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Sunday, October 20, 2013

L1 interference...how do you handle it?

When teaching English to native Spanish speakers, the preposition in can become quite difficult.  Mother tongue (L1) influence can interfere producing the following non-standard English example (notated with an *):

*John put the silverware in the table. (John puso los cubiertos en la mesa.).

Another problem area for Spanish speakers learning English as an additional language is translating the personal a to English.  For instance, the following non-standard utterance is common in English whereas the Spanish equivalent is standard:

*Give to your mother your car keys.  (Dele a su madre las llaves del coche.)
*I’m professor. (Soy professor.)


In these examples, it is common for Spanish speakers learning English to use the preposition in instead of on when indicating location; similarly, how to translate the personal a in Spanish and when and when not) to use articles is difficult for learners as well.  These are some examples of L1 influence (i.e., negative transfer) that educators can consider when giving feedback to English language learners (ELLs) who are native Spanish speakers.

Here are some additional examples of L1 influence when producing non-standard English utterances:

I go to school the monday. (Voy a la escuela el lunes.) – Days of the week are not capitalized in Spanish and the article is used instead of a preposition.

All the fridays I get paid. (Todos los viernes me pagan.) – Article usage with days of the week in lowercase.

The tuesdays are good for me. (Los martes son buenos para mí.) – Article usage with days of the week in lowercase.

In Spanish, the days of the week are not capitalized, and articles are placed before the noun: El lunes, los viernes, los martes, etc.  But when translating this to English, we use different parts of speech that are not articles (i.e., determiners). 

For instance, instead of saying I go to school the monday, we use the preposition on and capitalize the days of the week, like Monday: I go to school on Monday.

Instead of saying All the fridays I get paid, we again use the preposition on and capitalize Friday, but we also use the qualifier every to begin the sentence:  Every Friday I get paid.

Instead of saying The tuesdays are good for me, we refrain from using anything before the head noun, Tuesday, making sure that it is capitalized: Tuesdays are good for me.  This is also the case when the day of the week comes later in the sentence as well: I get paid on Fridays. Notice how this is the same as saying, Every Friday I get paid.

Activity prompts for addressing L1 influence in the English language classroom:

Activity #1: The students ask their peers (or classmates) what the three most important dates of their lives are and each provides an explanation as to why these three dates are important, including the year these events first happened.  Students take copious notes while listening to their respective partners provide information.  The events chosen have to begin at least five years prior to the present year.

Activity #2:  Students review their notes in order to determine from each of the respondents, which day of the week the event occurred for the first time and the day the event will occur during the present year.  Each student writes out this information on a piece of paper or on a computer device.

Activity # 3: Students then find their peers and provide the two days of the week (the original day the event took place and the day of the week for the present year), also mentioning the days of the week in between.  For example, if a classmate mentions a birthday as a special event, the goal is to find the original day of the week the student was born and the day of the week the student will celebrate his or her birthday this year.  Let’s say the student was born on Monday and this year her birthday will be on Thursday, have the students repeat the days of the week, Monday through Thursday in order to reinforce the days of the week.  An alternative would be to only include events that begin 8-10 years prior, then have the student recall the day of the week for each year.

What L1 influence scenarios do you encounter as an (English) language educator?  What type of activities have you implemented to address linguistic negative influence?