Linguistic interference between L1 dialects and L2

An investigation with 14-15 year old teenagers

Term Paper, 2012

20 Pages, Grade: 3,0




1. linguistic interference

2. test
2.1 test procedure
2.2. test results
2.3. interpretation of the results

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography


5. Appendix


"In present – day societies it is rare to find someone who speaks only one language; most people around the globe know and use several languages in their daily lives. Within this context, the mother tongue might have influence on the L2."1

This academic paper is about the interference between German as L1 and English as L2 within a group 14-15 year-old teenagers. The main goal is to exemplify, whether the children's original dialects have any interference on their foreign language approach. It was tried to find participants, whose dialects give good examples for the region, they live in. Before the test and its results are described, some general information about L1 influences on L2 will be given.

Because the children, who participated in the test, were on a language trip to England while the test was taken, the basis for the research to this paper is the Recieved Pronuciation, although some of the students might have been in contact with other varieties of English before. To achieve more comparability, their English was only compared to the RP standard.

A difficulty during the research was to distingiush between varieties caused by their mother tongue and such caused by generell troubles in pronunciation. Therefore, the main focus was put on clear examples, such as voiced and devoiced sounds, aspiration and the [w, r] – sounds. All those examples can be looked at to find language interference between L1 and L2, whereas the [θ/ð] – sound , which was analysed as well has to be looked at carefully. Many learners of English might have problems pronouncing that sound, but these problems are not neccessarily caused be their L1 dialect, but can be caused by the generell absence of the [θ/ð] – sound in the German language as their mother tongue.

There were different situations created in the test to find out, how students react, when they are just asked to read something out compared to the situation, when they have to speak freely and also, how their pronunciation changes, when they are asked to remember something and then repeat it after a few moments. The main reason, why those different situations were created, was that students might focus less on pronunciation, the more their attention is lead to something else. The more they are distracted, the more intuitive they react and the more they react intuitive, the more their original dialect is supposed to come out.

The first part of this paper is about linguistic interference in general, before in the second part, the investigation is described and analysed.

As this paper focuses on the phonological influences, most of the time the participants were asked to reproduce and rarely to produce own sentences. Written text production is completely left out.

The sentences, that had to be read out during the test, were all taken from "A drillbook of English Phonetics" by Walter Sauer.2

1. linguistic interference

The programme of contrastive linguistics was formulated in the sixties and seventies of the last century with the primary objective of making foreign language teaching more efficient. Especially for teachers or trainee teachers it is neccessary to know the difficulties caused by L1 while learning a foreign language. Only then can they react in an adequat way, when learners show typical problems. " Some of the earliest research on the role of the learner's L1 in accounting for pronunciation errors was carried out in the context of the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis."3

Basic assumptions of contrastive linguistics are, that first language acquisition and foreign language learning differ fundamentally, especially in those cases, where the foreign language is learned later than a mother tongue and on the basis of the full mastery of that mother tongue. Furthermore it is assumed that every language has its own specific structure. Based on these two assumptions, it is supposed, that similarities between the two languages will cause no difficulties, but can even be helpfull for a foreign language approach. This use of knowledge from L1 while learning L2 is called "positive transfer".

Differences between L1 and L2 are supposed to cause difficulties, which is then called "negative transfer". The students' learning task can therefore roughly be defined as the sum of the differences between the two languages, whereas according to Ellis (1994) and Hansen (2006) the L1 sound system is deep – rooted and can hardly be changed. They furthermore found out, that word order and syntax are not much influenced by the mother tongue.4 But the question is not, whether the L1 sound system changes, but how it influences the L2 sound system.

A systematic comparison between mother tongue and the foreign language to be learned will reveal both similarities and contrasts. On the basis of such a comparison it is possible to predict or even rank learning difficulties and to develop strategies for making foreign language teaching more efficient.

Especially in pronunciation we can often distinguish active speakers from foreign learners relatively easy.5 Therefore, there must be typical mistakes, that unmask them as foreigners. Because we can something even say, where a learner comes from, just by hearing him talking in the target language, there has to be interference from L1 on L2. " This is based on the observation that many features of learner's behaviour in the L2 resembled those of his or her L1."6

This influence, that is caused by the similarities and differences between a target language and any other language that has been learned before, is called interlanguage.7 This phenomenon can for example be seen in an investigation to Black Venacular English by William Labov.8 Black Venacular English is the English, spoken by Africans in America. The investigation consisted of different parts, such as interviews, group interviews, reading, tests and repetition tests.9 Labov tried to get away from direct interviews by investigators. He wanted to get the tested persons in contact with a peer group, consisting of native speakers of the target language. This is down to the fact, that the Black Venacular English is supposed the be a group product. To create a group situation, the test was made up as described above.10

Factors that can influence a foreign accent are the age of the learner, the length of his residency in the the country, where L2 is mainly spoken, his motivation to learn the target language, the length of instruction given to L2, the intesity of continued use of L1 and the learners aptitude to learn languages.11

As the research by Labov found out, the learners mother tongue can have strong influences interlanguage, but this is hardly discussed among linguists. Some say, that negative transfer has more effect on interlanguage than positive tranfer. This would mean, that mistakes learners do while their foreign language approach can be put back on their L1.

Other claim for the opposite. Newmark and Reibel even see "L1 just as a temporary support, but not the reflection of an underlying L2 system"12

The influences L1 can have on L2, can be put into six categories, which can be divided in two sub-categories. The first three - forming the first category - are language level, sociolinguistic influences and task, and language distance and psychotypology. The other three, more theoretical factors are linguistic influences, psycholinguistic influences and developmental factors.

The different levels of a language are phonology, morphology and syntax. As phonology is described to be most influenced by learners' L1, this paper only focuses on this part. This does not mean, that there is no influence on the other levels as Ellis proposes "syntax is slightly less affected by transfer than other areas, because metalinguistic factors can have a dampening influence."13 Transfer in this context means the influence, linguistic feature of L1 can have on L2.

The sociolinguistic factor shows, that different contexts might deliver varying results. The more familiar tested persons are with the situation they are tested in and the more they are familiar with the tasks, that are to solve, the easier they will find them. This of course will influence the test results.14 Tasks that are found easy will be looked at with less concentration. Researchers have to be aware of that fact, when creating a test to investigate interlanguage.

The distance between the compared languages is another important point, that has to be considered, because " greater language effects may have effects on the nature of transfer" and furthermore they "may have influences on perceptions of transferability"15


1 Gut (2009), p.13

2 cf. Sauer 2006

3 Gut (2009), p.21

4 cf.Spolsky/Hult 2008, p.413 - 414

5 cf. König/Gast 2012, p.1

6 Gut (2009), p.21

7 Odlin. In: Spolsky/Hult 2008, p.411

8 Labov (1976), p.90 ff

9 Labov (1976), p.90

10 Labov (1976), p.270

11 Gut (2009), p. 253 ff.

12 Shekan, In: Spolsky/Hult 2008, p.412

13 Shekan, In: Spolsky/Hult 2008, p.414

14 Shekan, In: Spolsky/Hult 2008, p.414

15 Shekan, In: Spolsky/Hult 2008, p.415

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Linguistic interference between L1 dialects and L2
An investigation with 14-15 year old teenagers
Karlsruhe University of Education
Applied linguistics &TEFL
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ISBN (Book)
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Quote paper
Fabian Müller (Author), 2012, Linguistic interference between L1 dialects and L2, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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