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Arabic Language Interference In Learning English Language English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 4635 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This study presents a research review about the difficulties which Arabic speaking learners of English as a foreign language because of the interference of the native language – Arabic language – into their production of target language. Many theories have contributed to explain deeply the claim which states the native language interference including contrastive theory, error analysis and interference theory. This study will explore the research in order to investigate what have been mentioned about the theories which support the interference of the native language. With the fact that Arabic is a morphologically richer language than English, its interference with learning English as a foreign language is more obvious and detectable. The study will employ a qualitative research paradigm to addresses the research question.

Table of contents

Abstract: I

Table of contents II

Background: 1

Statement of the research question: 1

The significance of the proposed research 2

Literature review: 2

Research Methodology: 9

Qualitative research method: 9

Sampling: 10

Qualitative data collection: 12

Qualitative data analysis: 13

The ethics and politics of the research 14

List of references 16


Serious problematic issues go back to the interference of native language, particularly when the native language is completely different from the target language. With the complete difference between both Arabic and English language in many aspects, Arabic speaking learners of English as a foreign language find many serious difficulties in acquiring the skills required to master English. The reasons behind those difficulties vary among interference of native language, inadequate teaching methods or personal difficulties. However, one of the most problematic issues that make it more difficult for Arabic speaking learners of English language is the interference of the native language. Given the fact that Arabic language is morphologically richer than English language, Arabic syntax is completely different in many aspects, phonological rules in Arabic language has different functions than in English and are different from English language, learning English by Arabic speaking learners would encounter serious difficulties. Interference of the native language occur when a foreign language learner use his/her native language as a reference for using the target language. In order to enhance their learning and production in English language, linguists should give more attention to the difference that arises because of the interference of Arabic language.

Statement of the research question:

The main research question for this study is “What are the implications of understanding the interference of Arabic language in Arabic speaking English language learners in enhancing teaching of English to Arabic Learners?”

The significance of the proposed research

The need for this research stems from the significant findings which could have implications not only for teaching English as a foreign language but for Arabic language learners as well. This research will contribute for enhancing language teaching as well around the world. Native language interference would occur in all language skills including speaking, writing, reading and listening and in all linguistic aspects including syntax, phonetics, pragmatics or cultural. Thus, analyzing the interference point of the native language would assist to find out more teaching methods that assist language teachers and English language learners to overcome this problem. Also this study will explore the research in order to investigate what have been mentioned about the theories which support the interference of the native language. Moreover, investigating the problematic issues that arise because of language interference would make it easier for learners to avoid in the future.

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Literature review:

Interference of native language:

Native language interference is a phenomenon that makes it more difficult for second language learner to master the target language. The hypothesis of language interference stems from the “overwhelming evidence that Language transfer is indeed a real and central phenomenon that must be considered in any account of the second language acquisition process” (Ellis, 1997, pp. 34). Language interference, according to Dulay et al (1982), is defined as the automatic transfer, due to habit, of the surface structure of the first language onto the surface of the target language. In other words, interference is defined, according to James, (2005), as errors in the learner’s production of the target language which result from the influence of the mother tongue’. That is, second language learners tend to rely on their native language (L1) structures to produce a response whenever writing or speaking the target language (L2). Ellis, (1997) suggests that the further apart the two languages are structurally, the higher the instances of errors made in L2 which bear traces of L1 structures. Thus, it is expected that there should be high influence of Arabic language on Arabic speaking learners of English language. The interference may result from a strategy on the part of the learner which assumes or predicts equivalence, both formally and functionally, of two items or rules sharing either function or form (Kupferberg, & Olshtain, 1996). More advanced learning of L2 may involve a greater number of rules or marking features for distinguishing between the two languages (Kupferberg, & Olshtain, 1996).

