A first language, mother tongue, native language or L1 is the language a human being learns from birth. A person's first language is a basis for his/her sociolinguistic identity. One´s mother tongue makes it possible for a child to take part in the knowledge of the social work. Another impact of the mother tongue is that it brings about the reflection and learning of successful social patterns of acting and speaking. English is a first language in eight countries: United Kingdom, Canada, Australian, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand and Nigeria.
A second language (L2) is any language learned after the first language or mother tongue (L1). Second language acquisition is the process by which people learn a second language in addition to their native language. The language to be learned is often referred to as the “target language" or "L2", compared to the first language, "L1", referred to as the “source language”
There are many people who prefer to speak and communicative in their second language rather than mother tongue. They feel more comfortable in the second language because their mother tongue might be very limited and does not provide a great amount of words or expressions.
Interlanguage is a linguistic system of students of a second language or foreign language in each one of adquisiction levels. The students have different learning processes. This system is a mediator between the mother language (L1) and learning language of students (L2). There are different stages that the students have to get for acquire the second language.
When we study a second language, it occurs that we use the form of mother tongue as model for learn the second language. For this, the transfers appear. A transfer is one of the neurological processes that we do know about, related to the establishment of language rules is connected with the process of transferring chunks of language coming from our mother tongue to the use, the norms and the rules of the second language.
These rules are present both in monolingual and bilingual children. The case with bilingual children gets a little more complicated since they establish a system of transfers between one language and the other and between the syntactic rules that govern them both. As recent studies show, by the time the bilingual child is two, he can separate one code from the other.
Bergman (1976), however, presents examples of her own daughter, a
bilingual 4 year old girl, who, after an early and complete separation between her English and her Spanish had been established, started to produce examples of speech such as:
Vamos a abuela’s [casa]
Este coche es de Ani’s, no de Jorge
The effect of transfers can be on any aspect of language: grammar, vocabulary, accent, spelling etc. It is most often discussed as a source of errors (negative transfer), although where the relevant feature of both languages is the same, it results in correct language production (positive transfer). To illustrate this, we know that for Spanish students of English, it is very common to use the structure I have 20 years old, instead of I am 20 years old. This is known as negative transference or interference. In the case of a German student of English, he or she will say Ich bin 20 Jahre alt, and in this case we are talking about positive transference, as both languages make use of the same grammatical structure to express the same concept.
Interference may be conscious or unconscious. Consciously, the student may guess because he has not learned or has forgotten the correct usage. Unconsciously, the student may not consider that the features of the languages may differ, or he may know the correct rules but be insufficiently skilled to put them into practice, and so fall back on the example of his first language.
Language interference produces distinctive forms in the way English is used depending on the speaker’s first language. For instance, Spanglish (Spanish), Franglais (French) or Chinglish (Chinese). Some examples of Spanglish will be parqueando and clickenado. Now, we are going to describe some of the language transferences that can be found comparing English and Spanish:
- Phonology: the phonological system of Spanish is significantly different from the English one, particularly in the aspects of vowel sounds and sentence stress. These differences make it difficult for Spanish learners to acquire a native-English-speaker accent. Spanish has 5 pure vowels and 5 dipthongs. The length of the vowel is not significant in distinguishing between words. This contrasts with English, which has 12 pure vowel sounds and 8 dipthongs. 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.
- Grammar - Verb/Tense: Although Spanish is a much more heavily inflected language than English, there are many aspects of verb grammar that are similar. The major problem for the Spanish learner is that there is no one-to-one correspondence in the use of the tenses. So, for example, a Spanish learner might incorrectly use a simple tense instead of a progressive or a future one: She has a shower instead of She's having a shower; I help you after school instead of I'll help you after school. Problematic for beginners is the formation of interrogatives or negatives in English. The absence of an auxiliary in such structures in Spanish may cause learners to say: Why you say that? / Who he saw? / Do you saw him? / I no see him. / I not saw him.
- Vocabulary: Due to shared Latin influence English and Spanish have many cognates (words with a similar form and meaning among two given languages), and the corresponding collection of false friends (words that look alike in different languages, but their meanings are very different), such as eventual (English translation > possible), particular (English translation > private) or constipado. Cognates facilitate positive transfers, whereas false friends are negative. Since the Latin-derived words in English tend to be more formal, the Spanish student will benefit when reading academic text. He or she may sound too formal, however, if using such words in everyday spoken English. Conversely, phrasal verbs, which are an essential aspect of colloquial English, are difficult for Spanish learners and may obstruct listening comprehension.
- Pragmatic: English speakers learning Spanish tend to say ¿Puedo tener una coca-cola?, by using a calque of the structure Can I have…?
The code-swiching occurs when an individual who is bilingual alternates between two languages during his/her speech with another bilingual person. This phenomenon occurs in bilingual areas, as two languages coexist. A bilingual person is said to be able to communicate in two languages with the same command and efficiency.