Critical Examination of the Assumptions of Contrastive Analysis

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UNIVERSITY OF GHANA
DEPARTMENT OF LINGUISTICS

MA (TESL) SANDWICH PROGRAMME
June 2011-06-20

CONTINUOUS ASSESSMENT ONE

Name:Joseph Narh Padi

ID:10191761

Course Code:TESL 645

Course Title:Theories of Second Language Learning

Lecturers’ Name: Prof. Kofi Agyekum and Mr. John Tetteh Agor

Question: Outline the assumptions of Contrastive Analysis and critically examine the procedures associated with this hypothesis.

Introduction

This paper will try to explain what is meant by Contrastive Analysis and give a brief background of its development. It will then give an outline of the assumptions of Contrastive Analysis, present the procedures and assess their strengths and weaknesses.

Contrastive analysis has been defined by Gass and Selinker (1994: 59) as “a way of comparing languages in order to determine potential errors for the ultimate purpose of isolating what needs to be learned and what does not need to be learned in a second language learning situation”.

Fisiak also defines it as “a subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the comparison of two or more languages or subsystems of language in order to determine both the differences and similarities between them” Fisiak et al. (1978) cited in Fisiak (1981:1).

From the above definitions we can say, therefore, that the contrastive analyst is preoccupied with the comparison of two languages (the first and second language of a language learner) to be able to find areas of differences and similarities to help the learner to acquire the language easily.

Background of Contrastive Analysis

Contrastive Analysis emerged in the late 1950s and reached its peak in the 1960s. Even though works with similar orientation had been in existence, almost every contrastive analyst agreed that it was Lado’s book, Linguistics Across Cultures (1957), that gave birth to the hypothesis. He made reference to earlier works (Haugen 1956 and Weinreich 1953) to buttress his conviction that when languages come into contact, distortions arise as a result of differences in the languages involved. Ellis (2000: 306).

According to Ellis (1985: 23), “Contrastive Analysis was rooted in the practical need to teach a second language in the most efficient way possible”. This is evident in the presentations of the supporters of the ideology even long before the theory was proposed. As far back as 1917, Palmer (1917) wrote; “the first and foremost qualification of the ideal teacher is a thorough knowledge of both the foreign language and the student’s native tongue”. They strongly believe that difficulty in the learning of a second language can be attributed either partially or solely to problems the first language poses to the leaner in the learning process. Ellis (1985: 23) quoted Lado (1957) as stating that “the teacher who has made comparison of the foreign language with the native language of the students will know better what the real problems are and can provide for teaching them”. And also, “in the comparison between native language and foreign language lies the key to ease all difficulties in foreign language learning” Lado (1957) in Maicusi et al (2000). Ellis (2000: 307-308) also quoted Lee (1968: 180) as pointing out that “the prime cause, or even the sole cause of difficulty and error in foreign language learning is interference coming from the learner’s native language”. They claim that differences in areas of the two languages pose problem and create difficulty for the learner while similarities do not pose any problem and so ease learning. Lado (1957) in Ellis (2000:306) makes this clear:

…the student who comes in contact with a foreign language will find some features of it quite easy and others extremely difficult. Those elements that are similar to his native language will be simple for him and those elements that are different will be difficult. (1957: 2)

In view of this, the learner’s native language and the...
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