sábado, 26 de noviembre de 2016

Interference of L1 in the learning process of a foreign language L2 (a hypothetical case in the languages of Paraguay)

When in a country two or more languages are spoken, the risk of causing interference in

L2, or perhaps, even the risk of causing contamination is vast and unpredictable.

This is the situation of Paraguay, a small country in South America, where two languages have been coexisting together since the arrival of the Spanish conquerors in 1524.

Paraguay has two official languages: Spanish and Guarani (on one hand, Guarani is a metaphorical and agglutinative language, on the other, Spanish is an inflectional language), are totally different in their linguistic constellations. This factor should be underlined because is virtually impossible to establish which language is L1 or L2 in Paraguay. There is a terminology problem here: which of the two is L2 in Paraguay? Normally L2 is referred to as the second language, or as the foreign language that is taught in school and in private language centers. It is quite difficult to define which one is really the L2 foreign language in Paraguay, as there are many languages in the country: Spanish, Guarani, and a blended language which is called Jopara. Jopara is an actual language, but without a written grammar and it has no prescriptive control. It is just a spoken language that most of the population use it in their daily lives. 
Paraguay also shares its frontier with Brazil, where Portuguese is spoken, the influence that Portuguese has on the languages of Paraguay can be noticed almost every day, for example: on the radio, newspaper, social media, etc. However, what is the linguistic situation of the English language? What is the role of this foreign language in Paraguay? Is it L2 or L4? Some studies must be done to help understand the current linguistic situation in Paraguay, I suppose that some studies have already been made, but until now, I have not read any article that even attempts to answer this query. Hence, we now have four languages in Paraguay that are struggling to be part of the Paraguay linguistic constellation. But, what is the linguistic situation of English, which is a West Germanic foreign language, in conjunction with the native languages of Paraguay?

In this article, I use the normal linguistic definition: L1 is the native language and L2 the foreign language.

We should mention that in Paraguay Spanish and Guarani are spoken, and that the population that learn foreign languages are students, attending compulsory elementary school, and later when they are in universities. A large group of people, outside of the educational system, learn English and other foreign languages in private language centers, for instance, businessmen, politicians, students who have the intention of studying abroad, and others. (English is a mandatory subject in the Paraguayan educational system).

This population who learn English as a L2 bring their linguistic structures to L2 classes, although English structure is not far from the characteristics of the Spanish language, the word order, for example, is the same: SVO, perhaps the difficulty lays in the phonetic and morphological fields, where the difficulties might be seen, because of the new phonemes that the students should learn. The phonemes in English are more in quantity than in the regular Spanish phonemes pattern. It can be added to the many obstacles of learning a new language the broad vocabulary that the students must learn all along the regular learning process.

In the case of the Guarani language is not the same as the Spanish case, but not quite different. Guarani is also an SVO language, but the difference lays in the prefixes that are fixed to the verb. Example: Che a-karu. [I eat]. The prefix "a" indicates the first person singular. If we add a suffix, for example, "ta". Che a-karu-ta. The sentence will mean then [I will eat]. As we have seen in the examples, Guarani has the agglutination as the main characteristic of its language structure. In simple sentences, it can be seen the structure SVO, but in complex sentences, it is very difficult to notice the exact word order.

Both official languages: Spanish and Guarani are more complex than English, in their structures, English has less productivity than the two languages (Spanish is an inflectional language and Guarani is an agglutinative language). We can infer that the students who learn English might have difficulties in the learning process, not because of the new phonemes and new vocabulary and other grammar structures that imply to learn English, but the complex grammar of Spanish and Guarani that are fixed in their brain. The English language is quite simple when compared to those that the native speakers of Paraguay already communicate in. 
It is important to refer to what Lado (1957) once stated:

"we can predicate and describe the patterns that will cause difficulty in learning, and those that will not cause difficulty, by comparing systematically the language and culture to be learned with the native language and culture of the students"

The quotation is very old, and many other studies have been done since its publication. Nevertheless, it is important to mention it here, because the linguistic situation of Paraguay is a phenomenon that includes not only linguistic features but also cultural features. This country has two languages and two cultures, on one hand, European culture (Spanish culture) and on the other, the native culture which was inherited from the Guarani. This situation makes the country unique, especially due to its linguistic dualism. This cultural reality of the students should not be ignored.

