Negative language interference: Arabic-English interaction

terference is a linguistic term used when learners of the second language wrongly “utilize the rules of their mother-tongue to understand the target language” (Bhela,1999, 23). This wrong transference of the surface structure of L1 into the second language is indispensably considered automatic and negative in language acquisition.

As second- language learners, Arab students generally transfer grammatical, orthographical and lexical codes from Arabic (L1) into English (L2) to reduce the gap between both languages. This cross- linguistic influence frequently appears at early stages of their learning. For example, Arab new learners originally make sure to include verbs in their English sentences. They have already recognized that a verbal sentence without this basic component is completely incorrect. This structural interference helps new learners to conceive the English -structural framework correctly. Students would also resort to the Arabic conditional clauses using ‘إن’ or ‘إذا ‘ which can help to make the English conditional clause manageable. Other examples like causative, nominal sentences, punctuation marks, and some adverbs are also grammatical cods that transferred from Arabic into English. In phonology, aspects as stress, tone, rhythm, intonation, exclamation and pauses are all considerably interfered.

Despite the myriad of the language interaction studies that have been conducted over the past four decades, there still remains a surprising level of confusion and uncertainty in the field concerning when, where, in what form(s), and to what extent L1 influence manifests itself in learners’ use of the target language (Jarvis ,2000).However, according to the linguistics studies, language interference appears to be an indispensible natural process. If this transfer helps to come up with a correct structural production, positive language interference occurs .Such transference should be wisely encouraged. On the contrary, when 2L misapply the rules of their mother tongue into L2, a negative transference occurs. English sentences like ‘studied yesterday’ -without any subject- or ‘studied I yesterday’-VSO order instead of SVO order- almost surface in 2L when learners are not aware of the differences between the structural framework in both languages. The Arabic preposition ‘ألى’ is also widely misused to locate directions in English-’Go to home’ instead of ‘Go home’. Arabic hidden pronouns, linked pronouns, subject-verb agreement, singularity, plurality, negation and interrogation are also interfered in the wrong way. In fact, most of these mistakes almost occur at the very beginning of the learners’ exposure to English language.


A learner would resort to L1′s structures as he finds it difficult to acquire – partially or completely – any new different usage in L2. However, Interference might be conscious or unconscious. Consciously, the 2L learner “may guess because he has not learned or has forgotten the correct usage. Unconsciously, learner may not consider that the features of the languages may differ, or he may know the correct rules but be insufficiently skilled to put them into practice, and so fall back on the example of his first language.” (Rasier, & Hiligsmann, 2007,42 ). Linguists refer the negative transference back to the following important reasons; the lack of knowledge and the wrong generalization. On the first hand, when beginners are not aware of the similarities and differences between mother tongue and the target language, they might consciously or unconsciously misapply any structural rules of their mother tongue in the target language. Second language teachers should be aware of these common mistakes students always make. They should go over those particular differences to help learners to acquire language correctly.
On the other hand, learners tend to overgeneralize rules. Some of these generalizations help to produce correct sentences; like the necessity of having a verb as a main component into the English sentence. The problem occurs when students transfer some surface structural orders into the target language without paying any attention to the linguistic differences. Linguistic topologists- who study languages and classify them according to common features- intelligently make linguistic contrastive analyses among languages. They classify languages into families; some are nearly similar and accept different generalizations, others are basically different and don’t share common similarities. English language, for example, is considered as Subject-Verb-Objects (SVO), Arabic is both SOV and VOS ordered, whereas Spanish is VOS. Those studies in fact help to acquire languages in a more logical and easy way.

The attempt to find Solutions

Generally speaking, the negative aspects of language interference are often discussed. This cross -linguistic influence is more positive the closer the two languages are and the more the one is conscious of the relation between languages. Still, teachers should control the process in negative transferences, interpose whenever a misunderstanding happens and predict the possible mistakes or errors students might make. They should teach the similarities and differences between L1 and L2 through careful contrastive analyses. Other methodologists consider second- language acquisition as a process in which students are exposed to real-life situations. They cope with the new structures of the L2 without being obsessed with the differences and the similarities between their mother-tongue and the target language.


- Bhela, B. (1999). Native language interference in learning a second language: Exploratory case studies of native language interference with target language usage, International Education Journal vol. 1, No 1,p 23.
- Jarvis, S. (2000). Methodological Rigor in the Study of Transfer: Identifying L1 Influence in them Interlanguage Lexicon, Language Learning vol. 50, Issue 2, pp 245–309.

Rasier, L & Hiligsmann, P, (2007). Prosodic Transfer from L1 to L2. Theoretical and
Methodological Issues, Nouveaux cahiers de linguistique française, issue 28, p 42.

Essay By Ziyad Abu Shlhah

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