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Language Transfer: Definition, Types & Effects

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  • 0:04 Language Transfer Definition
  • 1:15 Language Transfer Description
  • 2:02 Language Transfer Types
  • 5:16 Transfer Vs Acquisition
  • 6:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ralica Rangelova

Rali has taught Public Speaking to college students and English as a Second Language; She has a master's degree in communication.

This lesson defines and describes language transfer and differentiates between positive and negative transfer. It also describes how language transfer affects learners' ability to acquire a second language.

Language Transfer Definition

If you were offered $1,000,000 to become fluent in any second language in a year, would you take that challenge? I say go for it. Be smart about your language choice, and in a year you'll be called a millionaire. Now, let's imagine you are Russian. This time you have a year to learn Korean to get that $1,000,000. Would you still say yes? Now, this will be much more challenging. Why is that?

The replication of rules from our first language (L1) to the second language (L2) is called language transfer. Our knowledge and understanding of L1 impact our understanding of L2. We can transfer grammar, vocabulary, syntax, semantics, spelling, morphology, pronunciation, structure, and culture to the L2 language. This process of language transfer is also known as linguistic interference, cross meaning, and L1 interference. Language transfer explains different accents and what mistakes people make. Also, it can predict how quickly we can acquire a second language, taking into account similarities and differences between the two languages.

Language Transfer Description

Our brain is already wired with linguistic rules that help us operate in our first language. When we try to learn a second language, we rely on these established rules and structures to guess how the new language works. For example, Korean sentences use a subject-object-verb structure, while English sentences follow a subject-verb-object structure. Thus, a Korean speaker of English may incorrectly say: ''I your cat saw.'' Japanese words don't allow two consonants next to each other, so a Japanese speaker of English may add a vowel to pronounce an English word more easily: ''star'' might sound like ''sutar.'' Similarly, Spanish speakers tend to add 'e' before words starting with 's': '' star'' will sound like ''estar.''

Language Transfer Types

Language transfer can be positive and negative. Positive transfer facilitates learning, while negative transfer impedes learning. The greater the differences between two languages, the more the negative effects. Thus, language acquisition ease can be predicted by the amount of similarities and differences between L1 and L2.

Let's first take a look at negative transfer types. Negative transfer occurs when L1 knowledge influences L2 understanding and results in errors. Such transfer hinders the acquisition of L2 at least temporarily. It affects word choice, word order, pronunciation, and any other aspect of L2. Let's take a look at some of the different types of negative transfer:

  1. Substitution
    Absence of some sounds in L1 often forces learners to opt for a similar sound because they struggle with replicating the original sound. Many Slavic languages don't differentiate between 'g' and 'k' or 'd' and 't' as the final letter: ''med'' (honey in Bulgarian) and ''met'' (copper in Bulgarian) are both pronounced ''met.'' Therefore, ''skit'' and ''skid'' may be hard to articulate for such learners. Spanish and Korean speakers may not pronounce 'h' in ''her'' because this sound in that position is either silent or very soft in their L1. This is called substitution.
  2. Underdifferentiation
    Inability to make a distinction made in another language is called underdifferentiation. Spanish speakers may try to use ''borrow'' and ''lend'' as synonyms or equivalent words, because in Spanish there is only one word that means both: ''prestar.''
  3. Simplification
    Simplification is another type of negative interference. L2 learners make reductions to linguistic structures resulting in grammatically incorrect sentences. The Korean language, for instance, doesn't use definite articles; as a result, Korean speakers may omit ''a'' or ''the'' in sentences, like: ''House is very pretty.''
  4. Calques
    Negative transfers that reflect L1 structure are called calques. These can involve improper collocations, like, ''do mistakes''. They can also involve disagreement in subject and verb like ''She like apples.''. They can also involve disagreement in countable and uncountable nouns, like ''Money are very important.''. Finally, they can involve the wrong use of parts of speech, like ''Cities are noise and dirty.''

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