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Early Foreign Language Learning: the case of Mother tongue influence in vocabulary in German and Spanish primary school EFL learners

Agustin Llach, M.P. (2014). Early Foreign Language Learning: the case of Mother tongue influence in vocabulary in German and Spanish primary school EFL learners. EUJal 2 (2): 287-310.

ABSTRACT: his paper investigates the influence of the mother tongue in vocabulary use in foreign language writing. The lexicon is considered one of the language aspects most permeable by L1 (Arabski 2006). L1 transfer is pervasive in all age groups and L1 backgrounds. Factors such as contrastive relationships between L1 and L2 lexis, or psychotypology evidence differences in lexical transfer. We were interested in describing how the L1 influences lexical production in L2 writing. Moreover, we wanted to examine whether different L1s influence lexical transfer in different ways. We analysed the written production of 71 Spanish and 38 German 4th graders. Learner compositions were scrutinized for instances of lexical transfer: borrowing or complete language shift, literal translation or calque, transfer of semantic features from L1 to L2 words, and relexification or foreignizing. Linguistic and psychotypological reasons led us to believe that German learners would transfer more, due to the higher perceived similarity between German and English. Results confirmed this hypothesis but only as regards borrowing. The great formal similarity between many German words and their English equivalents is liable to lead learners to these types of transfer. By contrast, calques and transfer of semantic features are more independent of formal similarity, and thus rarer in our data of young, low proficient L2 learners.

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