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Joined: Sep 18, 2008
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PostPosted: Sep 24, 2009 - 08:33 AM Reply with quoteBack to top

Contrastive analysis was developed in the mid 1940s as a hypothesis of second language acquisition tied to a method for teaching languages. Proponents of contrastive analysis regard language as a conditioned response, a process derived from a behaviorist approach to learning. They believe that errors produced by second language learners are the result of interference from the learner’s native language. Contrastive analysis refers specifically to the process of comparing the structures of two languages to each other for the purpose of determining the degree of difference between the two languages. From this analysis, teachers will be able to predict errors learners of a given native language will make in learning a specific second language (L2). From this information, teachers will be able to design materials and methods that focus on the areas of greatest contrast, which are predicted to be the areas of greatest difficulty for learning. Contrastive analysis was one of the most influential approaches to teaching an L2 in the 1960s and 1970s. The audio-lingual method represents one such method that relied on the tenets of behaviorism and contrastive analysis.

Contrastive analysis is important for bilingual education as it represents one of the first direct applications of theory to the development of methods and materials for teaching an L2. Although the theory behind contrastive analysis has fallen out of favor, many practices originally designed on the basis of it are still quite prevalent in bilingual and L2 classrooms. Contrastive analysis is seen as the precursor to the development of the field of applied linguistics, a field which holds bilingualism and bilingual education among its central foci.

Development of the theory

Originally developed in the 1940s and 1950s, the contrastive analysis hypothesis was based on structural linguistics as well as behavioral psychology, the predominant theories of language and learning at the time. Charles Fries originally presented contrastive analysis in 1945. Later Roberto Lado, of Georgetown University, presented the contrastive analysis hypothesis. This hypothesis stems from the view of learning as the development of a new set of behaviors or habits. Language was defined in terms of language structures at the level of the sound system (phonology), the word or lexicon (morphology), and the sentence (syntax or grammar). With the structural view of language and the behavioral view of learning, the task for pedagogy was to determine which habits needed to be ‘undone’ and which new habits needed to be formed, in order to be successful in learning a second language.

The core concept of contrastive analysis is that the main source of errors and difficulty in learning the L2 occur as a result of interference, the transferring of habits from the native language to the target language. The hypothesis states that these difficulties stem from the differences that exist between languages. Given the behaviorist theory of learning, the greater the differences, the greater the learning difficulties will be. The most important task of those conducting contrastive analysis is to compare aspects of the two languages in order to predict the difficulties and errors which will occur in L2 learning. Having compared given aspects of the two languages, the instructor can ignore what is common to them, as that part of learning the two languages will proceed without much difficulty. The instructor is expected to teach, and develop teaching materials that focus on the areas of difference. Those differences are then practiced through extensive repetition, the hallmark of behaviorist learning.

The contrastive analysis hypothesis had a strong and a weak version. The strong version held that it was possible to completely contrast the system of one language (grammar, lexicon and phonology) to the language system of an L2, and design teaching materials from that comparison. The weak version of the hypothesis took its starting point from observations of actual difficulties or errors that learners displayed when learning an L2, and attempted to account for those errors on the basis of differences between the first or native and the L2. For this version, one starts with evidence from real language data such as from inaccurate translation, foreign accents, and common student errors in the target language.

For example, in comparing the grammar of English and Spanish, the placement of the adjective in relation to the noun is often reversed: “a sound mind” is “una mente sana” (a mind sound). A second example from the comparison of English and Hungarian would yield the observation that Hungarian employs postpositions while English employs prepositions: “in the house” and “a házban” (the house-in). These examples represent areas in which the contrastive hypothesis would predict difficulties for learners of either language. That is, the new structures would have to be learned. Other areas of the language structure that are the same, such as the placement of the article (e.g. “the”, “a” in English) before the noun, would be learned automatically through positive transfer for learners of both Spanish and Hungarian, as all three languages place the article before the noun.

The application of contrastive analysis to teaching rests on the notion that students will ‘naturally’ acquire features of the new language that are similar to their first or stronger language. Therefore, teaching time should focus on those features of the L2 that contrast with the first or stronger language. Based on these ideas, teachers, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, were trained in contrastive analysis with the aim of analyzing and comparing grammars of the first and target language of their students, and often training their students to compare and contrast the language systems as well. The method par excellence tied to the contrastive analysis theory was the audio-lingual method, through which learners are drilled to produce correct responses, and errors are immediately corrected, in order to maintain a strong emphasis on habit formation.

