Kim V. SteierWilkes UniversitySPANISH AND ENGLISHLANGUAGE COMPARISON
The Spanish Language Spanish is a Romance language, descended from Latin and belonging to the Indo-European language family (Grolier, 1991, p. 143). Historically, it has been spoken mainly in Spain and Latin America, but today is the first language of an increasing number of ELLs in the United States. This language comparison presentation examines the similarities and differences between Spanish and English from the perspective of explaining the types of language errors made by L1 Spanish speakers and the resulting instructional implications for ESL classroom settings.
The Spanish Alphabet The Spanish language is written using the Spanish alphabet, which is the addition of one letter, eñe (ñ), to the Latin alphabet. This difference in alphabets does not present a problem for native Spanish speakers learning English. While there are many similarities between the Spanish and English consonant systems, the differences between the vowel systems and sentence stress present significant difficulties for ELLs.
Coe (1987) defines the voweldifferences as follows: Spanish has 5 pure vowels and 5 diphthongs. The length of the vowel is not significant in distinguishing between words. This contrasts with English, which has 12 pure vowel sounds and 8 diphthongs. The length of the vowel sound plays an important role. It is not surprising, therefore, that Spanish learners may have great difficulty in producing or even perceiving the various English vowel sounds. Specific problems include the failure to distinguish the sounds in words such as ship/sheep, taught/tot, fool/full or cart/cat/cut (p. 91).
Consonant Sounds Although less problematic, there are some difficulties that L1 Spanish speakers may have with consonant sounds when learning English. These include: failure to pronounce the end consonant accurately or strongly enough, problems with the /v/ sound, difficulties in sufficiently distinguishing words such as see/she or jeep/sheep/cheap, the tendency to prefix words beginning with a consonant cluster on s- with an /ε/ sound, and the swallowing of sounds in other consonant clusters (next becomes nes and instead becomes istead). (Coe, 1987, p.95)
Intonation Patterns Spanish is considered a syllable-timed language. This results in Spanish speakers often transferring the intonation patterns of their mother tongue into English, which is a stress-timed language. The resulting speech may be barely comprehensible to native English speakers.
Spelling There is a strong correspondence between the sound of a word and its spelling in Spanish. The irregularity of English causes problems when Spanish learners write a word they first encounter in spoken language or say a word first introduced in written language. A specific problem concerns the spelling of English words with double letters. Spanish has only 3 double- letter combinations- cc, ll, rr. English, in comparison, has 5 times as many. Spanish learners often reduce English double letters to a single one, or overcompensate by doubling a letter unnecessarily. (Coe, 1987, p.99)
Grammatical Differences Numerous grammatical differences between the two languages result in other examples of negative transfer. For instance, a native Spanish speaker may say “I have 43 years,” because the verb used for expressing age in Spanish is translated to the English verb have. “The term transfer is used to describe the process whereby a feature or rule from a learner’s first language is carried over to the IL [interlanguage] grammar.” (O’Grady, 2010, p. 393). The easiest way to illustrate these interlanguage grammar challenges for ELLs is by looking at the data analysis journal of an L1 Spanish student.
Data AnalysisThe data analysis The student, Rafael Z., is a 43-journal that followsdocuments and year-old native of Mexico Cityanalyzes written and whose first language isspoken language usage Spanish. Rafael has been livingand errors made by anadult English language and working in the Unitedlearner attending ESL States for ten years. He beganclasses at Vista Adult taking ESL classes three yearsSchool in Vista,California. ago, starting in the Low Pre- literacy class (Level 1) and is presently in the High- Beginning class (Level 4).
Collection of Data A list of language errors has been compiled by utilizing writing samples obtained from Rafael’s classroom journal, notebook and other written assignments. Additional data was collected from recorded oral interviews that have been transcribed. These written and spoken errors have been categorized in the following chart, providing a visual means to assist in the detection of error patterns.
Category of Error Student Samples Adjective-Noun Order I like the food Chinese. You like the food Mexican? Auxiliary Verbs I __ no(t) like the (missing) hamburger. __ You like drink the coffee?
Category of Error Student Samples Orthographical Errors The childrens injoy legolan_ the saturday. I need speack more inglish. School is tree hours. Sentence Structure/Awkward Today is a day very hard for Word Order me. I was all day Sunday at home.
