November 01, 2005


On the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language web site, an article by Kevin Keys describes interlanguage as being the developing stages of a grammar in a second language. He questions whether interlanguage is susceptible to correction or whether learners just need to hear enough language around them to build up their grammar in incremental stages.

A very interesting article by Alix Henley and Judith Schott describes how people learning a second language usually retain certain paralinguistic (intonation, emphasis, volume and pace), cultural and non-verbal features of their mother tongue. As a result of this they may inadvertently offend or give the wrong impression, for example there is no word for please in Somali.

On the site link, I read about Selinker’s theory of Interlanguage.
Based on the theory that there is a ‘psychological structure latent in the brain’ which is activated when you attempt to learn a second language. Selinker (1972) proposes the theory of Interlanguage. Selinker says that in a given situation the words produced by the learner are different from those native speakers would use had they tried to give the same meaning. This comparison reveals a separate linguistic system. This system can be observed when we study the words of learners who attempt to produce a target (new) language norm.
According to Selinker, five central processes are responsible for this Interlanguage. They are: language transfer, transfer of training, strategies of second language learning, strategies of second language communication and overgeneralization.
Jean D’Souza (1977 points out that it is not always possible to say with certainty whether a learner uses a particular form because he thinks it is enough to communicate effectively or because he is using a particular strategy.
One strategy which probably works may be the learners’ attempt to reduce the target language to a simpler system. Selinker quotes Coulter (1968) and says learners avoid grammatical formatives such as articles, plural forms and past tense forms. Coulter thinks that learners have come to know that if they worry about grammatical processes their speech would not be fluent and native speakers may not have the patience to hear them through. The learners also felt they did not need a form such as English plurals to communicate efficiently. I am currently teaching 4 Polish learners, and I have noticed that they rarely use articles, past tense and prepositions.
“All that one needs to understand is that when children are exposed to a particular language they do not learn the grammar of that language straight away. They process the input data and form certain hypotheses. They cook up their own grammar which may be called G1. If ‘G’ is the grammar of the language they are learning, they may use and discard a number of grammars like G1 and G2 before they get to ‘G’. As per their exposure they constantly test their hypotheses and keep altering it. Hence their grammar at a particular point of time is systematic and has its own rules. But it is not constant. It keeps changing in line with the exposure they receive.
Similarly for second language learning all these processes have to be gone through. Hence the second language learners are almost in the same position as the first language learners but for the fact that they already have one language in their possession. Since our concepts and ideas are largely structured by our first language, the first language has a lot of influence over the learning of other languages. Hence learners could be said to view the second language through their first language and arrive at a system which is midway between their first and second language. This intermediary system is given the name ’Interlanguage’ by Selinker.”

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