Tuesday, May 8, 2007

First Language Interference

When I first started using a cell phone, everything about it was strange and almost intimidating. Isn't it the same for everything new, including language? Just as I needed time to go beyond the basics of handling the new technology, my students had to get used to speaking the English language. Often, their first language slipped into the new one. One case I remember, glaringly, to this day, was a sentence a student made. It was something to the effect of :

"My dry father visited us during the holidays."

"Uh, my dry father?" I repeated, eyes blinking.

At that point of time, my Mandarin vocabulary was limited and I didn't understand that it was a literal translation of the Mandarin word for 'godfather.' Luckily for me, a more advanced student came in to the rescue.

This illustration shows how helpful it would be for an ESL teacher to understand the language of students in order to help them correct their errors.

Here's another illustration to support my case. I used to literally grit my teeth whenever my students apply gender terms 'he, she' or 'they' interchangebly with no care for the actual gender in consideration. Then I found out that there are no gender equivalents for these personal pronouns in Chinese. Once I realised it, the irritation I felt dissipated. I knew right away, the source of their problem and was in a better position to guide them.

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