The most crucial interference problem is that when Arabic speaking learners start their English language learning at novice level, their language faculty already deals with the native language. Therefore, they do not perceive English language from zero perspective or neutral perspective; they interpret the new phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic patterns through those of the already stored native language. Therefore, when two different languages such as Arabic and English collide in their faculty language, the native language which is Arabic will mostly dominate on the use and application of new rules. The two examples given below are sentences written by an Arabic speaking learner of English language. Those examples illustrate that Arabic speaking learner made a literal translation from Arabic into English which indicates that there has been interference from Arabic in the choice of the preposition.

We were interested with it (in)

I like to pick roses with many colors (Of)

The misuse of the preposition “with” instead of “to” in the first example occurred because it is equivalent to the Arabic preposition bi – which indicates the meaning of “to”. Therefore, Arabic interference caused there errors which occurred in those previous sentences. However, Arabic speaking learners do not resort to literal translation before they form English patterns which are considered the key to this problem. That is, they translate the English into Arabic and then the Arabic back into English, word for word. Even without conducting the translation process, Arabic speaking learners of English still take advantage of their native language in constructing the new language patterns (). Moreover, according to (), errors made by them due to Arabic interference occur more frequently than those made by them due to other learning problems and thus we are able to accept the first hypothesis. Separating the native language impact on the selection, construction and use of English language linguistics is a difficult process which can not be achieved easily and require much training.

Another theory that would support native language interference is contrastive analysis. That is, the hypothesis of native language interference attracted a growing interest in transfer studies and cross linguistic influence. Contrastive Analysis, according to Bhela, (1999) and Ghawi (1993), “seeks to catalogue, through the comparative analysis of the native and foreign language systems, the points of difference, so that more effective language-learning materials, based precisely on these learning problems, can be developed”. That is, analyzing the committed errors would reflect what gaps in the learner’s knowledge or the reasons why they occur. For example, prepositions have seldom a one to one correspondence between English and Arabic (Bhela, 1999; Ghawi, 1993). Prepositions in Arabic may be translated to several English prepositions while an English usage may have several equivalents in Arabic. In a study conducted on errors of Arabic speaking learners of English, two thirds of errors are attributable to native language interference and one third to intra-English interference (Bhela, 1999; Ghawi, 1993).

Many linguistic aspects that differ between both Arabic and English create hindrances for Arabic speaking learners to master English language. For example, Arabic adjectives agree in gender and number with nouns and follow them which may cause Arabic speaking beginner learners to make mistakes: e.g. He is man tall. for (He is a tall man) (Bhela, 1999; Ghawi, 1993). On the other hand, adverbs are used less commonly in Arabic than in English and, except for adverbs of time; do not have a fixed pattern. Arabic adverbs of manner, which are different from English, are often expressed in a phrase: for example, quickly is expressed “with speed”, and dangerously as “in a dangerous way” (Bhela, 1999; Ghawi, 1993). Thus, Arabic speaking learners of English find a lot of confusion between adverbs and adjective use in Arabic and English. Moreover, there is frequent confusion between the adjective and adverb forms in English, and the adjective form is usually overused by Arabic speaking learners: e.g. He drives very dangerous (Bhela, 1999; Ghawi, 1993).

Moreover, while there are no similarities between the Arabic and English writing systems, Arabic spelling within its own system is simple and virtually phonetic. In Arabic every letter stands directly for its sound which affects the way Arabic speakers attempt to pronounce English words (Bhela, 1999; Ghawi, 1993). Thus, Arabic speaking learners of English language produce many mistakes when speaking in English. Arabic has only one letter for each sound; for example, the sound /th/ in English which is represented by two letters is represented in Arabic by one letter only, so spelling is a lot easier than in English (Ghawi, 1993; Noor, 1993).. Moreover, Arabic spelling is more difficult because many letters in English words are not pronounced (Ghawi, 1993; Noor, 1993). Even in Arab countries schools, they don’t give spelling tests, because spelling is not a problem with the Arabic language (Ghawi, 1993; Noor, 1993). That is, when an Arabic speaker hears a sound, he/she can know which letter to use. In Arabic language if learners can pronounce a word in Arabic, they can spell it. Thus, Arabic speaking learners find many difficulties in dictation in English language and in memorizing spelling of English vocabularies.

