First language interference in teaching grammar to kazakh native speakers

In foreign language classes, the art of teaching a second language is able to give students an insight on how the language works in general. This is practical grammar, which should be introduced in the curriculum. It is not teaching just some abstract and strange concepts and names to the students but teaching the rules governing the structure of the language within the context. That is why teaching grammar is so important.

In the process of teaching a foreign language we often come across the cases of students, who have no experience in learning a second language and they think sometimes that every language structure is the same and it takes a long time for them to see the difference in the structure of the mother tongue and the foreign language they are learning. However, when we talk about different structures within languages, this gives students an insight about the second language.

Extensive research has already been done in the area of native language interference on the target language. Dulay defines interference as the automatic transfer, due to habit, of the surface structure of the first language onto the surface of the target language [1; 12].

Lott defines interference as 'errors in the learner’s use of the foreign language that can be traced back to the mother tongue' [2; 256].

Ellis refers to interference as ‘transfer’, which he says is 'the influence that the learner’s L1 exerts over the acquisition of an L2'. He argues that transfer is governed by learners’ perceptions about what is transferable and by their stage of development in L2 learning. In learning a target language, learners construct their own interim rules with the use of their L1 knowledge, but only when they believe it will help them in the learning task or when they have become sufficiently proficient in L2 for the transfer to be possible. He also raises the need to distinguish between errors and mistakes and makes an important distinction between the two. He says that errors reflect gaps in the learner’s knowledge; they occur because the learner does not know what is correct. Mistakes reflect occasional lapses in performance; they occur because, in a particular instance, the learner is unable to perform what he or she knows [3; 14].

Carroll argues that the circumstances of learning a second language are like those of a mother tongue. It appears that learning is most successful when the situations in which the two languages (L1 and L2) are learned, are kept as distinct as possible. To successfully learn L2 requires a L2 learner to often preclude the L1 structures from the L2 learning process f the structures of the two languages are distinctly different [4; 21].

Beards more suggests that many of the difficulties a second language learner has with the phonology, vocabulary and grammar of L2 are due to the interference of habits from L1. The formal elements of L1 are used within the context of L2, resulting in errors in L2, as the structures of the languages, L1 and L2 are different.

Carless states that mother tongue has potentially both positive and negative consequences: it may serve social and cognitive functions It is claimed that students working in groups do not have to speak English all the time. Use of mother tongue relates to learner identity. Negative impact of mother tongue use is that too much reliance on the L1 may undermine the interaction in English. However good the students are at comprehending authentic reading or listening materials, the majority keeps mentally translating from L2 into L1 and vice versa. This fact makes teachers of foreign languages aware of the importance of translation in language classrooms [6; 31].

Why do students use the mother tongue in class? According to J. Harmer, a principal cause of the L1 use is required by the activity, if students are linguistically incapable of activating vocabulary for a chosen task. Another reason is that translation is a natural thing to do in language learning, and code switching between languages is regarded as naturally developmental. The amount of L1 use by particular students may well have to do with differing learner styles and abilities.

Evidence from research into the crucial issue of the L1 use in classrooms around the world was analyzed by G. Mattioli. For instance, L1 use in the Chinese classrooms offers evidence that L1 is a valuable tool for socio-cognitive processes in language learning.

Another reason for L1 use in the classroom relates to the fostering of a positive affective environment. C. W. Schweers encourages teachers to insert the native language into lessons to influence the classroom dynamic, provide a sense of security and validate the learners’ experiences. The real usefulness of translation in English classes lies in exploiting it in order to compare grammar, vocabulary, word order and other language points in English and the student’s mother tongue [6; 6].

Traditionally, grammar is a collection of rules governing the language. Thus, to teach the target language in an efficient and time effective way, it is better to introduce the rules and ask students to work on the language materials, getting help from these rules, rather than leaving them by themselves to discover the rules one by one; that is, leaving them to discover some rules, which already have been discovered. Therefore, as the popular proverb implies, if we teach the language material without introducing the rules, “we are just giving a fish” to students, but if we teach the rules, “we are teaching them how to fish”! If we teach a sentence to students, they would know just one sentence in the target language. On the other hand, if we teach them how to make sentences in that language, they will be able to make an infinite number of them.