It is obvious that interference might occur (structurally and culturally) in the process of transferring the new language to the mental structure of the L2 learners. The issue of interference has been studied for many years. There is a great amount of research that has brought many interesting and plausible findings. Publications in linguistics have provided precise information about terms and definitions, that allow researchers to properly carry out their research.

I would like to mention some areas of the L2 language in which the learners might make mistakes. The answer perhaps we find them, not in the English language itself, but within the complex linguistic constellation of Paraguayan learners.


The variety of the Paraguayan Spanish (español paraguayo) is a little different from the standard or prescriptive Spanish from Spain, especially in the oral language. Let us glance at a hypothetical example to illustrate this phenomenon:

1) María: dónde está el teléfono? (Spain)
    No lo sé. No lo he visto. (complete and correct sentence in Spanish)

2) María: where is the telephone? (English)
     I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. (complete and correct sentence in English)

3) María: dónde está el teléfono? (Paraguay - Paraguayan Spanish variety)
    No Ø sé. No Ø he visto / No Ø vi (incomplete and incorrect sentence)

4) Mõo oîme la teléfono. (Guarani-Jopara)
    Che ndaikuaái. Ndahechái kuri (complete and correct sentence)

In example Nr. 1 we do not see any grammar error, prescriptively the sentence is correct. The object pronoun is written in bold because that is the focus of the study of this example. We will demonstrate if the pronoun "lo" appears in the L2.

In example Nr. 2, we see the sentence in English, the sentence is correct and as well as in Spanish from Spain, the pronoun "lo" is used correctly and the use of the object pronoun is the same in both languages. The word order is quite the same, but the use of the pronoun is correct and appropriate.

In example Nr. 3, in the Paraguayan variety, it can be seen, that the object pronoun "lo" does not appear in the sentence as well as the pronoun "lo" (a neutral pronoun) and the pronoun "lo" (an object pronoun) are not seen in the sentence. We presume that this example was taken from a conversation between two people, it is important to mention this, because this phenomenon is mostly heard in the oral language. In a written communication, the hypothesis would be different.

In example, Nr. 4, a sentence in Guarani-Jopara, the sentence is complete and correct, and we do not see the pronouns "lo" in it because in Guarani the pronouns are inserted semantically in the sentence. In some cases, the Guarani language does not need to mention the pronouns, because the communication is obvious and understandable for a Paraguayan speaker, who does not need further explanation through pronouns, in this case, the pronoun "lo" refers to the telephone.

We can see in the examples, that interference might occur during the learning process of a foreign language. The students who have two languages as native language, which is the case of Paraguay, might have difficulties to adjust their linguistic native structure to the new ones or to eliminate the ones that they do not need in L2.

I think that adequate research should be done in this field to allow detecting if the strength of the L1 remains in the structure of L2, and if it causes interference. If this hypothetical example becomes true, then EFL teachers should find the appropriate teaching strategies for the Paraguayan learners.

For those who want to find more information about linguistic interference, I would suggest you research on the Internet. There are many studies that have been already done by prestigious universities and professionals around the world.


Aronoff, Mark (1976), The relevance of productivity in a synchronic description of word formation. In Fisiak, J (ed.), Historical morphology, The Hague: Mouton.
Haspelmath, Martin (2002), Understanding Morphology, New York.
Lado, Robert (1957), Linguistics across cultures: Applied linguistics for language teachers. University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor.
Guasch, Antonio (1996), El idioma Guaraní, Cepag, Asunción.
Diccionario de lingüística virtual: http://hispanoteca.eu/Diccionario%20Ling%C3%BC%C3%ADstica/i.htm


Thanks to Fernando Beconi, James Blocksom and Matt Kowalski for their comments and suggestions.

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