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There have been many studies which were conducted on the importance of incorporating analyzing the errors produced by Arabic speaking learners of English language into curriculum. According to (Paribakht & Wesche, 1997), after conducting a study to investigate whether incorporating contrastive analysis and translation activities into a text-based communicative lesson would make ease acquiring new vocabulary for Arabic speaking learners (Kupferberg & Olshtain, 1996). Incorporating contrastive analysis into text-based communicative lesson was conducted in comparison with a reading comprehension task alone, and by comparison with other form focused activities following the reading task (Kupferberg, & Olshtain, 1996). The assessment method included four immediate tests-passive recall of single words and of collocations, active recall of single words and of collocations, and four identical delayed tests (Kupferberg,. & Olshtain, 1996). The group of Arabic speaking learners who was introduced with text based communicative lesson incorporated with contrastive analysis and translation activities scored significantly higher than the two other groups on all eight tests(Paribakht & Wesche, 1997). The group that did not receive any form-focused instruction learnt almost no vocabulary. Another study was conducted in order to investigate whether incorporating interference theory into teaching methods will reduce the errors of Arabic speaking learners. The group who were shown where the interference between Arabic and English would appear and who were instructed how to avoid wrongly mixing between Arabic and English uses of connectives did much better on their final compositions than the subjects who were not so instructed (Paribakht & Wesche, 1997). This was due to the detailed contrastive analysis and error prediction presented to the students in the classroom. Moreover, when teachers of English language to Arabic speakers become familiar with the types of errors that are made by their by their students is a valuable guide to determine the sequence and emphasis of instruction, since learners’ errors will inevitable occur (Paribakht & Wesche, 1997).

Therefore, there are many implications of incorporating interference theory and contrastive analysis into teaching English language to Arabic speaking learners. Error analysis of second language learner’s production would be beneficial in order to enhance TESL methods. For example, by analyzing errors in a written paragraph, theoretical models of communicative competence would be formulated and create target objectives for language teaching and learning which in turn would help to determine what L2 instruction needs to do to achieve them. Using the contrastive analysis theory along with interference theory to analyze Arabic English differences will enrich teachers and assist them to get an overall knowledge about the students’ errors. That is, errors can tell the teacher how far towards the goal the learner has progressed and consequently, what remains for him or her to learn (Paribakht & Wesche, 1997). So students’ errors are valuable feedbacks. It is inevitable that foreign language learning is a process full of hypothesizes, trials and error occurrences (Paribakht & Wesche, 1997). Therefore, teachers should, instead of ignoring those errors, learn to tolerate some errors, especially some local errors then do some remedial teaching based on their errors (Bhela, 1999, Ghawi, 1993; Lee, 1990, Noor, 1993).

With a remedial errors based teaching, Arabic speaking learners would progress towards mastering English without fossilized errors. That is, learners who actually begin the task of learning a second language from point zero (or close to it) need to be warned of those natural mistakes and interference of their native language. Otherwise, through the steady accumulation of the mastered entities of the target language, those uncorrected natural errors will fossilize (Lee, 1990; Noor, 1993).Briefly, “error analysis theory together with other theories have enriched the second language learning theory in that learning involves in a process in which success comes by profiting from mistakes and by using mistakes to obtain feedback from the environment” (Lee, 1990; Noor, 1993). With the feedback they make new attempts to achieve the more closely approximate desired goals. Analyzing errors would develop teaching methods which assist Arabic speaking second language learners to achieve a successful mastery of steadily accumulating structural entities to produce a highly accurate paragraph (Canale, 1993; Corder, 1992). Thus, with accumulating the structural entities, second language teachers would tabulate the expansion of SLL repertoire up to the point where all of the well-formed structures of the target language had been accounted for (Lee, 1990; Noor, 1993). Moreover, according to Lee, (1990); Noor, (1993), the pervasive influence that L1 has on the learner lexis and the persistence of L1-based errors at advanced levels of learning suggest that contrastive form-focused instruction, which raises the learners’ awareness of the L1-L2 differences and provides practice in the areas of these differences, may prove more effective than teaching methods that ignore the cross linguistic influence on lexical learning.

