There are many complications that can arise in learning to speak a new language.  One example is cross-linguistic transfer, either positive or negative.  This happens when a person uses their native language to make decisions about their second language.  An example of negative transfer (or interference) would be imposing a SOV (subject-object-verb) sentence structure, which occurs in Latin and Japanese, onto English, which is a SVO (subject-verb-object) language.  The ensuing sentence would sound like, “Lisa her backpack wore”.  An example of positive transfer would be cognates, or words that have the same linguistic derivations and origins, and perhaps pronunciation.  An example is “bicycle” in English, “baaskiil” in Somali, or “bicikl” in Croatian.

Another area where negative transfer is seen is when a phoneme exists in the second language that doesn’t exist in the first.  One example is the voiceless bilabial stop, /p/ in English, which doesn’t exist in Arabic.  In Arabic it is spoken as the voiced /b/, and as such, “paper” would sound like “baber”.  Another example is the English /v/, which is a labio-dental fricative, meaning it uses both the teeth and the lip- the teeth touch the lower lip.  In Spanish, the /v/ is a bilabial fricative, meaning upper and lower lips are used, and teeth touch neither, so it sounds more like an English /b/.  So to a Spanish speaker, the word “very” might sound more like “berry”.

*What is important to remember here, is that language features heard as a result of positive or negative transfer can occur and have absolutely nothing to do with a learning disability.

A few apps I have used for improving speaking in English learners are:

  • Furry Friend

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  • Sock Puppets

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