Thursday, November 6, 2014

Why You Cannot Be Taught a Foreign Language. Part 20

Interference, or Rearing to Go

For the overachievers—which I was many, many years ago—and those who are burning with a desire to study two to three languages simultaneously, I must say just a few words about the so-called ‘interference’ among languages. There’s no need to sigh and look at the clock, my dear friend—this will take two, three minutes, maximum.

The word ‘interference’ has to do with the influence of a different language on the language you happen to be studying at the time. If you are studying two or more languages at the same time, mutual interference is happening between the two languages. To be precise, it’s not that the languages are influencing each other; rather, they are influencing you and the process of how you master the studied languages.

Most often, this is evident when you want to say a word or phrase, say in German, but it comes out involuntarily in French, and vice versa. This not only carries over to vocabulary but also to grammatical constructions. Interference is a peculiar obstacle that languages place on the path of studying of other languages. This phenomenon has been known for ages, and we won’t discuss it long. I only want to say that, if anyone desires to study more than one language at a time, then this phenomenon definitely needs to be taken into consideration so that you choose the studied languages in a way that minimises this undesirable occurrence.

Interference is especially strong among related languages but can be disregarded when studying languages that are sufficiently diverse. You can bravely take on German and, say, French or something like Japanese, with no fear of any serious interference. But if it’s French and Spanish (or Italian), then there’s no way to avoid this obstacle. Norwegian and German—problems. Italian and Portuguese—problems. French and Chinese—no problems!

That’s about all I wanted to mention about interference. And now, applying the aforementioned principles, quickly go and choose two or three languages for yourself, and we’ll meet back here in a year or two—I’ll be waiting…

[Via Language Tai-chi, or You Cannot Be Taught a Foreign Language, by Nikolay Zamyatkin]

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