Research Methodology:

Qualitative research method:

The study will employ a qualitative research paradigm to addresses the research question.

Bryman (2001) viewed qualitative research as a research strategy that uses words rather than quantification in the process of data collection and analysis. Leedy and Ormrod (2005, p. 133) state that:

“To answer some research questions, we cannot skim across the surface. We most dig deep to get a complete understanding of the phenomenon we are studying. In qualitative research we do indeed dig deep”.

Taylor and Bogdan (1997) state that a qualitative research helps researchers to understand how people see things and examine how things look from different vantage points. Use of qualitative research paradigm in this study provides the opportunity to use replication logic which contributes to the external validity of the research(Flick 2002).

Qualitative methods are used to study human phenomena in the social sciences. They have emerged, because human social behaviour could not be fully explored by quantitative research tools. For instance, culture, values, and human relations and experiences are all human phenomena which are not easy to measure. On the other hand, qualitative research links people’s social interactions and their environment. The world has dynamic phenomena, and reality is not fixed, not agreed upon or even measurable. Qualitative methods assume there are many constructions and meanings of reality, which are changing over time. Moreover, researchers are eager to explain those changes at a specific time in a particular setting (Gall, et al, 2005).

Conducting a qualitative study is more likely to occur in a natural setting, to consider the phenomenon and the setting where it occurs. Thus, there is no experimental control upon the studied phenomenon. This enables the researchers to explain the problem and all arising variables as a whole (Gay, et al, 2006). Moreover, “qualitative researchers direct their attention to human realities rather than to the concrete realities of objects” (Matsuda & Silva, 2005). People’s experiences and interactions with their social lives, and what life means to them, is an interpretive qualitative approach (Merriam, 2002). It seems clear that this approach arguably enables the researcher to answer the research question.


Taylor and Bogdan (1997) state that qualitative research usually want to know exactly how many people they need to interview to complete a study but it is difficult if not impossible question to answer prior to conducting research. . The size of the sample in an interviewing study is something that should be determined toward the end of the research and not at the beginning. As Kvale (1996, p.101) pointed out:

“To the common question, “How many interview subjects do I need? “the answer is simply, “Interview as many subjects as necessary to find out what you need to know”.

Taylor and Bogdan (1997) indicate that there is an inverse relationship between the number of participants and the depth to which the researcher can interview each one. The greater the number of interviews with each participant, the fewer participants the researcher will need in order to have enough data to write a research article, dissertation or monograph.

Specifying a study sample is a significant phase in any research task since it is rarely practical, efficient, or ethical to study whole populations (Somekh, et al, 2005). The important task of the qualitative researcher includes providing enough description about the context of the sample in order to produce the opportunity for others to adequately judge whether the findings apply to their own situations (Green, et al, 2005). Furthermore, a comprehensive perception of the research purpose will direct the researcher to choose and maintain appropriate factors when selecting a qualitative sample (Green, et al, 2005). A researcher has many sampling choices available that may generate from theory, method, or simple practicalities, such as time and money. Moreover, a sample is therefore chosen purposefully and many sampling strategies can be used (Green, et al, 2005). It should be noted that most sampling in qualitative research is neither probability sampling nor convenience sampling but falls into a third category: purposeful sampling (Patton 1990, cited in Maxwell, 1996). Qualitative research methods are typically used when focusing on a limited number of informants, who are selected strategically so that their in-depth explanations will give optimal insight into an issue about which little is known. Through purposeful sampling, which will be applied in this study, an appropriate sample size will meet the criteria.