In its initial conceptualization, contrastive analysis focused on smaller structures of language, in particular at the level of phonology, morphology and syntax. Later, contrastive analysis techniques were applied to broader level features of language such as pragmatic and discourse level features. According to Robert Kaplan, these studies also called contrastive rhetoric focus on comparisons of pragmatic functions of language, such as politeness strategies, or ways in which speakers of different languages organize narratives for different purposes, such as argument or explanation. This extension focused attention on another central source of inspiration for contrastive analysis: the study of language contact, and by extension, the relationship between language and thought as articulated in the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis—language influencing the way native speakers perceive the world.

Difficulties with Contrastive Analysis

Beginning in the 1960s, a number of problems were identified relative to the contrastive analysis hypothesis. First, from a methodological perspective, it proved difficult to clearly outline the places in which two languages do contrast, and to determine the degree of distance between them. That is, the question of how to measure difference and distance was difficult to answer. Second, in terms of errors and their relationship to language structure, empirical studies beginning in the 1960s, demonstrated that many errors made by L2 learners could not, in fact, be explained on the basis of structural differences between the two languages. Besides some errors that contrastive analysis would predict to occur did not occur. Other studies, in fact, began to show that learners had more difficulty in learning structures that were quite similar between the two languages, a result in direct conflict with the predictions of contrastive analysis.

In addition, studies of classroom practice showed that imitation, reinforcement and error correction, the hallmarks of the behaviorist theory, did not seem to be central to the process of language acquisition as predicted by the contrastive analysis hypothesis. Even after years of pattern practice, some errors remained. Finally, the shift in paradigm to mentalist or cognitive models of language learning, heralded by the Chomskyian revolution in the 1960s, led to a new interpretation of language learning and the purpose of learner errors. Essentially, errors were seen not as habits transferred ‘incorrectly’ to the second language, but rather as hypothesis testing activities, on the part of the learner, as they developed new rules for organizing a developing language system. In sum, the contrastive analysis hypothesis served as a source for empirical research ideas that ultimately proved untenable in the face of newer models of learning.

Contrastive Analysis Revisited

As with many applied areas, contrastive analysis as a practice has carried on long after its theoretical promise ended. In the classroom, practices developed on the basis of contrastive analysis are still often used and even advocated. These practices include the use of language labs for language drills, as well as teachers and students comparing elements of language structure and analyzing learners’ errors. Instead of tying such activities to mechanical drills, they are tied to the cognitive notion of ‘noticing’ differences, as a cognitive strategy for focusing attention in learning particular aspects of a language.

Insights from contrastive analysis have also been fruitfully employed in machine translation software that is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and that draws insights from the nature of similarities and differences in languages at the structural (sentence) as well as the semantic (meaning) and discourse (paragraph) level. These are translated, by means of artificial intelligence programming, and used in translation software.

Finally, Claire Kramsch and Paul Kei Matsuda believe that a reconsideration of some of the insights derived from contrastive analysis, coupled with reconsiderations of the insights of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and its concern with linguistic relativism are leading to a reevaluation of the role of culture in the field of L2 teaching and learning. In this sense, contrastive analysis remains an important contribution to the field of bilingual education and second language teaching and learning, as its insights continue to be reevaluated in the light of advances in theories in language and learning.

Juliet Langman
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Joined: Sep 11, 2008
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PostPosted: Sep 24, 2009 - 10:53 AM Reply with quoteBack to top

ngocha wrote:
They believe that errors produced by second language learners are the result of interference from the learner’s native language. Contrastive analysis refers specifically to the process of comparing the structures of two languages to each other for the purpose of determining the degree of difference between the two languages. From this analysis, teachers will be able to predict errors learners of a given native language will make in learning a specific second language (L2)

Actually, your post is very useful and interesting. I learn a lot from this.

The most influential factor for learning L2 is the interference of native language. We can see that when we translate something from L1 to L2 and vice versa.

How many percent that teachers will predict such those errors?

Mouse always loves Rice
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PostPosted: Oct 06, 2009 - 10:43 PM Reply with quoteBack to top

I think the translation in language teaching and learning should be noticed, especially when its effect over communicative process is impressive
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