Contrastive Analysis

Advanced writing April 24, 2009 Contrastive analysis: Prosperity, Decline and new Hopes of revival It should be mentioned that the history of foreign language teaching is so complicated. The complexities are the outcome of the rise of the assumptions of so many theories, approaches, methods and hypotheses that dominated this field , especially beginning from1940s and up till now. Today there are innumerable assumptions for approaches and methods that relate to language learning and teaching.
All of them claim to be the right approach for learning and teaching a language. In the midst of these situations, foreign language teachers find it extremely difficult to decide upon an approach, a method or a hypothesis to adopt, so as the process of teaching becomes easier to them and this, of course, would make the process of learning easier to the students in turn. The purpose of this short paper is to explain the assumptions behind what is called ‘ Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis’ (CAH) to language teaching and learning.
Examples from English and Arabic; English and German will be cited, and then demonstrate why contrastive analysis was rejected after decades of prosperity in which it dominated the area of foreign language teaching for almost 20 years. In this effect, According to Larsen-Freeman & Long (1991) in (Yoon,2002): this was a time when structural linguistics and behavioral psychology were rather dominant in the study of language learning. CA proponents came to advocate that L2 instructional aterials could be prepared more efficiently by comparing two languages and, in the process, predict learners’ behaviors and difficulties(qtd. in Dina 2). Contrastive Analysis(CA) was developed by Charles Fries, and was more explained and clarified by Robert Lado. CA is based on the assumptions that the majority of the errors done by non-native learners, throughout their course of studying a language, are related to the interference of the students’ native language. That’s why there is difficulty in learning a language.

