CROSSLINGUAL TEACHING STRATEGIES
In chapters 2 and 3 we saw that learners in EFL contexts may share the same mistakes
which go unacknowledged as such during learner interactions. When learners share
false assumptions, the requisite "negative evidence" to draw learners'
attention to gaps or overgeneralizations in their interlanguage systems may not be
forthcoming. Learner interactions are still useful, but not in all the same ways
as with learners who do not have an L1 in common.
- EFL instructors need not despair, however, as there are positive aspects to this
situation as well. When all of the learners share an L1 and tend to share the same
problems, these problems can be addressed in ways which are not always useful in
classrooms with learners from different L1s.
- For example, in order for students to notice language features in L2 input (so
that these features become intake), these features must be made salient. One option
in EFL classrooms is to employ judicious use of crosslingual techniques. Occasionally,
some translation-based activities can fruitfully be employed as an approach to consciousness-raising
activities. Furthermore, using contrastive analysis as a learning experience has
valid applications in the classroom. In this final chapter, I lay the groundwork
and outline some applications of pedagogically-motivated L1 use in the L2 classroom.
(For teachers with no L1 ability, some of the applications below are adjustable,
provided that those teachers use informants or texts, handouts provided by others,
or even L1 elicitation followed by asking if other learners agree.)
- 5.1 The "Checking Device" and Word Storage
- Recall (from 3.5.0) that Poulisse and Bongaerts (1994) attributed unconscious
slips, and their subsequent decline as learners gained in proficiency, to the notion
of spreading activation. However, as seen in "hotchkiss", even highly proficient
Japanese learners will use such L1 loanwords as L2 in the belief that these are in
fact L2 (also see Russell, 1997, p. 84; Smith, 1997; Daulton, 1998; Shepard, 1995).
- Distinguishing between phonologically adapted language switches and non-adapted
language switches, Poulisse and Bongaerts found that the vast majority of their Dutch
learners' accidental L1 items were non-adapted, suggesting that "when a lemma
of a particular language has been accessed, phonological encoding will take place
in this same language since with a few exceptions our subjects used L1 and L2 phonological
encoding procedures to encode L1 and L2 items respectively" (p. 52). They also
suggest that "inflected word forms are stored in the lexicon both fully and
in decomposed form and that there is a checking device used to intercept forms
that are not represented in the lexicon" (p. 52, italics added). This checking
device prevents learners from unintentionally attaching L2 verb stems to L1 verbs,
but does not prevent using an L1 word in place of an L2 one. It is related to the
common occurrence of slips such as "rided" instead of "rode".
- The storage of word forms both intact and in decomposed form runs counter to
a recent informal poll of my students. They knew, for example, "owner",
but not "own"; in short, many words were apparently stored intact yet unanalyzed.
This is supported by a recent study (Schmitt & Meara, 1997, cited in Hunt &
Beglar, 1998) which found that Japanese learners "did not know many inflections
and derivative suffixes of English verbs" (Hunt & Beglar, 1998, p. 7). I
feel that the tendency of Japanese learners to learn words through rote memorization
of word lists contributes significantly. One often sees students studying on busses
and trains from vocabulary cards attached to key rings; that these special ringed
cards are sold in every convenience store attests to their non-specialist, widespread
use. The detrimental effect which I believe occurs through this type of L2-L1 meaning
mapping is that the learners experience many of these words as complete and individual
units, rather than as the sum of parts which are analyzable or generalizable, perhaps
explaining the apparent discrepancy with Poulisse and Bongaerts's description of
- Furthermore, loanwords such as hotchkiss and "nice guy" (cf. 3.5.3),
if believed to be English, would circumvent any need for learners to analyze them
into component parts. This is argued in the next section, followed by classroom activities
to help alleviate these problems.
- 5.2 Katakana English and Loanwords
- Katakana, one of the three Japanese written character sets, is used mainly for
words and names of foreign origin. An analogy to English is the italicization of
some foreign words, such as when keiritsu first started to appear in the English
media. (And, like katakana, italics can serve other functions as well.) However,
this is where the analogy ends, as foreign words in English are often no longer italicized
once they are naturalized into English (such as typhoon, pasta, et cetera), yet in
Japanese, with very few exceptions, foreign words remain written in katakana, which
differs both in form and style from hiragana, the other "phonetic" Japanese
- In short, these words of foreign origin are permanently marked as such.
- It is useful for purposes of discussion to divide katakana English into two categories.
First are words which have entered the lexicon of the language more or less officially,
and are now loanwords (such as hotchkiss). These make up about 10% of the Japanese
language (Shibatani, 1990, cited in Daulton, 1998). The second category encompasses
the use of English as Japanese for the purpose of novelty of expression
, a very common practice throughout the broadcasting,
music and advertising industry. Written in either katakana or English, they are pronounced
"katakana-style", and are perceived as English.
- Learners' prior educational experiences with English may only add to the confusion,
as seen in the following extract (T is a Japanese teacher of English):
- This teacher was unique in Takahashi's study in that he used English nearly all
of the time with the students, which perhaps explains the laughter following "Mo-de-ru-do
a fu-ta-a", provided in an apparently joking response to S9's initiation of
katakana. Takahashi notes, "Such katakanaized English is often heard in the
conversations among the students engaged in pair or group work in the classroom.
...some Japanese English teachers sometimes use this particular type of English to
have the students understand" (Takahashi, 1997, p. 25).
- The high prevalence of loanwords and katakana English, then, in both instructional
settings and outside experiences, poses a serious threat to the effectiveness of
any checking device. When a student's interlanguage system provides an activated
loanword or a katakana English lexical item for consideration, the checking device
could accept it simply on the basis of familiarity through Japanese. Furthermore,
while the phonological adaption of L1 words was rare in Poulisse and Bongaerts, and
invariably resulted in detectable errors, the Japanese student who uses this strategy
erroneously will often succeed without fellow learners catching the mistake.
- What implications are there for the classroom? While Shepard claims that "English
students must learn the words in their own context, not as adaptions from the Japanese
usage" (Shepard, 1996, p. 3), empirical investigations reveal that Japanese
loanwords are useful, preexisting lexical resources which can be exploited in aiding
the acquisition of L2 terms (Daulton, 1998). As these words are very near the surface
for Japanese speakers of English, it makes sense to employ crosslingual techniques
to raise learners' awareness of what is and what is not adaptable.
- Smith (1997) uses a few minutes at the beginning of every class to study katakana
vocabulary. She puts a katakana word on the board and highlights the differences
in pronunciation and meaning. Following this, learners are asked to come up with
their own examples of katakana words (one per learner) and look them up in their
dictionaries. Learners then share their results in pairs or small groups.
- In my own classes, I have combined analysis of loanwords and non-loanwords for
lessons which focus on English lexical regularities which may not be noticeable to
students. For example, the students appeared unaware that ~er can attach to verbs
to create nouns for people or devices. They knew both "teacher" and "teach",
but they could not generalize from that to determine that an "owner" is
one who owns something. My students often use the word "copy" when asking
about printing computer documents, yet they know that the machine is a "printer".
5.2.7 Before describing this activity, I must first acknowledge the great potential
for overgeneralizations. While true that a writer is one who writes, fingers do not
fing, grocers do not groce, and hammers do not ham (Lederer, 1989). This technique
is part of a larger whole (see 5.3) which includes opportunities to test assumptions
and weed out false ones.
5.2.8 On the board, I write three Japanese words which the students know in English.
These words represent three types of Japanese words which sometimes have English
equivalents formed from ~er (or ~or) attached to verbs.
- The first type represents Japanese nouns which do not correspond to Japanese
verbs. The second type represents Japanese nouns formed by adding an ending to Japanese
verbs. The third type represents katakana loanwords. I ask the students (in L2) if
they notice any similarities between the English words. They usually notice the ~er.
I solicit the verb for each noun (eg, what does a teacher do?). Through this, they
are lead to notice that ~er can combine with verbs to create nouns, and that there
are several different types of Japanese equivalents. This is followed by both solicitation
of their own examples (in L1, as L1/L2 equivalents, or in L2) and examples which
I provide (such as can opener, pencil sharpener, photocopier, pitcher [baseball],
and, of course, stapler). At this stage, the L1 functions as a "trigger"
for brainstorming, and aids in clarifying meanings to ascertain similarities or differences
in semantic range, while L2 is the predominant language. Later followup includes
reading a comic strip which highlights both the creative nature of this "rule"
as well as the ambiguity of the terms; the punchline hinges on "garage door
opener" to mean a person instead of a device.
- Through this activity, I have found that learners often know either the noun
or the verb for many words, but not both, indicating that these words are indeed
stored intact. This is particularly evident for loanwords.
- 5.3 Starter Rules: A Contrastive Analysis Technique
- The preceding activity illustrates what I call "starter rules". Combining
stems and affixes to generate lexis is useful as an initial approach to increasing
learners' productive range of vocabulary, if built on current knowledge and if followed
by opportunities to creatively construct new words to test their hypotheses. The
activity above started from L1, yet most typically start from L2, as illustrated
- These simplified pedagogic rules are followed first by consciousness raising
tasks which can employ crosslingual comparison and contrastive analysis as a teaching
technique. They may be used even in multi-lingual classrooms provided that each learner
has an L1/L2 dictionary.
- An example, followed by a report from one of my classes, illustrates the process.
