[quote=“tomthorne”]Well, I believe the ‘myth’, Bled. Error analysis research shows that over 50% of errors with Chinese speakers are interference errors. This drops to 3% for Spanish speakers.
OK, it’s difficult to determine whether these errors are the result of transfer or intralingual process, and I don’t believe the 3% figure is accurate (other research puts it closer to 30% for Spanish and German speakers). However, pretty much everybody involved in SLA research thinks that L1 interference - either negative or positive transfer - has a significant impact on L2 acquisition and this is particularly noticable with Chinese speakers.[/quote]
Selinker & Gass in their text show studies that show both results–of L1 causing interference and L1 not causing interference. How does one know, really know, that the error is the result of the L1? For example, it is routine to hear: “I no have beer.” from both L1s that have this negation (say Spanish) AND L1s that do not have this negation. It’s a normal stage of development. Native children growing up even go thru this stage! But perhaps some researchers (or teachers) jump to quickly to the conclusion that it is the L1. That’s why so many studies show such different %'s of L1 interference (from very low to very high). I think it is pretty low. A factor, but not a big one. And even if it was a large factor–what are we going to do about it? Go back in a time machine and move Chinese babies to America so that their Chinese L1 doesn’t intefere??
One interesting study, in fact, had Czech speakers (I believe) making more errors in Russian than in English. Certainly Czech is closer to Russian than to English. The reasoning is that Czech speakers may assume (falsely) that Russian does it the same way as Czech. However, English is so different that they do not try to assume this.
It’s not so clear. I agree with you tomthorne that probably L1 has an impact but we’re at the stage in SLA that we should question everything, to what degree, and to what results.
And here’s my .02 --if you ask a learner to do something they cannot do in the L2 --what are their choices?? They either can’t say jack – or they fall back on their L1. Okay, okay I admit in German class, I found myself throwing in Spanish. I suppose my learning Spanish (gasp) interfered with my learning German?? Oh really.
In Spanish, if I was asked to talk about a high level subject–when I came to a word that I did not know in Spanish, I would use the English word and add “ista” or "ismo’ e.g., “communism” becomes “communismo” (in this case it actually works). Now does this prove that my English is “interfering” with my Spanish. I don’t buy it–what is the Spanish it is interfering with ? It’s not there. I either use English (Spanglish?) or there’s a blank spot in my conversation. However, an eager researcher could use my Spanglish to show how my English is interfering with attempting to speak Spanish. Silly researchers.
What I object to is blaming students and teachers for the language teaching failures we see. Like Edward Deming says, when there is a problem, 99% of the time it is a system problem.
It’s not the student’s fault for being Chinese and having a different L1, it’s not their fault that they failed (we failed them!) and somehow are trying to pyschologically validate their failure by asking teachers to actually teach them. This is so sad–I feel sorry for students who tried, put out a good faith effort, and now feel that they are either stupid, not good at language, or they hate English!
I don’t think it is even the Grammar-Translation Taiwan teacher’s fault who uses too much grammar and teaches the class in Chinese. They don’t know any better and even if they did–their English is probably not fluent enough to feel confident to have a communicative classroom. They’re put in an awkward position.
We can’t look for excuses and blame others. We have a pedagogy of failure when it comes to language teaching and learning. We have a system problem.