To judge by the way some people speak, there is no place for grammar in the language course nowadays; yet it is, in reality, as important as it ever was exercise of correct grammar, if he is to attain any skill of effective use of the language, but he need not know consciously formulated rules to account to him for that he does unconsciously correctly.

In order to understand a language and to express oneself correctly one must assimilate the grammar mechanism of the language studied. Indeed, one may know all the words in a sentence and yet fail to understand it, if one does not see the relation between the words in the given sentence. And vice versa, a sentence may contain one, two, and more unknown words but if one has a good knowledge of the structure of the language one can easily guess the meaning of these words or at least find them in a dictionary.

No speaking is possible without the knowledge of grammar, without the forming of a grammar mechanism.

If learner has acquired such a mechanism, he can produce correct sentences in a foreign language. Paul Roberts writes: “Grammar is something that produces the sentences of a language. By something we mean a speaker of English. If you speak English natively, you have built into you rules of English grammar. In a sense, you are an English grammar. You possess, as an essential part of your being, a very complicated apparatus which enables you to produce infinitely many sentences, all English ones, including many that you have never specifically learned. Furthermore by applying you rule you can easily tell whether a sentence that you hear a grammatical English sentence or not.”

Using grammatical rules in teaching a language is just like teaching how to drive by a driving instructor, or teaching how to play music instruments by a music instructor, or teaching how to dance by a dance instructor. If these people do not introduce the rules, and leave their students by their own to go and discover the rules behind driving, playing music, dancing, and so on, it would take a lot of time and effort, even though they may eventually succeed in teaching the skill.

The difference between the teacher of the target language and a native speaker of that language is that: the teacher knows how it works and thus is able to teach these rules to students in a specific period. Otherwise, without introducing the rules, a teacher would not have any advantage over any native speaker in that language.

Typological studies of languages have been an important part in the classic and modern linguistics. Through comparison of grammars and structures of different languages, there have been numerous generalizations about language rules. In fact, it is the comparison of the structures of two different languages which enables us to know how those languages work. Therefore, the idea behind the "comparative grammar method" in teaching a second language is the following: To make a second language leaner aware of the structure of the target language, we should compare the structure of it to the native language, and the learner should be aware of the similarities and differences between the structures of these two languages [7; 6-7].

However, this comparison takes place within the context, and not in isolation. In other words, we do not teach grammar explicitly in an abstract way, but we use it as a tool to teach the language. In this method, we choose a specific part of the grammar, which is relevant to the text being taught, and then we compare that structure in the two languages, explaining the differences and similarities to the students. In such way, students become conscious of the structure of the target language and thus they learn it with enthusiasm. Knowing the difference between these structures, they can create new sentences and phrases in the target language and this makes the learning task more enjoyable and gives them the confidence necessary to pursuit the learning tasks.

As Mitchell suggests, it is impossible to teach the whole grammar of the target language explicitly, and we should try to select and priorities the important parts of it. That is why in teaching the language we just introduce those parts, which are different from the first language ones. When, the students know these differences, it is easier for them to learn a structure, which is different from their native language [8; 82].

Howkins and Twell also favour a cognitive view in teaching grammar, which results in using language in the real life situations. In this method, we also do not teach grammar out of the context but it is always introduced within the context, which is used in daily conversation [9; 133].

One of the main difficulties in second language acquisition is that of changing grammatical mechanism of the mother tongue to that of the foreign language. Indeed, every language has its own way of fitting words together to form sentences.

The grammatical systems of Kazakh and English are fundamentally different. English is analytical language, in which grammatical meaning is largely expressed through the use of additional words and by changes in word order [10; 121].

Kazakh like other Turkic languages is an agglutinative language. A characteristic feature of these languages is the large number of so-called “stickers” – suffixes that are added to the unchangeable root of the word [11; 156].

In English word order is more important than in Kazakh. For example, in the sentence Tom gave Helen a rose indicates what was given (a rose), to whom (Helen) and by whom (Tom). If we change the word order and say Helen gave tom a rose, we shall change the meaning of the sentence.

