Contrastive Analysis

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April 24, 2009

Contrastive analysis:
Prosperity, Decline and new Hopes of revival

It should be mentioned that the history of foreign language teaching is so complicated. The complexities are the outcome of the rise of the assumptions of so many theories, approaches, methods and hypotheses that dominated this field , especially beginning from1940s and up till now. Today there are innumerable assumptions for approaches and methods that relate to language learning and teaching. All of them claim to be the right approach for learning and teaching a language. In the midst of these situations, foreign language teachers find it extremely difficult to decide upon an approach, a method or a hypothesis to adopt, so as the process of teaching becomes easier to them and this, of course, would make the process of learning easier to the students in turn. The purpose of this short paper is to explain the assumptions behind what is called ' Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis' (CAH) to language teaching and learning. Examples from English and Arabic; English and German will be cited, and then demonstrate why contrastive analysis was rejected after decades of prosperity in which it dominated the area of foreign language teaching for almost 20 years. In this effect, According to Larsen-Freeman & Long (1991) in (Yoon,2002):

this was a time when structural linguistics and behavioral

psychology were rather dominant in the study of language

learning. CA proponents came to advocate that L2 instructional

materials could be prepared more efficiently by comparing two

languages and, in the process, predict learners' behaviors and difficulties(qtd. in Dina 2).

Contrastive Analysis(CA) was developed by Charles Fries, and was more explained and clarified by Robert Lado. CA is based on the assumptions that the majority of the errors done by non-native learners, throughout their course of studying a language, are related to the interference of the students' native language. That's why there is difficulty in learning a language. The learners native language's habits do not easily allow for the development of any new habits for another different language to take place. Lado and Fries believe that:

Individuals tend to transfer the forms and meanings and the

distribution of forms and meanings of their native language

and culture to the foreign language and culture- both productively

when attempting to speak the language and act in the culture

and receptively when attempting to grasp and understand the

language and the culture as practiced by natives.(qtd. in Abbas 2)

The process of learning is more difficult when there are differences between the systems of these two languages and more easy when there are similarities. If it is true that most of the difficulties encountered by the students, in their path of learning a foreign language, result from the differences rather than the similarities between the L1 and L2, then the students errors could be predicted, and hence can be encountered by teaching materials that focuses mainly on the differences rather than the similarities between the L1 and L2. CA is classified into two forms. A strong form and A weak form. The strong form predicts that most of L2 errors are due to negative transfer resulting from the differences between the L1 and L2. The weak form explains errors once they are made with out making prediction. To give an example about the possible difficulties that learners may encounter in learning a foreign language, lets consider some language features of two completely different languages such as English and Arabic.

English belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, and Arabic belongs to the Semitic languages, therefore, they are almost quite different from one another in many ways. If a comparison is drawn between English and Arabic in terms of phonology, contrastive analysis predicts that, because Arabic language lacks...
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