The Influence Of The Mother Tongue On Second Language Acquisition And Proficiency

Project and Seminar Material for Linguistics and Communication

The Influence Of The Mother Tongue On Second Language Acquisition And Proficiency


Several factors affect the learning and proficiency of a second language and among them is the culture, age, environment, method of acquisition, nature and structure of the first language and the amounts of efforts invested. This research work investigates the impact of the mother tongue on the learning and proficiency of the target language. The research was carried out using the JSS one and JSS two students of some selected secondary schools in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State, where Ikwerre is an indigenous language and is mostly used in communication outside the classroom. Written composition/utterances of the students were the instrument for data collection. The findings of the data analysis yielded categories viz, vowel harmony/ nasalization, phonemic differences, insertion of vowels between consonant clusters, wrong placement of stress, wrong use of tenses, omission/wrong use of rules of concord and wrong use of prepositions. From the results of the research, it was found that the mother tongue influences the learning and proficiency of the English language. These findings were discussed and thereafter, conclusion and recommendation were deduced.

Table of Content

Chapter One:


  • 1.1 Background of the Study
  • 1.2 Statement of the Problem
  • 1.3 Objective of the Study
  • 1.4 Research Questions
  • 1.5 Research Hypothesis
  • 1.6 Significance of the Study
  • 1.7 Scope of the Study
  • 1.8 Limitation of the Study
  • 1.9 Definition of Terms
  • 1.10 Organization of the Study

Chapter Two:

Review of Literature

  • 2.1 Conceptual Framework
  • 2.2 Theoretical Framework
  • 2.3 Empirical Review

Chapter Three:

Research Methodology

  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 Research Design
  • 3.3 Population of the Study
  • 3.4 Sampling Technique
  • 3.5 Research Instrument
  • 3.6 Method of Data Analysis

Chapter Four:

Data Presentation and Analysis

  • 4.1 Data Presentation
  • 4.2 Analysis of Data

Chapter Five:

Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation

  • 5.1 Summary
  • 5.2 Conclusion
  • 5.3 Recommendation

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

Learning a second language has been important to human beings from earliest historical times. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics states that “the Sumerians of the third millennium BC used bilingual tablets in Sumerian and Akkadian to educate their children, and compiled the world’s oldest known bilingual dictionaries. Bilingual tablets were used in ancient Egypt, and, in the Ptolemaic period, the upper classes in Egypt received their education in Greek. In the Hellenistic period, the majority of people in Asia Minor who could read and write did so in Greek, their second language. Until the fourth century BC, bilingual education in Greek and Latin was an important part of the curriculum for Roman children” (3742).

In line with this, Otagburuagu states that “second language learning could arise from a social or political factor. For instance, colonization, trade and commerce could create a conducive atmosphere for the development of a second language” (1). He continued by saying that “the colonization of Nigeria, Ghana etc by Britain must be seen as the primary factor that gives rise to the adoption of the English language as the second language in these countries. Multilingualism as well as the desire for social integration could give rise to second language learning too” (Otagburuagu 1). In support of this view, Verghese also states that “it is a historical accident that led to English taking deep roots in Canada, Australia and the United States” (Verghese 1). He further states that “history again has played a part in English being used widely in other countries in Africa and Asia. Those countries were the colonies of Great Britain, and since the day they came under Britain rule, English has been taught and used as a medium of communication there” (Verghese 1).

Apart from colonization, other possible reason(s) why English is mostly used as a second language is that it “is spoken around the globe and has wider dispersion than any other language. From its earlier home within what is now called the united kingdom (with 56 million speakers), English has spread to nearby Ireland (three and a half million), across the Atlantic for America (where some 232 million people speak in the united states, with perhaps as many as 24 million additional speakers in (Canada), and across the world to Australia and New Zealand (with about 17 million English speakers between them)” (Finegan 77-78).

Hence, English language is “is the sole official language in more than two dozen other countries: Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe in Africa; Jamaica, the Bohamas, Dominica and Barbados in the Caribbean; and Vanuatu’s, Fiji and the Solomon Island in the pacific, to a sample” (Finegan 77–78) etc .Supporting this view, The Encyclopedia Americana , states that more than half of the world’s scientific research and technical journals, as well as newspapers are printed in English. Three fourths of the world’s mail is written in English, and English is the language of three fifths of the worlds radio station” (417). To take German as an example between 1762 and 1968 alone the proportion of articles published in English in Physikalische Zeitschrift rose from 2 percent to 50 percent” (Quirk et al 5). Beyond its uses as first and second language in ordinary intercourse, Finegan states that English is now established as the lingua Franca of much scholarship, particular of a scientific and technical nature” ( 78). He further states that ‘reflective of the wide spread dissemination of English and perhaps of an extraordinary adaptability is the fact that noble prizes in literature have been awarded to more writers using English than any other language, and that these laureates have been citizens of Australia, Ireland and India, as well as the United States and Britain (Finegan 79). Campbell also asserts that English is the acceptable medium in the travel industry and in international communication” (Campbell 145). There is no doubt that, the English language is a language of communication between the people with different cultures. It is also the language of computers that help people to communicate with the people around the world through internet technology and e-mail. All these reasons given above could result to the learning of a second language.

