Second Language Learning Difficulties

Second Language Learning Difficulties

Second Language learners face so many difficulties mainly because of the negative interference of the mother tongue and the cultural differences.

Language transfer

Language transfer designates the interference of the mother tongue in second language learning. Learners apply knowledge from their native language to learn a second language. While this can help in understanding and using the target language, this can also hinder the proper internalization of the L2 (target language) rules, producing errors of syntax, vocabulary, and pronunciation. Learners are influenced by their L1 (mother tongue) in the following manners:

  • They map their L1 grammatical patterns inappropriately onto the L2 as a result of syntactic differences between L1 and L2.
  • They pronounce certain sounds incorrectly or with difficulty as a result of the difference in phonological systems.
  •  They confuse vocabulary items because they are misled by false friends (e.i. words or phrases that look or sound similar in both the mother tongue and the target language, but differ significantly in meaning.)

Linguistic interference can lead to correct language production when the mother tongue and the target language share many linguistic features. However, the transfer can result in errors when both languages differ.

Cultural differences

Learners’ culture can be a barrier to second or foreign language learning. Cultural differences may cause confusion and cultural misunderstandings. Learners may have problems communicating with target native speakers because of cultural differences.

Learning a second language means learning to speak and comprehend it. But learners can’t reach a high level of proficiency unless they are able to use the target language appropriately in the context of the target culture. To reach a pragmatic and socio linguistic competence, learners should be able to make correct assumptions about what interlocutors are saying. When the L1 and  L2 cultures share similar features the assumptions made contribute to the learning. However, when both cultures differ in so many aspects learning is at risk.

Implications in the classroom

Teachers must take into considerations the strategies learners use to learn a second language.

  • Learners tend to use their linguistic knowledge of the mother tongue (and may be knowledge of other languages they have learned.)
  • Learners try to transfer their cultural knowledge to make assumption when communicating in the target language.
  • Teachers must spot and highlight those shared features that may contribute to the target language learning.
  • Teachers must be cautious in error correction because errors may be the result of negative language transfer or incorrect assumptions held about the target culture.

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4 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    Re. “Teachers must be cautious in error correction because errors may be the result of negative language transfer or incorrect assumptions held about the target culture.”

    – Do you mean that teachers should be cautious (in the sense of thinking twice – or three times) before correcting students errors, of course appropriate for their level and in a constructive way etc. – OR did you mean teachers should be conscientious about doing this and picking up such errors, correcting them preferably as early as possible so that they do not become even deeper entrenched (or “fossilized”)?

  2. I mean that teachers must consider the source of errors. Errors may be the result of factors such as:

    1. Language transfer
    2. False cultural assumptions

    Knowing the source of the errors might be of great help in deciding about how to tackle the problem.

  3. Kio says:

    Greetings,
    How do I assist a student whose spoken English is not so bad, but suffers from tongue freeze in a social setting as he tries to translate words from his mother tongue into English to be abe to string a flawless English sentence?

  4. Mark says:

    Firstly, this approach is not right – translating does not work until the speaker reaches the advanced levels (CEFR C1, C2). Have you considered encouraging your student to actively listen and respond without translating? It’s also unrealistic to expect a “flawless English sentence” from a non-native speaker, especially if their English is below an advanced level.

    Secondly, social anxiety is something almost everyone goes through at some stage of their lives. Learning a second (or third) language can so easily bring this on too as the learner tries to put the basics into practice – especially the first time(s). Pronounced [pardon the pun] cases may merit a coach or even a psychologist, though, not a (rookie) teacher who adds pressure by expecting flawless utterances. I appreciate this may not be what you wanted to hear but suggest you consider it all the same. Good luck.

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