La Rivista per l'insegnamento e l'apprendimento delle lingue

The role of the mother tongue in second language learning

Ineke van de Craats

L’autrice si china sul ruolo della lingua materna nell’apprendimento delle lingue seconde, prendendo in considerazione dapprima tre modelli:1) la linguistica
contrastiva (contrastive analysis, 2) l’ipotesi dell’interlingua (interlanguage hypothesis) e 3) l’ipotesi della costruzione creativa (creative construction hypothesis).
Nella linguistica contrastiva, l’idea chiave è che gli errori sono spiegabili come interferenze tra la lingua 1 e la lingua 2. Nell’ipotesi dell’interlingua, gli allievi utilizzano regole che non escludono anche quelle della lingua 1 nel processo di apprendimento della lingua 2, e in questo processo trovano la propria interlingua. Nell’ipotesi della costruzione creativa, gli allievi fanno errori simili a quelli fatti quando si impara la lingua 1. L’importante è dare agli allievi molto input comprensibile per permettergli di costruire le regole della lingua fino a giungere al livello
Negli anni ottanta, l’idea era che il discente organizza mentalmente le strutture della lingua 2 e cerca di formulare ipotesi sulle regole. In questo processo utilizza anche le regole della lingua 1.
L’autrice fornisce alcuni esempi tratti dalla ricerca in ambito canadese ( per es. la posizione dell’avverbio in francese e in inglese) e conclude che ci sono casi nei quali gli allievi non vedono gli errori e il docente deve indicarli loro, e far prendere loro coscienza delle regole della lingua 2 operando un confronto contrastivo tra lingua 1 e lingua 2. (red.)

One of the advantages of modern language education is that learners’ errors based on transfer of mother tongue (L1) properties into second language (L2) production are much less frequent than before, when language teaching took place in the grammar-translation tradition. It is a well-known fact that adult learners do not often come to ultimate attainment and are more inclined to rely on their first language than young learners. Some researchers have even claimed that children acquire L2 without reference to their L1 (Dulay & Burt, 1974a, b). Recently however, we came across studies that reported on young learners who clearly showed the influence of their L1: 11-12-year-old francophone students learning English in communicative L2 classes in Quebec (Spada & Lightbown 1999; Lightbown & Spada 2000). These intriguing contrasts have led us to review the short history of second language acquisition research, to examine the views on transfer and second language learning and how they changed over time.

Back to the 1970s

The three models of second language learning most discussed in the early 1970s were:
• the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis,
• the Interlanguage Hypothesis,
• the Creative Construction Hypothesis.
I will consecutively deal with each of them.
The Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (under influence of behaviourist views) explained second language learning as the development of a new set of habits that could be learned through the stimulus-response method (cf. Lado 1957). It was predicted that virtually all errors could be explained as interference (or negative transfer) from L1. Linguists provided a list of linguistic differences and similarities with respect to a particular L1 and a particular L2. Objectives of such a comparison were the explanation and prediction of problems in second language learning. Ease of learning was guaranteed where first language habits led to correct L2 performance. However, the greater the differences between the language systems, the greater the learning problem predicted (cf. Weinreich 1953). [...]

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