Native Language Interference in Learning a Second Language
Difficulties in EFL and ESL Teaching and Learning
Native language interference is a major problem in EFL and ESL teaching and learning. In my years of teaching ESL and EFL, I have seen so many students with pronunciation and sentence structure difficulties. Most of these problems stem from interference from the native language when speaking and writing English. This is because it is a natural tendency to think that sounds and sentence structure in English are the same as those characteristics in one's own native language.
Native Language Interference
Interference from a student's native language is mostly in the form of pronunciation and sentence structure errors. Pronunciation mistakes are because spoken sounds or phonemes differ from language to language. Since I have had experience teaching both Taiwanese and Thai ESL and EFL students in my life, I will focus on those phonemes in English which give these students trouble. Some of these phonemes are:
1. Final Aspirated Consonants:
Examples of final aspirated consonants would be the "p" and "b" in pop and Bob; the "t" and "d" in test and did; the "k" in coke; and the "ch" in church. This is a problem because the Thai language doesn't have any final aspirated consonants. The final aspirated consonants in English are all pronounced as glottal stops in both Taiwanese and Thai.
2. Final "s" and "sh" Consonants:
Examples of these consonants are found in the words: gas, mouse, English, and finish. In the Thai language, there are no final "s" and "sh" sounds; therefore, when Thai pronounce these words, they chop off the final sound and it becomes "gat" for gas; "mow" for mouse, "Englit" for English, and "finit" for the finish.
3. Final "l" Consonant:
In the Thai language, the final "l" consonant is pronounced like an "n" sound. Most Thai will pronounce my name Paul as "Bawn" and central as "sentawn".
4. Beginning "r" and "l" Consonants:
Although there is a distinction between "r" and "l" in standard Central Thai, many students interchange these sounds due to interference from their native dialect which in many cases is not Central Thai but one of the dialects spoken in other regions of the country. When speaking English, Robert will be pronounced as "Loboet" and "Riza" as "Lisa".
5. Beginning "ch", "sh", and "s" Consonants:
Many Thai have difficulty distinguishing the pronunciations of "ch", "sh", and "s" as beginning consonants in both Thai and English. For example, Charles will be pronounced as "Sao" and Chiang Mai as "Siang Mai".
6. Beginning Consonant Blends:
Although some beginning consonant blends like "bl" and "pl" exist in Thai, they are hard for a lot of Thai to pronounce, especially if standard Thai is not their first dialect. What happens is that the second consonant in the blend is dropped and the sound "bla" in Thai is pronounced as "ba". "Bl" as in blue; "fl" as in flat; "pr" as in pray; "str" as in street; and "sc" as in score are very hard for students to pronounce. The word score would be pronounced as "sa-kaw."
7. Beginning "d/t", "b/p", and "g/k" Consonants:
In Thai, not all beginning consonants are aspirated. This could be a problem when trying to distinguish between these minimal pairs in English. Tennis would be pronounced as "den-nit" and coke as "gok."
8. Beginning "n" and "l" Consonants:
Many Taiwanese students have difficulty hearing the difference between beginning "n" and "l" sounds. I once had a student who couldn't hear the difference between "night" and "light"
Sentence structure errors in English are also caused by interference of the native language. Some of the most common mistakes I have seen are:
1. Non-use of the Stative Verb "to be":
When I write, "The girl fat." on the board, most students can find nothing wrong with this sentence. That is because when you say this sentence in Thai, "Puying oan." there is no word in Thai to represent the stative verb, "is." The students are translating word by word and don't realize that the verb "is" is necessary to make this a correct sentence. Taiwanese students have the same problem.
2. Adjectives Placed After Nouns:
I can't believe the number of Thai students whom I have seen write, "game computer" instead of "computer game." In the Thai language, adjectives follow nouns instead of preceding them as is the case in English.
3. No Distinction Between "he" and "she":
In the Chinese Mandarin and Taiwanese spoken languages, there is no distinction between the pronouns "he" and "she." I once had a college Chinese history professor who often misused these pronouns when lecturing. There is also no differentiation between "he" and she" in spoken Thai.
4. Verb Tenses Formed Incorrectly:
In Taiwanese and Thai, there is one base verb and no past or past participle forms as in English. Thai and Taiwanese distinguish tenses by inserting words before or after the verb. There is no conjugation of verbs which gives students many problems.
5. Capitalization and Punctuation Errors:
Thai EFL students make many mistakes in capitalization and punctuation in writing. This is not surprising because there is no capitalization and punctuation in written Thai.
There certainly are other forms of native language interference which will hinder ESL and EFL students in learning English. Hopefully, a teacher who knows the student's native language will be able to anticipate these problems and use exercises in class to correct them. This will be the subject of a future article.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn