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西松論談 第四期

A Study of L1 Interference

in Chinese Senior High Students’ English Writing


1 Introduction

In this term paper, the author focuses on the learner errors resulting from L1(Chinese)

interference in written production of L2(English). The author identifies some of the errors

having to do with L1 interference and analyzes their possible causes in a hope to improve

English writing instruction.

2 Review of Literature

2.1 Learner Language vs. L1 Interference.

Ellis (1997) suggested that learner language serve as a useful way to investigate L2

acquisition. Learner language, linguistically speaking, refers to “the language that

learner produce when they are called on to use an L2 in speech or writing.” Learner

language may consist of errors, reflecting the gaps in a learner’s knowledge. Errors

are systematic and predictable, resulting in the construction of some kind of rule,

albeit a rule different from that of the target language. Some error are common in the

speech of all L2 learners, such as errors of omission and over generalization; other

errors, on the other hand, result from learners’ attempt to make use of their L1

knowledge. These kinds of errors are called transfer errors.

2.2 Interlanguage vs. L1 Interference

Interlanguage, a term first coined by the American linguist, Larry Selinker, is an

intermediate grammar, or linguistic system created by learners acquiring an L2.

Interlanguage forms can be view as learner’s hypotheses about the L2 and are

believed to be systematic and rule-governed (Park & Riley, 2000; Hatch, 1983).

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Learners’ L1, or the first language, may influence the formation of interlanguage

(Larsen-Freeman, Diane & Michael H. Long, 1991).

2.3 L1 Interference in Second Language Learning

It is maintained that L1 interference is one of the several sources of errors

learners make (Krashen, Stephen, 1988). Of the research findings, first language

knowledge in complex word order and in word-for-word translation of phrases may

lead to errors of the L2 learners. Besides, morphological errors, such as omission of

plurals on nouns, lack of subject-verb agreement, adjective-noun agreement may

occur, but not through the influence of the first language (Duškova, 1969). Schachter

and Rutherford (1979) found that ESL subject might be inclined to “overproduce” L2

sentence to suit a discourse function resulting from their first language (Krashen,


L1, or the native language, can have negative effects on the L2 acquisition. For

one thing, that language share similar features does not account for learners’

information in learning a foreign language (Bley-Broman, Robert, 1989). There are

features, for instances, that are inconsistent with language universals 1 . Thus,

languages with marked universals are more difficult for L2 acquisition than those

with unmarked universals (Park & Riley, 2000). For the other, foreign language

learner may misinterpret L2 acquisition because they “know to much” about their L1

(Bley-Broman, 1989). That is to say, they may presuppose that certain features of the

native language are universal. As a result, their L2 production may consists of error,

presumably resulting from their L1 knowledge.

Language universals refer to linguistic categories and rules that almost all human languages have in common.
(Park & Riley, 2000)

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3 Error Analyses of L1 Interference

3.1 Source of study.

The author collected learner errors concerning L1 interference from written

assignments of twenty-three students on the topic of “Autobiography.” Throughout

the identification and analysis of learner errors, the author may try to avoid L1

interference in teaching students English writing.

3.2 Examples of Errors and Error Analyses

3.2.1 The Missing Verb: BE

In English, the verb “be” is the most common verb form used in many different

ways. It is used as an auxiliary, as a main verb, as a linking verb; it is used to

indicate someone’s identity, age and cost; it is used with prepositional phrases,

with “to”-infinitive, in questions and negative clauses, in continuous tenses,

etc.2 In Chinese, however, there seems to be no equivalent usage to encompass

all of the above-mentioned function. Theoretically speaking, Chinese is less

marked with the sense of “be.” As a result, the author hypothesize that Chinese

students learning English as the second, or foreign, language are apt to disregard

the English verb be in speech or written production. The following excerpts

from students’ writing assignments justify the author’s hypothesis.

* “When I in a bad mood [. . .].”

* “So I full of confidence in myself.”
* “[. . .], I making a decision is I have to go to college.”
* “If you more fast then the others, [. . .].”
* “I born in a comparatively good living [. . .].”
* “I think when I in the calm environment I was lost reflection.”
* “I born and grow up in Tainan [. . .].”
* “I interest in [. . .].” Suggestion: I am interested in [. . .],
* “I born in Taipei.” Suggestion: I was born in Taipei.
* “This year I will in senior high school third year.”
* “I born in 1985 [. . .].”
See Collins Cobuild English Usage. Def. “Be”. pp. 86-88.

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* “And somebody also said I very holy, [. . .].”

* “Because it my interest, [. . .].”
* “I borned in a [. . .].”
* “[. . .], you have to earnest and down to earth, [. . .].”
* “Because I proud of the Chinese Taipei team forever.”

3.2.2 The Misuse Of The Conjunction “ALTHOUGH”

The English conjunction although introduce a subordinate clause in a sentence.3

In accordance with Chinese students’ errors, such as *Although I usually very

busy in the school, but I am very happy. and *Although, I did not well in my

lessons, but, after class, I made the best use of time to study and reviewed what I

learned., the author found that students might confuse the usage of the English

conjunction “although” with the Chinese words 雖然 and 但是. With literal

translation into Chinese, the above-mentioned sample sentences are acceptable,

so that we can guess that these errors result from L1 interference.

