more detail about the historical theories. The behaviourist and structuralist approaches produced the Critical Analysis Hypothesis (CAH), which claimed that the principal barrier to second language (L2) learning is the interference of the L1 system with the L2 system.
CAH employs a grammatical hierarchy, whereby six levels of difficulty are identified, when transferring from L1 to L2 (Brown 2000).
Colleagues advising on this program have expressed concerns that some of the language programs being delivered today still use CAH as a foundation, and we would be interested in doing further research to see of this is the case. CAH had many limitations, including that it didn’t account for all linguistic problems, and there was unreliability verifying the difficulty levels (Brown 2000).
A weaker version of CAH, allowing teachers to apply their knowledge of L1 and L2 to identify errors, exists today under the label cross-linguistic influence (CLI) (Brown 2000). CLI allows that syntactical, lexical and semantic interference show far more variation among learners than pronunciation interference.
Eckman (1977) proposed the Markedness Differential Hypothesis to account for degrees of principles of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar. It allowed that marked items in a language will be more difficult to acquire than unmarked (neutral) items, and that the degree of markedness will correspond to the degree of difficulty.
Lightbown & Spada (2006) identified interlanguage as the system of language that a learner develops when applying characteristics of the L1 to the L2. They held that the most obvious way to analyse interlanguage is to study the speech and writing of learners. From this and other writings, there is enough evidence to indicate that error analysis is a useful tool when considering CLI.
Human learning is basically a process that involves making mistakes, and language learning is no different (Brown 2000). At this stage, it is important to differentiate between errors and mistakes. Mistakes are random errors or guesses that fail to utilise the known language system correctly, and are made by both native speakers and learners (Brown 2000). Errors are noticeable deviations from the correct grammar that are incorporated into the interlanguage (Brown 2000).
Error analysis is the study of the learner’s errors, and is different from CAH in that it examines errors from all possible sources, not just in terms of negative transfer from L1 to L2. (Brown 2000). However, teachers should not become so anxious about noticing errors that they fail to give credit for correct usage of the language.
Corder’s (1967) model identifies errors in a second language. It distinguishes overt errors as being ungrammatical errors at a sentence level, distinct from covert errors which are grammatically well formed, but not according to the context of the communication in progress. Covert errors could be seen to include the types of errors that are described by Wannaruk (2008) in the writing about pragmatic transfer with Thai English learners.
To address this, we are developing a series of questionnaires, based on Wannaruk’s (2008) article. The first one will be about making refusals. It will be given to the group as individuals, written in Arabic and Somali, to find how they would make refusals in their native language. We will then suggest that, in the Australian community, refusals are made in a different way, where applicable.
Brown (2000) also identified that the context of learning is another major source of error, which overlaps interlingual and intralingual transfer. Intralingual transfer, also referred to as overgeneralisation, occurs when L2 rules are used inappropriately.
Context refers to the situation in which the second language is learned, such as in the classroom. It is suspected that the fast-paced, 30 hour per-week English language training is creating errors, and, through consultation with the training provider, we hope to be able to identify these errors, and address them in the language group.
Additionally, we would like to develop a method of testing at which of Corder’s (1967) four stages of learner language development the learners are at. From anecdotal evidence, it would appear that most of the learners are at stage 1, with some at stage 2. It is during stage 2 that learners backslide or regress to a previous stage.
Within the language group, we also intend to identify instances of contextual variability or unexplained variations (Brown 2000), as well as fossilisation, which are erroneous features that persist despite otherwise correct usage. This can often be a result of classroom teaching giving “green lights” instead of “red lights” when errors are made (Vigil & Oller 1976 in Brown 2000).
We feel that Vigil & Oller’s model (Brown 2000), to apply affective and cognitive feedback to treat errors, is possibly the best model to apply for the language group, due to the informality of the group, and to decrease interference with the intensive compulsory language training classes.
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