Several factors affect the learning and proficiency of a second language. Among them are the nature and structure of the first language, culture environment, age, method of acquisition and the amount of efforts invested. The degree of differences and similarity between the mother-tongue and the target language are important factors in the learning of a second language. One crucial feature of L2 learning is that the learner has had experience of another language. An experience which enables him to master, assimilate and internalize the system of learning of the first language. As they learn the new language, second language learner incorporates the new linguistic input into their model of the language. To buttress this point, Lado states that “Individuals tend to transfer the forms and meanings, and the distribution of forms and meanings of their native language and culture to the foreign language and culture (2). A second language learner thinks in his language, tires to express himself in the second language which results to conflicts, and this conflict is as a result of mother- tongue interference.

On exposure to a new and different language, i.e. English, the individual is now faced with the problem of communicating effectively in his new language as a result of this influence of his native language. The degree of differences and similarities between the mother tongue and the target language are important factors in the learning of second language. As mention earlier, other factors could also affect the learning and proficiency of the target language. In agreement with the above, Gardner and Maclntyre states that “in the language learning situation, many such factors have been identified” (1). But in their own article, they focused “on two broad classifications of affective factors, namely, language attitude and motivation, and language anxiety and self confidence” (1). In support of this opinion, Vergherse opines that “one of the important conditions of learning a second language is abundant exposure to the language” (20). He further states that “a very significant factor in language learning is motivation” and he pointed out other factors like “the duration of exposure to the language”, “availability of the right type of teaching materials and aids” (22, 23).

Base on this reason, the theoretical framework of this study is based on two theories of second language learning, the behaviourist theory which states that “properties of the L1 are thought to exercise an influence on the course of L2 learning: learners ‘transfer’ sounds, structures, and usages from one language to the other. Contrastive analysis is the name given to the study of the similarities and differences in the morphology and syntax between two languages” (Marco 23). The contrastive analysis hypothesis (CAH) was proposed to account for the role of the L1 in L2 learning. (International Encyclopedia of Language 300). When put to test CAH was not fully supported, it failed to predict errors that learners were observed to make, and it predicted some errors that did not occur (Spada et al 19).

The main alternative to the behaviourist approach (which is cognitive theory) sees as central the role of cognitive factors in language learning. And this theory makes use of Error analysis. Crystal states that “error analysis plays a central role in this approach. Errors are likely to emerge when learners make the wrong deductions about the nature of the L2, such as assuming that a pattern is general, when into fact there are exceptions” ( 372). Error analysis showed that contrastive analysis was unable to predict a great majority of errors. (e.State Master – Encyclopedia: second language acquisition. Master Nation .com.).

However, the analysis of errors turns out to be a highly complex matter, involving other factors than at the cognitive. According to crystal, “some errors are due to the influence of the mother-tongue, as contrastive analysis claims. Some come from external link influences, such as inadequate teaching or materials” (372). The researcher believes that the best way to investigate this research is by combining the two theories of second language learning: behaviourist and cognitive theories. Since, the influence of mother-tongue seems inevitable in the learning of a second language, the aim of this research is to highlight this influences (its nature, causes and extent) by analyzing the errors made by the JSSI and JSS 2 students of some schools in Emohua local Government of Rivers State so as to recommend necessary solution for eliminating them.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Interference is the influence of one language, dialect or other linguistic features upon another’s phonology, grammar and vocabulary. In the course of using English as a second language, there is inter-lingual interference. That is, the influence of one language upon another’s phonology, grammar and vocabulary. The language which a group of people considered to be inhabitants of an area acquire in their early years and which normally becomes their natural instrument of thought and communication may interfere with the second language, and these interferences may manifest itself in any aspect of the language such as phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics. When an Igbo man for instance says; “I hear a smell” to mean “I perceive an odour” or when the Hausa man says “I am coming here yesterday” to mean “I came here yesterday; or also when the Ikwerre man says “did you hear me” to mean “did you understand me?”; they transliterate the syntax of their respective mother- tongue into English Language. It is also a well known fact that Igbo learners’ interference problem is different from that of the Hausa and Yoruba learners’ and vice versa.