Learners are given a simple "rule" on forming adjectives with ~able:
|~able means "can" as in these examples:
||If something is recognizable, you can recognize it.
||something is advisable, you can advise someone to do it because it is something they
- Then learners are given a stem, such as "adore", to look up in their
dictionaries. Then they look up "adorable", and are asked if they are satisfied
with the rule. In the final stage, learners are encouraged to come up with their
own (creative) applications of the rule, and teachers can provide further examples
if need be.
- Recognizing, of course, that the potential for overgeneralization is great, these
types of activities are geared towards drawing students' attention to the creative
possibilities of language. Follow-up tasks are obviously necessary. When such words
later appear in the classroom corpus, either in texts or in communication with the
teacher, they should be highlighted in their contexts, with reference to the starter
rule activity. If nothing else, the first "starter rule" makes the word
formation phenomena salient.
- 5.4 The Uniqueness Principle
- Crosslingual techniques are also quite useful in cases where similar L2 structures
are realized through contrasting structures in the L1. Sharwood Smith (1994) describes
what others have called the Uniqueness Principle: "the language learner in early
stages of development is very conservative and has little tolerance for what normally
obtains in fully developed systems, namely a single expression covering many functions
and a single function expressed by many forms" (p. 166). A form of this principle
is evident even into advanced stages of learning, as indicated by Dutch learners
who "appear to 'resist' the adoption of two meanings of the past tense ('past
time' and 'hypothetical')" (Sharwood Smith, 1994, p. 167). An example is the
present continuous to express both present action and future plans; Gass and Ard
(1984) "found that ESL students judged sentences illustrating core uses of progressive
aspect, such as 'He is working now', as more acceptable than sentences containing
more peripheral uses, such as 'He is leaving tomorrow'" (Larsen-Freeman &
Long, 1991, p. 104).
- Textbooks themselves can contribute to mislearnt grammar. For example, even though
the teachers' book to Interchange 1 (Richards et al, 1990) clearly states
that the grammar focus of Unit 9 is the present continuous "used to describe
incomplete actions or events...and events that are true at the moment of speaking"
(p. 79), the exercise asks students to fill in gaps, then practice, some conversation
extracts which are in fact demonstrating the future aspect of the construction:
- A: How are you going home?
- B: Steve is giving me a ride, I hope!
- This meaning of the form, though, is covered much later in the text, in Unit
15. Furthermore, the exercise includes ambiguous meanings, as seen in A's contribution
in this example:
- A: Are Bill and Helen coming to the party?
- B: No, Bill is studying for an exam, and Helen is working late.
- For texts containing examples of these "single forms" with many usages,
learners can demonstrate understanding by underlining instances of one use and circling
instances of the other (and perhaps bracketing ambiguous uses), and following up
with a translation of those items to reflect the different meanings (best done whole-class
or in groups which report afterwards). This serves two important functions. First,
it shows unambiguously the different functions/meanings which are created by the
single form. This confirms or contradicts learners' initial understanding of the
meanings within context. Second, through this translation, learners are further discouraged
from believing that there are simple one-to-one relationships between L1 forms and
- 5.5 Crosslinguistic Error Awareness Raising to Promote Noticing
- Translation of common errors resulting in unintended meanings is another starting
point for consciousness-raising activities. This direct feedback makes the learners
aware of the gaps between their own interlanguage and the target language in two
ways: One, they realize the true meaning of what they say, thus it helps realign
erroneous form-meaning pairs; two, they realize that they must find a different way
to express their intended meaning. Typical examples collected from my own students
- (1) I'll call you until midnight.
- (2) Almost Japanese people like rice.
- (3) I am like a dog.
- (4) May I rent a pen?
- Some of these typical errors seem to involve overgeneralizations from L1. In
(3), it is useful to note that the English verb "like" is in fact an adjective
in Japanese. However, it is not possible to determine precisely where some errors
originate, as several factors could contribute, including errors induced from transfer
of training and L2 overgeneralization (Sharwood Smith, 1994, p. 39). The most economical
and striking approach, I have found, is to provide literal translations.
- If the reader is doubtful of the efficiency of direct translation as an error
awareness raising approach, it is helpful to place oneself in the learner's position
to examine one's own reactions. One night, two JSL (Japanese as a Second Language)
learners in a Japanese bar attempted to ask the bartender to pass them a bottle of
herb liqueur so that they could sniff the contents. The correct expression within
this informal context would be "Niotte ii"; however, the learners
produce these two expressions instead:
- (a) Nyou shite ii?(pronunciation problem)
- (b) Niowashite ii?(grammatical problem)
- When (a) failed, (b) was attempted. Both utterances provoked roars of laughter,
reasonable evidence of inaccuracy, to be sure. While negotiation focusing on the
intended meaning (including gestures) would eventually get the message across, it
would probably not contribute much towards preventing similar mistakes from reoccurring.