Category of Error Student Samples Subject-Verb Agreement My uncle go to the church. My friend drink too much. My uncle is _ teacher in Use of Articles (omitted the church. or inserted) We go to the Walmart. I go __ church the Sundays.
Category of Error Student Samples Use of Prepositions I live on Vista ___ about (incorrect or omitted) ten years. The sons of my uncle go __ the park for ride bicycle. My uncle is in home now. I __ going now. Verb Tense I eat fish yesterday. I __ from Mexico.
Category of Error Student Samples Word Usage (incorrect) We drink a cup a beers __ the weekend. Too much peoples go at the party. I have 43 years. My boss no pay me Miscellaneous nothing one month.
Types of Error Patterns and Causes of Errors There are several patterns of errors made by Rafael that are common among English language learners with Spanish as their native language. Therefore, I believe that the majority of his errors can be attributed to language interference. In the first category (adjective-noun order), adjectives follow nouns in the Spanish language, hence we see the reversed order. Use of the auxiliary verb “do” is difficult to acquire because there is not an equivalent Spanish word used in forming questions nor in making negative statements.
Spelling errors Word order Many of Rafael’s Spanish syntax is generally orthographical errors are due more flexible than English to substituting the Spanish syntax, which often leads spelling for English vowel English language learners to sounds, writing a word the use awkward sentence way he pronounces it (“tree” structures or word order, instead of “three”), following even when they are L1 capitalization rules (days otherwise grammatically of the week and languages correct. are spelled in Spanish with the initial letter in lowercase), or by over generalizing newly learned spelling patterns (applying the ending “-ck” incorrectly in the word “speack”).
3rd Person Articles Another area of confusion The use of articles in English concerns the third-person can be very confusing for singular verb form. Spanish Spanish speakers. For verb conjugation is the same example, in English, one must for the subjects “you”, “he”, say, “I am a teacher,” but the and “ she”, whereas in English Spanish equivalent translates an –s must be added to the literally as “I am teacher.” A ending for “he,” “she” and student “thinking in Spanish” “it”. may incorrectly express “on Sundays” as “the Sundays”, and even when saying the specific name of a store (versus “the store”), the Spanish equivalent is “the Sears” or “the Walmart.”
Prepositions “Apostrophe-s” Prepositions are very The “apostrophe- s” is tricky as well, not used at all in especially since the Spanish, so it is Spanish preposition common for native “en” can be translated Spanish speakers to as “in” or “on”. say “the (something) of (someone)” to indicate possession (“the sons of my uncle” instead of my uncle’s sons).
Verb and Miscellaneous Errors The verb “tener” (have) is Verbs that are irregular in used to express age in the past tense are Spanish, hence “I have 43 problematic because they years.” Rafael heard must be memorized. Even someone say “a couple of though the present beers” and wrote “a cup a continuous is formed the beers.” He also incorrectly same way in English as in made “people” plural, as Spanish, students such as one might add an “s” to Rafael may tend to omit change “person” to the verb “be” because they “persons.” “Much” and often perceive “I’m going” “many” is essentially as “I going.” interchangeable in Spanish, the Spanish word “a” can be translated as “to” or “at”, and the double negative is correct to use in Spanish grammar.
Language Interference The research I did for my language comparison paper served mainly to confirm the conclusions I had already reached regarding the reasons for the L1 Spanish student’s errors. Having previously studied for a degree in Spanish language and possessing the ability to use both languages, I was already able to analyze the errors caused by language interference.
Instructional Implications I think it would be useful to integrate L1/L2 comparison study into ESL lessons so that students could better anticipate what errors might be made (and repeated), and learn to self monitor their use of English. Visuals/charts featuring common English errors and correct usage could be created to display in the classroom. Students could make flashcards with the correct usage for practice.
References Coe, N. (2001) Speakers of Spanish and Catalan. In M. Swan & B. Smith (Eds). Learner English. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Cambridge Books Online http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511667121.0 08 Romance Languages. (1991) In Grolier (Ed.), Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge (Vol.16, p.143) O’Grady, W., Dovrolsky. M., & Aronoff, M. (Eds.) (2004). Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction (5th Edition). Boston, MA: Bedford/ St. Martin’s.