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    Learning English and Mother Tongue (Arabic) Interference


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    Learning English and Mother Tongue (Arabic) Interference

    Post by Admin on Thu Feb 19, 2009 1:05 pm

    Learning English and Mother Tongue (Arabic) Interference

    The interference of the mother tongue has always been a major problem in teaching and learning English as a foreign language. I particularly refer here to the trace left by someone's native language upon the foreign language they are acquiring. Thus, the
    Frenchman who says, I am here since yesterday, is imposing a French grammatical usage on English.

    Egyptian students who learn English as a foreign language often make lexical, semantic and phonological errors because of the interference of their native language (Arabic). I will survey here, as briefly as possible, the most common errors I have observed
    during my work as an EFL teacher in Egyptian public and private schools.

    Arabic speaking students often resort to redundancy when writing compositions and essays. They usually cannot avoid using redundant patterns. The following sentences are just a few common examples of redundancy.

    * Mona lives alone by herself.

    * The problem is very serious in the nature of it.

    * The boss advanced forward the date of the


    In the previous examples, the words alone, in the nature of it and forward are redundant. It is , of course, the duty of the teacher to explain to his students that simple, direct and non-redundant
    sentences are preferred to complicated, indirect and redundant ones. Students should be aware of the unnecessary information that has to be omitted. Therefore, instead of saying, repeat again two
    twins etc., students should say repeat twins respectively.

    Another area of difficulty is related to using prepositions. Arabic peaking students sometimes use prepositions where they are not supposed to. When writing, they would normally use affect on enjoy with or by etc. because such verbs normally take prepositions in Arabic (phrasal verbs). Moreover, they often make errors in choosing the correct preposition. They tend to say ashamed from composed from object on blame on where of, of, to and for should be used respectively.

    Students also tend to use before nouns which are not normally preceded by this definite article, such as names of most diseases and many other nouns. The reason for this is that in Arabic such nouns are usually preceded by the definite article. Notice the
    following examples:

    My father suffers from the diabetes.

    He was filled with the sadness.

    He studies the music.

    He left at the twilight.

    The use of run-on sentences (i.e. sentences which are incorrectly connected) is also common in compositions and essays written by Arabic speaking students. Look at the following examples:

    We waited a long time, he didn't turn up.

    My uncle and his family lived in the capital I knew I
    could stay with them.

    Teachers should be able to help their students avoid run-on sentences by using appropriate connecting words or punctuation.

    Other syntactical errors occur in using adjectives. The fact that in Arabic, adjectives follow nouns makes it difficult for learners of English to put adjectives in their proper place. Therefore, students are likely to make errors such as the following:

    Tourists come to Egypt to enjoy the weather beautiful.

    Men and women enjoy rights equal.

    This is a book very interesting.

    Arabic speaking students - affected by their mother tongue - tend to make a syntactical error by using an adjective plus a noun derived from the main verb instead of using an adverb, thus imposing an Arabic grammatical usage on English. The following examples
    make this point clear:

    The temperature rose a sharp rise (instead of: The
    temperature rose sharply).

    The singer performed a wonderful performance (instead
    of: The singer performed wonderfully).

    The prices have increased a gradual increase (instead
    of: The prices have increased gradually).

    Through intensive practice and using varied examples, such errors are likely to disappear. Teachers should attract their students attention to the correct sentence order in English.

    The subject pronoun you in English is used is used to refer to the person (singular) or to the person being spoken to, and it has a separate plural form only in the reflexive (yourself, yourselves). In
    Arabic, the second person pronoun has various forms depending on whether we are speaking to one person, two people or more than two, and also depending on whether we are speaking to males or females. Therefore, Arabic speaking students tend to use you incorrectly when just one person is being spoken to, e.g. You has caused me a lot of trouble.

    Another difficulty faced by Arabic speaking students is related to the use of countable and uncountable nouns. Many uncountable nouns in English such as information money damage housework homework etc. are countable in Arabic. Consequently, students often add an s to these uncountable nouns and use plural instead of singular
    forms of verbs. Following are some examples:

    The informations I received were useful.

    Housewives do a lot of houseworks.

    The storm caused great damages.

    The absence of certain English sounds in Arabic like /p/ and /v/ causes real phonological problems for Egyptian students who usually find it difficult to pronounce words containing such sounds. Thus words like park and van are likely to be pronounced bark and fan. This detrimentally affects language learning and it particularly impeded developing listening and speaking skills. These difficulties are
    by no means insurmountable. Through giving students sufficient practice and drills and exposing them to intensive listening activities, teachers can attain good results,

    One last area of difficulty for Arabic speaking learners of English is related to lexico-semantic usage. Certain words that have distinctive meanings in English, like special and private have only one
    equivalent in Arabic. Students, therefore, are likely to say:

    My brother went to a special hospital.

    This is a very private occasion.

    For the same reason, words like economic/economical historic/historical barrister/solicitor are often
    confused and misused in Arabic.

    To sum up, Arabic speaking students should be aware of the fact that English and Arabic are quite different languages. If students are taught how to think in English and avoid doing a mental translation, their learning will be greatly enhanced. Teachers certainly
    have a great role to play in the process of acquainting and familiarizing their students with the language areas that are likely to hinder their language acquisition. We are badly in need of more
    research into this area.


    J. A. Bright and G.P. McGregor, 1982. Teaching English
    as a Second Language. Longman Group Limited.

    Myrna Knepler, 1990. Grammar with a Purpose. Heinle &

    Randolph Quirk and Sydney Greenbaum. 1985. A
    University Grammar of English. Longman Group Limited.

    Essam Wahba

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