In terms of noting the importance of revising meaning-form pairs, these JSL learners
would benefit more by knowing that (a) is a very informal request for permission
to begin to urinate, and (b) is a request for permission to emit one's own body odor
(examples and translation by Cox, 1997). Maintaining an intralingual discussion of
these points would more than likely have less impact.
- Furthermore, crosslinguistic techniques can also prevent misunderstanding of
the teachers' output. One winter day, my students complimented me on my new sweater.
I said that it was a Christmas present from my mother, adding, "She has good
taste." Realizing that Japanese express the concept through the loanword sensu,
or "sense", meaning fine sense of style or good taste in clothing, I then
wrote the sentence on the board and asked what it meant. When none knew (some thought
it meant "delicious"!), I explained it in Japanese. Explicit crosslingual
techniques ensure students understand that this meaning of "taste" was
not simply a new word for them, but that it should replace "sense" in their
interlanguage systems, which many erroneously believed encodes the concept. This
is not, of course, limited to loanwords. Common yet non-core meanings of L2 words
in expressions which are not transparent (such as "say", as in "Say,
where are you going?", or "I can tell", as in "I can tell you're
happy") are usefully translated functionally to counteract the students' likely
piecemeal, literal translation.
- When learners express ideas which may be non-understandable to native speakers,
such as when my students said that a singer was "nice", it is easy to later
either confirm their intended meaning through a question, or to use the opportunity
for illustrating a new point. This need not, of course, be initiated in L1, but often,
given the situation and the level of the learner, it may be the best way; asking
for an alternative L2 description may not work, as learners may simply not know the
requisite L2 to provide additional circumlocutions.
- 5.6 Comparisons Between Languages
- Comparisons between conceptual metaphors (eg, anger is heat) in L1 and L2 are
beneficial; noting where L1 and L2 correspond and highlighting where differences
exist could make learning these metaphoric uses of L2 easier (Deignan, Gabrys &
Solska, 1997). Idioms, too, allow for fruitful crosslinguistic exploration; learners
use L1 as well as L2-based strategies to comprehend and produce idioms (Irujo, 1986),
so explicit comparisons may be useful.
- Reciprocal Data Driven Learning (DDL) materials (Johns, 1996) provide further
opportunities. Parallel citations invite comparison of specific features of usage
and meaning crosslinguistically. An extract follows (but note that these materials
progress through stages and provide a wider-ranging coverage than illustrated here).
Learners of French are asked to notice how dont is expressed in English:
|'La Guerre des mondes' (1898) dont la libre adaptation sur les ondes par Orson
Welles sema la panique aux Etats-Unis en 1938.
||The War of the Worlds (1898),whose 1938 radio adaptation by Orson Welles created
a wave of panic in the United States.
- 5.7 Conclusion
- The techniques above are but some of the options available to instructors who
accept that crosslingual approaches have a place in the classroom. Note that I did
not include production of text translation, as I am more convinced that selective
L1, when used to draw learners' attention to features of input or their own output,
is far more useful in acquisitional terms.
- Given the post-communicative importance of the saliency of form as it relates
to meaning, and the primacy of noticing in the acquisition process, outright bans
on L1 are unfounded, unsound and imprudent.. For the same reasons, a preponderance
of L1 is equally unsound and imprudent.
- During EFL lessons, numerous approaches and techniques are utilized towards the
enhancement of various aspects of the learners' language development. To issue a
single proscriptive statement regarding L1 covering all aspects of classroom interaction
ignores that different aspects place different constraints on learners. The stance
towards L1 should reflect the goals of instruction. Thus, fluency activities designed
with interaction in mind are prime candidates for strict discouragement of L1, whereas
other areas of classroom interaction and instruction may allow for (and occasionally
require) more freedom. Selective use of contrastive analysis as a teaching technique
offers benefits not easily found in ESL or L1-only classrooms. Literal translation
of learner errors can both alert learners that what was said in fact has meaning,
yet what was meant was not in fact said. Guided negotiation and discussion is enhanced
with access to L1, but within a classroom culture which fosters a perception of this
as a marked option to be utilized towards subsequent L2 input. Thus, L1 use can allow
for further L2 output in that it bridges gaps, and can provide relevant and timely
input if functionally-equivalent L2 is forthcoming.
- The ideal level of student and instructor use of L2 could be stated, "Use
L2 beyond as much as possible". That is, learners should push their production
as far as possible, and then some. Rather than view L1 use as a source of guilt,
instructors should view it as a valuable resource to be cheerfully and judiciously
applied towards fostering their learners' language development.