Mother Tounge Interference in English

Topics: English language, Language, Language acquisition Pages: 6 (1558 words) Published: October 22, 2010
Methods to reduce Mother Tongue Interference (M T I ) in the classroom

Introduction: The importance of English language acquisition as a stepping-stone for proficiency in school subjects cannot be over emphasized. The knowledge of English is important both for educational, national and economic development of a country. English is the official language of administration and commerce and also a major language of science. It should be further highlighted at the need for improving the quality of spoken and written English language among children. Although English language retains its dominant position in the education delivery system, the thrust of our educational language policy is the use of the mother tongue or the language of the immediate community..

English Language Teaching, like all other fields of human endeavour, generates its share of false prophets. Year after year, we find ourselves that are buzzing with the news that someone has found “The Best Method”.

Wilkins observes:

“When learning a foreign language an individual already knows his mother tongue, and it is this which he attempts to transfer. The transfer may prove to be justified because the structure of the two languages is similar – in that case we get “Positive transfer” or “facilitation” – or it may prove unjustified because the structure of the two languages are different – in that case we get “negative transfer” or “inference”

(Wilkins, 1972 : P 199)

Language Learning is about taking risks and rising to the challenge. Teaching English as a second language presents some difficulties, one of which is MTI, especially Pronunciation and Transliteration.

The most noticeable hurdle our students face is MTI. Mother tongue therefore, is defined as the language which a group of people considered to inhabitants of an area acquired in the early years and which eventually becomes their natural instrument of thoughts and communication.

Why Monolingualism?

This is a justified fear. It reminds me of the “slippery slope” argument, that once you start you will find it impossible to stop just like the first step onto the slippery slope leads to sliding right down the hill. This argument is also called the “thin end of the wedge” argument or the “foot in the door” argument. In all these images, an initial first step is irreversible and leads to more steps along that path.

I like to compare this to the question of whether or not to drink alcohol, which used to say “It is the first drink that make you an alcoholic not the last”. It is much easier to say “no” totally and from the beginning, than to exercise control and restrict the alcohol.

This illustration of alcoholic drink parallels the use of L1 in the L2 classroom It is much easier to refuse the L1 totally than it is to control the use of L1. Butzkamm though is arguing for controlled principled use and argues that it can mean L2 is learned quicker. (

If your students are monolingual then it is easier to make a contrastive analysis, diagnose the problems and find solutions,

▪ The first step is to find errors.
▪ Be careful not to assume that all errors stem form mother tongue interferences. ▪ Try to identify the most common ones and give these priority. The errors can be classified by type:


There is mother tongue interference in the areas of syntax, grammar, lexis and pronunciation.

For Pronunciation, look at individual sounds (Phonemes); errors might be happening because a specific sound in English does not occur in MTI. In this case, the students need to be helped first to actually hear the sound, then they need to be shown how the sound is formed and then given lots of practice in using it. Stress patterns at word and sentence level could be another phonological challenge and Intonation...
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