3.2.3 Word-Order Errors

Some of the learner errors are apparently derived from Chinese thinking flow.

That is to say, students may literally translate their Chinese sentence pattern into

word-by-word English sentences, which looks odd to native speakers of English.

The sample sentences are cited as follows:

* “I enter to college after I will strive to learn extracurricular knowledge and

add my actual strength to subject.”
* “[. . .], so my environment is very strict [. . .].”
* “I find a subject that can be like by me.”
* “The family members probably 20 people, [. . .].”
* “Then separate live in every floor.”
* “Therefore I receive some pleasure.”
* “However I choose this class is hope I can get [. . . ].”
* “I in junior high school my grade is so so.”
* “Although it was a little bad in the beginning.”
* “Every activity in school I always active to participate.”
* “There is very happy every day, [. . .].”
* “I think I’ll too collect about some tourism’s newspaper cutting.”

See Collins Cobuild English Usage. Def. “Although”. pp. 49-50.

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* “[. . .], I’ll very hard to read [. . .].”

* “In my family have five persons, [. . .].”
* “My father is a dentist so he very cares my studies.”
* “Although I usually very busy in the school, but I am very happy.”
* “When I is older and older, the more things I can accept.”

3.2.4 Subject-Verb Agreement

According to Duškova (1969), the lack of subject-verb agreement is nothing to

do with the L1 interference in the L2 production. However, it is worth

identifying such kind of errors students made, since it constitutes a common

error in Chinese students. Besides, subject-verb agreement is a less marked

feature in Chinese than in English. Therefore, it is reasonable to hypothesize that

Chinese students learning English as a second or foreign language are inclined

to disregard subject-verb agreement in their production of English. The author

recorded the following examples having to do with the lack of subject-verb


* “She let me know what is right or wrong.”

* “[. . .], she use her severe eyes and cursed at me.”
* “[. . .]; the good thing in the country is getting close to the nature and leading a
simple life.”
* “So it let me honest people very well.”
* “And I know that English have to be very well, [. . .].”
* “And I also is the best student in our class.”

4 Conclusion and Implication in Writing Instruction.

Errors can be viewed as a welcome sign in that learners are testing their hypotheses in

forming linguistic knowledge. Identifying errors students make does not mean to judge or

label their competence. On the contrary, errors can help teachers find correct ways to

improve students’ learning. Particular errors require well-designed problem-solving

methods. The author in this term paper tries to identify errors resulting from L1

interference, namely, influences from Chinese, such as the missing verb “be”, the misuse

of the conjunction “although,” word-order errors, and subject-agreement errors.

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Knowing that linguistic knowledge of Chinese, in certain aspects, may interfere with

the learning of English, the author may incorporate the contrastive analysis between

Chinese and English into English writing instruction. To begin with, learners’ learning

strategies in developing their interlanguage would be constantly questioned by the author

to see if L1 interference occurs. For example, do they always follow their Chinese thinking

flow in the production of L2? If yes, they must be equipped with more English patterns or

collocations, which are more or less different from Chinese word order. Modeling after

written examples of native speakers of English is one of the ways to alter L1 interference.

Besides, in behavioristic view, more drills on the difference between L1 and L2 may serve

as stimuli to produce correct responses in the future. Therefore, the author will use

pre-writing activities, such as subject-verb agreement practice, subordinate clause drill, to

enhance students’ awareness of differences between Chinese and English.

5 Limitation of the Study and Further Research in the Future

The author is not able to cover all learner errors resulting from L1 interference due to

limited time. Besides, there is no direct evidence to show that some of the errors are

ONLY derived from L1 interference; i.e., there may be other factors influencing the

development of learner errors. Also, the samples the author gathered do not account for all

the errors learners make in terms of level of competence. As for further research in the

future, the author will focus on the contrastive analysis between Chinese as L1 and

English as L2 and the possible solution in preventing students from making repetitive


6 Reference

Bley-Broman, Robert. (1989) “What is the logical problem of foreign language learning?”

Gass, Susan M., Jacquelyn Schachter (Eds.), Linguistic perspective on second

language acquisition (pp. 41-52). New York: Cambridge University Press

西松論談 第四期

Collins Cobuild English Collocations on CD-ROM. Vers. 1.1. London: HarperCollins.

Collins Cobuild English Usage. (1992). London: HarperCollins.

Ellis, Rod. (1997). Second language acquisition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hatch, Evelyn Marcussen. (1983). “Syntax and language acquisition.” Psycholinguistics: A

second language perspective (pp. 89-108). Massachusetts: Newbury House.

Krashen Stephen D. (1988). ”The role of first language in second language acquisition.”

Second language acquistion and second language learning (pp.64-69). Englewood

Cliff: Prentice Hall.

Larsen-Freeman, Diane and Long, Michael H. (1991). “Interlanguage studies: substantive

findings.” An introduction to second language Acquisition research (pp.81-113).

New York: Longman.

Parker, Frank, Kathryn Riley. (2000). “Chapter 9: Second-Language Acquisition.” Linguistics

for non-linguists: A primer with exercises (pp.209-230). MA: Allyn & Bacon.

White, Lydia. (1989). “The logical problem of second language acquisition.” Universal

grammar and second language acquisition (pp.35-55). Philadelphia: John