Errors and the First Language

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  888 Words
Date:  2021-03-04

Learning a second language has never been easy; it is accompanied by some mistakes, which are unavoidable. The effects of the first language in learning a second one are evident. Specifically, approximately 30% of the errors that are committed by learners of the second language can be traced back to the first language (James, 2013). This shows how influential the first language is to the learners. This influence is the one responsible for the grammatical and pronunciation errors that are experienced by such learners. However, these effects can be either negative or positive. In that case, they can either aid or impede the ability of the second learner to understand and correctly use the second language. The effects of the first language can be explained through some narratives. In this regard, this paper is going to examine the reasons behind the effects of the first language as well as how they contribute to the errors committed by the learners in a second language.

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According to Cook (2013), the first explanation that contributes to that significant percentage of errors is that of inter-language. In this regard, the learning sequence leads to the invention of a third language, which is neither the first language nor the second language. This third language has it owns grammar and lexicon (Tarone, 2012). However, in this third language, the first language is the predominant making the second language lose its meaning. Further, the rules that are applied by the second language learner can be traced neither in his /her first language nor the second language. It is because of this that a third language is said to have been formed. However, there exist several methods that a learner adopts in creating an inter-language- which in turn becomes the source of many errors.

The first method for the creation of an inter-language is what is known as language transfer. I this method, the particular learner use the first language as a resource. The explanation for this is that; in the first stages of language acquisition, almost all learners' words fall back on their first language. The second method is overgeneralization where the learner of the second language uses a rule in the second language, which would otherwise not be employed by a native speaker of that second language. This rule can be used at the phonetic, grammatical, lexical or discourse levels. The last method that is used in inter-language is a syntactic and semantic simplification. In this method, the learner uses the second language in a manner akin to that of little children. Usually, this can either be caused by lack of confidence in the language or the inability to produce the target language level.

In the opinion of Cook (2013), the first language is also dominant where the first language has no corresponding features in the second one. In such a case, the learner will most likely have a problem with the second language leading to making mistakes/errors. The lack of equivalent feature in the second language necessitates learning. Despite the complexity of some languages, learners find some of the articles relatively easy depending on the correlation between the first language and the second language. Further, the aspect of interference is another reason for the influence of the first language on learners. In this regard, they assume a complete correspondence between the two languages, which is in fact non-existence. In this case, they carry over some first language forms and uses, which are not in any way parallel to those of the second language. This results in numerous phonetic and grammatical errors in the second language.

Speakers of first languages- that are not in any way related to the second language have fewer problems with transfer than those whose languages are similar or identical to the first language (Smith, 2014). The most notable case of the influence of the first language occurs in the errors that are concerned with pronunciation. In this regard, there is a connection between the phonological structure of learners' first language and the perceived articulatory setting of his/her lips, tongue, etc. This structure usually affects the learners' first language giving rise to what is referred to as the mother tongue (first language) accent. This direct first language interference is the one that gives rise to different pronunciation of like words in different areas of the world,

In conclusion, approximately 30% of learner errors in second language learning are attributable to the effects of the first language. This can either be through transfer, interference, simplification, and overgeneralization. All these methods lead to the formation of a third language that applies neither the rules of the first language nor those of the second language. Additionally, the effects of the first language are either grammatical or phonetic in pronunciation. Learners seem to be more inclined to apply the first language when they are learning a language that is very similar or identical to the first language. However, those learners whose first language is not related to the second language have no problem of transfer. Learners' errors are mostly attributed to the direct first language interference, which is language specific.


Cook, V. (2013). Second language learning and language teaching. Routledge.

James, C. (2013). Errors in language learning and use: Exploring error analysis. Routledge.

Smith, M. S. (2014). Second language learning: Theoretical foundations. Routledge.

Tarone, E. (2012). Interlanguage. The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics.

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Errors and the First Language. (2021, Mar 04). Retrieved from

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