The learners native language’s habits do not easily allow for the development of any new habits for another different language to take place. Lado and Fries believe that: Individuals tend to transfer the forms and meanings and the distribution of forms and meanings of their native language and culture to the foreign language and culture- both productively when attempting to speak the language and act in the culture and receptively when attempting to grasp and understand the language and the culture as practiced by natives. (qtd. in Abbas 2)
The process of learning is more difficult when there are differences between the systems of these two languages and more easy when there are similarities. If it is true that most of the difficulties encountered by the students, in their path of learning a foreign language, result from the differences rather than the similarities between the L1 and L2, then the students errors could be predicted, and hence can be encountered by teaching materials that focuses mainly on the differences rather than the similarities between the L1 and L2. CA is classified into two forms. A strong form and A weak form.
The strong form predicts that most of L2 errors are due to negative transfer resulting from the differences between the L1 and L2. The weak form explains errors once they are made with out making prediction. To give an example about the possible difficulties that learners may encounter in learning a foreign language, lets consider some language features of two completely different languages such as English and Arabic. English belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, and Arabic belongs to the Semitic languages, therefore, they are almost quite different from one another in many ways.
If a comparison is drawn between English and Arabic in terms of phonology, contrastive analysis predicts that, because Arabic language lacks speech sounds such as / p /, /v / , / n / and / /, Arabic learners of English will encounter problems in the correct pronunciation of words containing the above mentioned speech sounds. For example, the voiceless / p / will be replaced by the voiced / b / , / v / by / f / , / n / by / g / and / / by / d /. Another difficulty Arab learners of English encounter lies in the area of prepositions.
There are more prepositions in English than in Arabic On top of that, they are used differently in the two languages, and therefore a lot of confusion occur when an Arab learner uses the prepositions inappropriately. For example, in an answer to the question, How long have you been living in Colorado, it is more likely that an Arab learner of English answers saying ‘ I have been living in Colorado since 10 years. Hence, Instead of using ‘for’, s/he uses ‘since’. It was argued that: English prepositions can be used with different parts of speech of the same root word.
We use one preposition with the verb form, another with the adjective and still another with the noun form of the word. For example, we are fond of something, but we have fondness for it. In English, prepositions are either simple, single words, or complex consisting of more than one word(Rami and Hanna 184). Similarly, English learners trying to learn Arabic find it extremely difficult to correctly pronounce some Arabic speech sounds such as / / , / /, / / and / /, simply because these speech sounds do not exist in English at all. On the other hand, the areas of similarities, between the two languages, lead to ease in learning.
Schuster argues that: English learners of German or German learners of English are destined to have a positive transfer because the two languages do have many similarities. On the other hand, theory stipulates that learning will be quite difficult, or even unsuccessful, when the two languages are different(qtd. in Dena 3) Decline of Contrastive analysis Contrastive analysis started losing interest and was gradually abandoned and replaced by other new assumptions and views about language learning and teaching. Many scholars started to direct sound criticisms to contrastive analysis, beginning from the mid of 1960s.
For example, it is argued that most of the language learners do not result from interference, but rather they could be developmental. In this effect, Dulay and Burt mention that: report on a number of studies of the errors made by children learning English as a second language and consider that they are similar to those made by children learning English natively . The greatest number(87 percent) they considered to be developmental, that is, like those that a native language learner makes(qtd. in Spolsky 253). Other researchers arrived to the same conclusion. For example, it was pointed out that:
Similarly, Baily, Madden, and Krashen(1974)report results similar to Dulay and Burt’s showing some similarity in order of acquisition between adults and children learning English as a second language that is still different from the order in first language acquisition(Spolsky 254). Contrastive analysis was also challenged by the views of the prominent linguist, Noam Chomsky believes of “the existence of language acquisition device(LAD) in order to construct a generative grammar of linguistic competence out of language samples one encounters”(Neda 3). Furthermore, Slinker believes that Corder contributions were very important.
He argues that, Corder points out that,”The errors of a learner, whether adult or child are (a) not ‘negative’ or ‘interfering’ in any way with learning a TL but are, on the contrary, a necessary positive factor, indicative of testing hypothesis”(qtd. in Abbas 2). Similarly, Dulay, Burt and Krashen argue that, “learners first language are no longer believed to interfere with their attempts to acquire a second language grammar, and language teachers no longer need to create special grammar lessons for students from each language background”(qtd. in Abbas 2). New hopes of revival
Many of proponents to contrastive analysis believe that the criticisms directed to it, are not reliable. For example, it was noted that: The Dulay et al postion is suspect for two reasons. First, it ignores other findings with appreciably higher estimates. Hocking(1973), Cornu(1973)… James(1981) … arrived at findings which estimate the magnitude of such errors(interfernce) in the 60% range…. Second, a substantial number of studies involved in the body of method comparison research of the 60% and 70’s had demonstrated the effectiveness of teaching methods using CA input(Abbas2 ).
Although contrastive analysis was gradually abandoned in favor of new views and assumptions, there are still many scholars who consider it of a great importance. For example, it was pointed out that: it(CA)will be useful to teachers, students, and linguists. Even though contrastive analysis has lived up to its promise of explaining the nature of the language learning process and of making it possible to develop error-free learning, it has played a useful role in encouraging the kind of language descriptions that are needed by language teachers and learners(Abbas 253).
It is also argued that contrastive analysis was disfavored not due to sound critisisms that relate to its validity only, but also for financial and economic factors. It is believed that: The text books for FSLT… are all solely in English, making no refrence to the L1 of the learners. This, of course, suits publishers for it enables them to sell the same text books all over the world thus increasing thier sales many fold. It also suits the many anglophone teachers of English as a second or foreign language for it enables them to teach anywhere in the world without knowing the L1’s of the students they teach(Abbas 2).
Consequently, many supporters to contrastive analysis still have hopes that one day contrastive analysis will be able to find its way back to the foreign language text books. Works Cited Abbas, Elbadri. “The Relevance of Error Analysis and Contrastive Analysis. ” Http://www. teaching. org. uk /blogs/badri/relevance-error-analsis. 28 Feb. 2009. Teachingenglish. org. 22 Apr. 2009 . Al-Sibia, Dina M. “The decline of contrastive analysis – Search. ” Google. 26 Oct. 2004. 03 May 2009 . Al-Sibai M, Dina. The Decline of Contrastive Analysis Pedagogy. English 523.

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