The English tense system also presents a lot of trouble to Kazakh speakers because of the difference, which exists in these languages with regard to time and tense relations. For example, the pupil cannot at first understand why we must say I have seen him today and I saw him yesterday. For him the action is completed in both sentences, and he does not associate it in any way with today or yesterday.

The sequence of tenses is another difficult point of English grammar for Kazakh speaking pupils because there is no such phenomenon in their mother tongue. Why should we say She said she was busy when she is busy?

The most difficult point of English grammar is the article because it is completely strange to Kazakh speakers. The use of the articles and other determiners comes first in the list of the most frequent errors. Pupils are careless in the use of “these tiny words” and consider them unimportant for expressing their thoughts when speaking English.

Students as the native speakers of their first language automatically think in the first language, asking them to think in the second language is not realistic and practical, and that is why it does not work most of the time. Unless students become proficient in the target language, they will not be able to think in that language. Thus, instead of forcing them to think in the target language, we want them to think about the idea they are going to express in English and then transfer it into the target language by using grammar as a tool. For example, first we ask the students to say the sentence in English. 'I went to his house.' Then, we ask them to identify the subject, verb and object in that sentence, like this:

I went home


The segmentation of the sentence into subject, object and verb is taught to them beforehand and the word order in the first and second languages are introduced. Then I usually ask them to change the order into Kazakh (the target language in our courses):

I home went


Because the basic order of words in a Kazakh sentence is:

Subject Object Predicate (verb)

Another main peculiarity of the word order in Kazakh that the predicate either noun or verb predicate stands at the end of the sentence or the predicate, in turn, always includes the person indication. As a result, unlike English the predicate in Kazakh language may stand alone in a sentence and show thereby show the person indication: келдің – you came, жақсымын – I am well;

As the word order is one of the main signals of English grammar, it is necessary to explain the students that it will be a rude mistake thinking that direct and indirect objects precede the predicate in English word order as in their own mother tongue. For example the Kazakh native speakers do such mistakes as: I with my friend a book read Мен досыммен бірге кітап оқыдым.

Students also need to remember that changing the order of words in a sentence may change the content of the statement in English. For example, in Kazakh the expression of time and locality can be placed before the object or in the absence before the predicate. If we follow the same principle in English language, the sentence will lose the meaning: Мен кеше кітапханада қызықты кітап оқыдым

I yesterday in the library an interesting book read.

While studying English as the foreign language it is also important to have a teacher who can explain the grammar differences between the foreign language and the native language. Analysis of the typological features of Kazakh and English languages has established a number of differences, which characterize the system of each language as a whole.

In our case, the most differentiated feature is that the presence of articles in English and their absence in Turkic languages. For example, give me the book lying on the table

маған стол үстіндегі китапті бер; In this example, the definite article in English is changed by non-lexical indicators of certainty in Kazakh.

The first language interference takes also place in using English prepositions.

English prepositions and case affixes of Kazakh are considered as synonymous correspondents between the mother tongue and the foreign languages. This synonymous group may also include Turkic postpositions. For example forms of all active case affixes such as n + га, -га, ге may correspond to +n, into + n, on + n, at + n and etc.

The emphasis of this method is on a comparing the structures of English and the target language. In this method, first the grammar of English is introduced. Most of the students do not have an idea about grammatical categories in English, although they are native speakers of the Kazakh language. Since second language learners have no conceptualization of the target language rules in their mind, they usually apply the rules of the first language for the target language, and it takes a long time to solve this problem. However, by introducing the rules in the first language, and comparing the structures of the two languages, the learners will see the differences and similarities between these two, and thus will be able to understand how the target language works.

In order to understand a language and express oneself correctly students first should assimilate the grammar mechanism of foreign language and will be able to compare it with the grammar system of the mother tongue. Indeed, one may know all the words in a sentence and yet fail to understand it, if one does not see the relationship between the words in the given sentence. And vice versa, a sentence may contain one, two, and more unknown words but if one has a good knowledge of the structure of the language one can easily guess the meanings of these words or at least find them in a dictionary, No speaking is possible without the knowledge of grammar, without the forming of a grammar mechanism.

In foreign language, learning process the main aim of teachers is to form grammar skills and prevent students from mistakes in their speech, which mainly happen as a result of first language interference.



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Year: 2012
City: Oskemen
Category: Philology