Rali has taught Public Speaking to college students and English as a Second Language; She has a master's degree in communication.
Imagine you are standing on a ledge. There's a huge gap, but you want to get to the other side. You can't jump across. You can't walk around. You can't fly over. But, you can build a bridge plank by plank. At first, you might be able to walk across carefully, but as you add to it, one day it might be strong enough to drive a car across! Now imagine your ledge is your native language and you are trying to conquer a second language: the other ledge. In this scenario, your bridge will be called interlanguage.
Interlanguage (IL) is a linguistic system used by second language learners. Learners create this language when they attempt to communicate in the target language. Interlanguage is affected by the learner's native language as they use their native language knowledge to understand and organize the second language or to compensate for existing competency gaps.
Nonetheless, interlanguage is entirely different from both the learner's first language (L1) and the targeted second language (L2). Interlanguage has its own rule system but it contains ungrammatical sentences and elements. Given that IL consists of elements of L1 and L2 as well as the speaker's perceptions, it is always unique from speaker to speaker. Learners create rules, and they are changed through input such as teachers, peers, etc. and by the learner.
Interlanguage is dynamic and permeable. It serves as a bridge between L1 and L2 when learners lack knowledge and fine mastery of rules, but over time, learners progress. They refine certain rules and obtain new ones. Their competence changes and their interlanguage starts to reflect those changes. First they may say: ''I no swimming,'' which later becomes: ''I don't swimming,'' until it reaches perfection: ''I don't swim.'' The process of constant extension and revision of rules reflects IL's tendency to change. IL's rules are not fixed: they're altered, deleted, or added.
Interlanguage is systematic. Although different learners have different interlanguage, they all have their own rules within their variations. They may not align with the actual rules but they are systematic: ''I received money, I buyed a new car, and I selled it.'' Rules are set in predictable ways.
Interlanguage is variable. Learner's performance is variable. They may apply the same rule differently in separate contexts or domains. Accuracy and fluency vary across occasions as learners have alternative rules for the same function. In a classroom setting, where the learner is focused on producing grammatically correct sentences, they may say: ''I don't drink coffee.'' In a spontaneous conversation, the same meaning can be expressed as: ''I no drink coffee.''
What affects the formation of interlanguage has been a topic of controversy and debate for decades. Currently, there five agreed-upon factors that are believed to shape how learners' create interlanguage: overgeneralization, learning strategies, language transfer, transfer of training, and communication strategies.
Overgeneralization involves learners extending the application of a rule in L2. They group similar items together and try to predict their behavior based on a rule they already know. Using the same rule in new situations leads to errors: the plural for ''deer'' becomes ''deers''; the past tense of ''go'' becomes ''goed.''
Learning Strategies of L2
Learning strategies consist of learners adopting different learning approaches. Some incorrect learning strategies may result in stagnation in the development of some aspect of L2, such as syntactic, lexical, or sociocultural. One such example is the act of simplification, as in ''I am clean my room now'' instead of ''I am cleaning my room now.''
Language transfer involves learners using their knowledge of L1 to understand or produce meaning in L2. If L1 and L2 are very different, errors are likely to occur in L2, like ''I cats love.''
Transfer of Training
Transfer of training has to do with how instruction plays a significant role in language acquisition. The way learners are taught produces both progression and mistakes. Lack of formal instruction or wrong instruction may result in replicating incorrect language forms. For example, a student keeps saying: ''We don't have many homeworks,'' and in attempt not to overcorrect, the teacher does not fix the sentence whenever the student produces it. They are left under the impression this form is correct and continue using it.
Strategies of Communication
Strategies of communication come about when, during a conversation in L2, especially with a native speaker, learners may become more concerned with how fluent they sound rather than how accurate. Depending on when, where, and how communication takes place, learners make choices. They identify approaches that they feel comfortable with and that seem to work for them. For example, a learner may try to simplify L2 in a conversation by using simple constructions and simple words, which leads to repetition, but they feel comfortable at that level.
Effects of Interlanguage
Over time, interlanguage slowly evolves and starts to resemble L2. The ultimate goal is equivalence or near equivalence. However, adult learners rarely reach this perfection level. Instead, somewhere along the way, they hit a language stagnation point, or fossilization. It does not happen all at once. The learner freezes a form rather than correcting it. Certain aspects of the language may freeze much earlier than others.
Reasons for fossilization have different roots. Once a student reaches a comfortable communicative level, they may lose motivation to correct forms where they make mistakes. Other reasons include the inability to overcome certain linguistic obstacles, an inadequate learning environment with no exposure to colloquial language, or incompletely or incorrectly learned linguistic forms that cannot be unlearned. All in all, after fossilization, there may be a slim potential for further developing conceptual understanding of L2.
Nonetheless, understanding interlanguage can help teachers understand what learners go through in L2 acquisition. They can develop reasonable expectations and prepare authentic and suitable materials to avoid inadequate training or early fossilization. Teachers may develop a deeper understanding of errors learners make and determine whether they need to make changes to their teaching plan. Errors can show learners' progress and ability and their struggles with using L2.
To sum up, interlanguage is a linguistic system created by second language learners to assist their second language acquisition. Rules are created by individual learners, so they are unique for every learner. Interlanguages are systematic, but they are also open to changes, which take place with progress. Interlanguage is variable across contexts and domains.
Factors that shape interlanguage include overgeneralization, learning strategies, language transfer, transfer of training, and strategies of communication. The final stage of interlanguage is called fossilization, and it is when a form freezes in the state it is in, correct or not. Instructors who understand interlanguage well can work to prevent fossilization.
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