A lot of views have arisen with respect to what causes mother-tongue interference. Mother-tongue interference is the linguistic interference of a child’s first language. The controversy is that a child has a biological ability that enables him to acquire a language and depend on factors of his environment during the process of language development that affects the learner-users of English as a second language because he transfers some of the features of his language into his second language which in this study is English language. These features as earlier mentioned are found in the way he pronounces English words and the way he constructs sentences.

Although some researchers have carried out investigation on this problem of mother-tongue interference in Nigeria, their main focus has been on the three major Nigerian languages: Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa. Based on this, the researcher seeks to carry out a similar research on the Ikwerre language which is one of the minority languages in Nigeria, and which an investigation of this nature has not been done.

This research work, therefore, seeks to identify the ways in which the mother-tongue influences the learning and proficiency of the target language which in this study is the English language.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

The purpose of this study is to investigate the influence of mother tongue on second language acquisition and proficiency among the junior secondary school students of Emohua local government area of Rivers State, where Ikwerre is an indigenous language and is mostly used in communication.

This research will be carried out under the following sub leadings.

  • The phonological impact of the L1 on the L2 and
  • The syntactical impact of the L1 on the L2.

1.4 Research Questions

This study seeks to investigate and provide answers to the following questions:

  1. Does the phonology of the Ikwerre language affect the learning and proficiency of the English Language?
  2. Does the syntax of the Ikwerre Language affect the learning and proficiency of the English Language?

1.5 Research Hypothesis

  • Ho: Mother tongue has no influence on second language acquisition and proficiency of students.
  • Ha: Mother tongue has an influence on second language acquisition and proficiency of students.

1.6 Significance of the Study

This study will help individuals and groups of people or learner – users of English in Ikwerre land to identify the lexical, and speech problems they encounter while learning the second language. This study will urge at least some Ikwerre learner – users of English language to be conscious of the way they speak English and how they pronounce words and construct sentences in English language. It will make them to correct and subdue negative influences of their mother tongue on English and it will also help teachers of English language in Ikwerre land to be aware of the problems facing the Ikwerre learners of English.

1.7 Scope of the Study

The study will focus only on the Ikwerres’ people’s experience. It will focus on learner-users of English as an L2 in Ikwerre taking note of its phonological,and lexical impact on English language. The study covers some secondary schools located in Emohua local government area where Ikwerre is their indigenous language and the English language is usually learnt in school.

The population will be made up of junior secondary school students of JSS 1 and 2.

1.8 Limitation of the Study

Like in every human endeavour, the researcher encountered slight constraints while carrying out the study. Insufficient funds tend to impede the efficiency of the researcher in sourcing for the relevant materials, literature, or information and in the process of data collection, which is why the researcher resorted to a limited choice of sample size. More so, the researcher simultaneously engaged in this study with other academic work. As a result, the amount of time spent on research will be reduced.

Moreover, the case study method utilized in the study posed some challenges to the investigator including the possibility of biases and poor judgment of issues. However, the investigator relied on respect for the general principles of procedures, justice, fairness, objectivity in observation and recording, and weighing of evidence to overcome the challenges.

1.9 Definition of Terms

1.10 Organization of the Study

This research work is organized in five chapters, for easy understanding, as follows.

  • Chapter one is concern with the introduction, which consist of the (overview, of the study), historical background, statement of problem, objectives of the study, research hypotheses, significance of the study, scope and limitation of the study, definition of terms and historical background of the study.
  • Chapter two highlights the theoretical framework on which the study is based, thus the review of related literature.
  • Chapter three deals on the research design and methodology adopted in the study.
  • Chapter four concentrate on the data collection and analysis and presentation of finding.
  • Chapter five gives summary, conclusion, and recommendations made of the study.

Chapter Five

Summary of Findings, Conclusions and Recommendation

5.1 Summary of Findings

In view of the data analysis presented in chapter four and its interpretations, the following were the findings of the research work based on the two research questions. They are as follows:

The Phonological Effect of the Ikwerre Language on the English Language

Under this phonological aspect, the following factors were observed as been responsible for the deviant pronunciation of words: they are phonemic differences, wrong placement of stress, interference of Ikwerre vowel harmony, interference of Ikwerre vowel nasalization system, and insertion of vowels between consonant clusters.

