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Influence of Croatian as a native language on writing in English as a foreign language in grade 8 learners


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Patekar, Jakob. (2017). Influence of Croatian as a native language on writing in English as a foreign language in grade 8 learners. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of English Language and Literature.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij glotodidaktike) [mentor Medved Krajnović, Marta].

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Language itself is a fascinating phenomenon, but perhaps it is even more fascinating when two languages come into contact, such as one’s first and foreign language. This interaction has been captivating people for a very long time, but it is in the 1950s that researchers begin to give it due scientific attention. Almost 70 years later, there are still questions that remain to be answered and areas that are yet to be explored or explained. From contrastive analysis and error analysis to the investigation of crosslinguistic influences, researchers have been trying to understand and describe the relationship between one’s mother tongue and one’s other language, and SLA has proved to be a growing field of interest. The implications of this research are relevant not only for SLA, but for applied linguistics and glottodidactics as well. The role of the first language in the acquisition of a foreign/second language throughout the history of research changed from being perceived as the most significant factor, to an irrelevant one, and then again to significant (although no longer as the main factor in SLA). The focus has also changed from investigating negative transfer (interference) to looking at the positive effects of L1 on L2. Furthermore, contemporary research aims to explore various directions of these effects, for example, L3 on L2, or L2 on L1, and so on. Researchers today also realize that errors are not necessarily negative occurrences; rather, they are viewed as positive indicators of language development. Similarly, learners are no longer expected to look up to native speakers and strive to become near-native speakers themselves – at least this is not an expectation that researchers hold. Although numerous studies have been carried out in this field, especially with English as a second or foreign language, there is a need for a comprehensive investigation in the Croatian context – with Croatian as a first language and English as a foreign. An outstanding research project was carried out more than half a century ago by researchers gathered around the Zagreb Contrastive Project. However, a lot has changed since then, especially in terms of exposure to English, language teaching methodology, teaching hours – and research methodology. There is contemporary research dealing with crosslinguistic influences between Croatian and English, but it is focused on certain linguistic elements, such as articles, collocations, and discourse markers. It is for this reason that we believed a more comprehensive research was in order – one which would shed more light on the influence of L1 Croatian on L2 English and contribute to the general study of crosslinguistic influences as well. In addition, we hoped that the results would bear implications for teaching and thus be useful to language teaching experts, teachers, textbook authors, and curriculum developers. Therefore, the aim of this research was to describe – quantitatively and qualitatively – the influence of Croatian as a native language on the written output in English as a foreign language, based on the recorded lexical and grammatical errors. One of the reasons we chose to look at the learners’ written output is because it is most commonly researched and thus allows certain comparisons to be made with the results of other research. The second, not less important, is the hope that research results could be used to improve the teaching and learning of writing in English as a foreign language, which is an important and challenging skill that is rather neglected in our education system. The research was carried out on a sample of 500 learners at the end of grade 8 of elementary school (it is then that Croatian learners, 14 years of age, finish their elementary, obligatory education). All of the learners were native speakers of Croatian who started learning English in grade 1 and did so in line with the national curriculum that defines what is to be taught and when. English is taught for two classes per week from grade 1 to grade 4 and three classes per week from grade 5 to grade 8. This means that research participants had around 680 classes of English up to the time of research. Around half of the learners in the sample did not learn any other foreign language, around 31% learned Italian, and around 17% learned German as a second foreign language from grade 4. The sample was also diversified according to learners’ gender, size of town/city, and task topic. The instrument used was a communicative assignment in which learners had to write a response of 40 to 60 words (6 to 8 sentences) to a short message containing a few guiding questions. There were five different topics that were equally distributed among research participants. The participants produced 500 responses (35 799 words in 3 315 sentences) that form the corpus of the research. The collected data was analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively. The quantitative analysis included analytical assessment of the responses and error count. The qualitative analysis referred to further classification and description of recorded errors. Analytical assessment was carried out by two trained assessors who were guided by the criteria based on the communicative effect on the reader, which is in line with the main goal of English language teaching – the development of communicative competence. Apart from the message (the content), the assessment took the following elements into consideration: organization, vocabulary, grammar, and spelling. Such assessment resulted in grades from 1 to 5 as indicators of participants’ proficiency. Error count was carried out in line with a data-based classification. The starting hypotheses were that (1) there will be fewer interlingual errors than intralingual errors, that (2) learners learning another foreign language will have a lesser percentage of intralingual errors than those learning only English, that (3) learners learning another foreign language will have a higher grade on their task than those learning only English, and (4) that the percentage of interlingual errors in learners learning only English will be the same as in those learning another foreign language. Research results confirmed the first three hypotheses, which is in line with the results of previous research. The fourth hypothesis was not confirmed as the results showed that learners learning only English had more interlingual errors as well. This result implies that the second foreign language (L3) is a relevant factor in language transfer between the native (L1) and the first foreign language (L2). Based on the qualitative and quantitative analysis, we can conclude that Croatian as a native language influences the written output in English as a foreign language. This influence was recorded at all linguistic levels of the written discourse and resulted in various types of systematic errors. The most common errors were spelling errors, errors in the use of articles, lexical errors, and prepositional errors. However, even though the influence resulted in errors, we are not prone to labeling this influence as positive or negative. The reason is that these errors helped learners to bridge the gap between the two languages and enabled them, in most cases, to express their thoughts; what is more, some of the errors are quite fascinating examples of linguistic creativity. Although the native language is not the main source in the total percentage of errors, it is the dominant source of lexical, prepositional, and syntactic errors, which certainly requires further attention of researchers and teachers.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: crosslinguistic influence, language transfer, written output, Croatian as a native language, English as a foreign language
Subjects: English language and literature
Departments: Department of English Language and Literature
Supervisor: Medved Krajnović, Marta
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij glotodidaktike
Date Deposited: 07 Jul 2017 13:05
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2017 13:05

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