Qualitative data collection:

Qualitative data describe, explain, and characterize the subject of investigation using words rather than numbers (Somekh & lewin, 2005). Moreover, qualitative data collection techniques are especially appropriate for use in situations where the research problem and the research setting are not well understood (Garrat & Li, 2005). Thus, Gay, et al, (2006) informed that qualitative collecting data techniques will be especially useful in developing an understanding of the users of networks as well as the benefits and problems associated with network use (Gay, et al, 2006).

One method of data collection is the interview which will be use for current study. Interviews are one of the most effective data collection methods, because an interviewer can communicate directly with the respondents (Yin, 2003). Kumar (1996) has stated that the advantages of the interview are that information can be supplemented, and questions can be explained, and it is therefore useful for collecting in-depth information and more appropriate for complex situations. According to Nachmias and Nachmias (1992) There are three advantages of using interviews in research. Firstly, they can range from being highly structured to unstructured, depending on the research problem under examination. Secondly, a mass of details and comprehensive information can be derived from them. Thirdly, they are flexible; allowing researchers to develop and clarify ideas which emerge during them and not just those existing when the original research design was conceive. Bell (2005) has state that the major advantage of the interview is “adaptability”, as a skilled interviewer can follow up an idea, probe responses and investigate motives and feelings which the questionnaire can never do.

Interviews can be done with individuals or with groups (Gall, et al, 2005). The questions to be posed in the interviews can range from unstructured (little pre-determination of topics to be covered) to highly structured (complete determination of the topics to be covered) (Greene, et al, 2005). However, Greene, et al, (2005) stated that the success of this technique is largely dependent on the interviewer’s skills. However, key informant interviews can provide rich and spontaneous replies to open-ended questions, as well as personal interaction (Gay, et al, 2006). Simply put, such interviews can provide a better view of the social reality of a person, his or her place, and interactions (Greene, et al, 2005). Therefore, the interview questions direct the research and focus on the problem to be investigated. In addition, key informants are spokespersons who, because of their participation in and knowledge of an area, are asked to describe events, actions, and beliefs, as well as their attitudes about them (Gay, et al, 2006).

Qualitative data analysis:

Data analysis is the most difficult aspect of qualitative research to communicate to others. As a result, all researchers develop their own method of analysing qualitative data (Taylor & Bogdan 1997). Qualitative data analysis is concerned with the analysis of codes, themes, and patterns in the data (Somekh, et al, 2005). Gradually, qualitative researchers use computer software programs to assist with coding and analysing data. The product of the qualitative research varies with the approach used. For the phenomenological approach, three types of data analysis are used, which are Colaizzi, Giorgi, and Van Kaam (Matsuda & Silva, 2005). However, data will be analysed in this study using Colaizzi’s methods, because this method will facilitate and validate the results of the research by returning to the study participants (Matsuda & Silva, 2005).

The ethics and politics of the research


The research project will seek Human Research Ethics approval from USC’s Human Research Ethics Committee. To produce effective results from this research, risks on the participants should be taken consideration. According Matsuda & Silva (2005), the researcher should put certain protections into place in order to protect participants. The procedures that will be taken in order to reduce or prevent these potential risks will include building a friendly environment to let them feel comfortable. They should be assured that the information they provide will be used for research purposes only and the exact nature of research should be described to them.

The process of informed consent:

There is no doubt that participants have the right to be informed of all details related to their roles in the research. Greene, et al, (2005), ethical considerations such as describing the research nature, within the research process are fundamental to ensuring the autonomy for those who are participating. In this research participants will be provided with short sessions about the research nature and an information sheet which will include all information about the research.

Informed Consent:

In order to legally protect the researcher and participants, an informed consent from the participants should be gained. According to Gay et al, (2006), informed consent is a written agreement of the participants to take part in the research project. However, participants should be informed of the nature of the research to be able to agree. The informed consent will contain that they can withdraw from the study any time they want.


One of the main ethical considerations in any research is the confidentiality of participant’s information. Confidentiality means that any information such as participants’ identifications, description of their experiences or any other related information will not be available to anyone except the researcher (Greene, et al, 2005). Participants’ information will be not be accessible by anyone and will be stored with a password to protect it.


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