  • Phonemic differences between the two languages: from the data analysis in chapter four, it was observed that about 28% of the pronunciation problems encountered by JSS1 students and 31% of the pronunciation problem encountered by JSS2 students are as a result of the phonemic differences between the Ikwerre language and the English language. As a result of these differences, the Ikwerre learners of English tend to substitute the English dental fricative /Ө/ and /ð/ for either /t/ or /d/. (see appendix) This constitutes part of the reason Onuigbo stated that we should “note the distinctive characteristics of each consonant and pay special attential(sic) to the three consonants which do not occur in Nigerian languages. These consonants are / /, /  / and /з/ and experiences shows that they are usually substituted with other consonants which occur in the learners mother tongue” (66).
  • Wrong placement of stress on English word: next to this problem of phonemic differences is the wrong placement of stress on some English words which accounted for 10.4% for JSS1 and 13.3% for JSS2 students of the total number of deviant pronunciation of words. This problem is not only attributed to the fact that ‘the Nigerian languages are syllable- time languages’ while ‘ the English language is stress- time language’ but to the fact that ‘there are no clearly defined rules governing the stress pattern of words of three or more syllables”(Onuigbo 88).
  • Interference of Ikwerre vowel nasalization system: The researcher observed that the use of nasalization in Ikwere language affects the Ikwerre learners of English as a second Language. Findings from the data analysis showed that 9.6% of the deviant pronunciation in JSS1 and 6.2% of the deviant pronunciation in JSS2 is as a result of this factor. From the researcher’s observation, majority of the students were having problems with these sounds “y, n, w”, especially when they occur in the initial position of words. For instance, the phoneme “n” is usually added in the beginning of the word young, hence pronouncing the word as “Nyoung”. But this problem is not peculiar to the students’ pronunciation only but also reflects in their writings. The students interchanged the nasal sounds
  • /m/ and /n/. For examples, the word ‘man’ is pronounced as ‘mam’ thereby replacing ‘n’ with ‘m’, other examples include cane as “came”, own as owm (see appendix).
  • Interference of Ikwerre vowel harmony: One of the concepts that were also observed was the interference of the Ikwerre vowel harmony system into the English language, which resulted in the wrong pronunciation of some of the words that were presented in chapter four. From the words, the JSS2 students were given to pronounce, it was also observed that some words were also wrongly pronounced due to this interference of Ikwerre vowel harmony, an example is seen in the pronunciation of ‘table’ as ‘tabulu’(see appendix).
  • Insertion of vowels between consonant clusters: absence of consonant cluster in Ikwerre language could be a major reason why the students insert vowels between consonant clusters. This accounted for 9.6% of the pronunciation problem for JSS1 and 8.3% for JSS2. Supporting this fact Onuigbo states that “in many Nigerian languages, there are no consonant clusters but in English, there may be an initial cluster of two or three consonants”. (75) In line with this, the researcher observed that Ikwerre learners of English tend to insert a vowel before a syllabic consonant in order to simplify the pronunciation. An example is seen in the pronunciation of the word ‘Scrap’ as ‘Sucrap’ (see appendix)
Syntactical Effect of the Ikwerre Language on the English language

Apart from the problem of the wrong use of tenses which was partly traced to the way Ikwerre language shows tenses by not inflecting the verbs, the other two syntactical problems (which have to do with omission/wrong use of concord and wrong use of the preposition) occurred mainly as a result of the students either making over-generalization or the inconsistencies in the rules of the English language. From the findings one could state that, the syntax of Ikwerre language does not hinder the effective learning and proficiency of the English language rather the inconsistencies in the rules of the English language contributed to the problems that resulted to the ungrammatical sentences.

5.2 Conclusion

The influence of mother tongue on second language acquisition and proficiency was the research problem that prompted this research work. The problem was formulated in chapter one as follows: What impact does the mother-tongue Ikwerre have on the learning and proficiency of the target language. Throughout the investigation the guiding factor was this problem. Thus by means of a detailed literature review and an empirical investigation other studies related to this were reviewed. The data collection, analysis and interpretation supported the evidence that the research problem has been solved. That is to state that the mother-tongue Ikwerre actually influences the learning and proficiency of the target language. This is seen in the cases of phonological interference discussed above, but the syntax of Ikwerre language to an extent does not interfere with the learning of the English language, rather the inconsistencies in the rules of the second language contributed to hindrances in the effective learning of the language.

5.4 Recommendation

In view of these findings by the researcher, the following measures are hereby recommended, they are as follows:
Organizing Seminars on Ikwerre Language for Teachers within the Region.

The introduction of Ikwerre language and English phonology to both the newly employed teachers and the old ones should be done regularly through organizing seminars and workshops. This seminar should not be for language teachers alone, but teachers from other disciplines should also be included, so as to create awareness on the problems encountered by the Ikwerre learners of English, and to also make them become a good model to the students.

Allotting More Time to the Teaching of Oral English

Since English is a second language in Nigeria, the researcher suggests that enough time should be made available for the teaching of oral English. Adequate time is one way the goal of effective communication in the language will be achieved. Emphasis should also be laid on stress and intonation right from the primary school.

Motivation of Students by Teachers

Teachers’ motivation of the student’s is necessary, especially in encouraging the students to use Received Pronunciation even when they are been made jest of by their fellow students. They should be made to understand that English is not just a subject to be passed during examinations but that the ability to express one clearly and to be understood by the native speakers of English is the ultimate goal.

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