Research shows that transfer from the native language is not the most common cause of error, at least in written English. However, when it occurs, it is often the most baffling to readers and the most intractable for writing instructors. It is interesting both for student writers and their instructors to consider the linguistic complexities that writing in English demands of ESL students.
Section 59c of Keys for Writers
presents a "Language Guide to Transfer Errors." Students who show specific types of language errors in their writing can refer to this guide, and it can be used as a useful basis for classroom or small-group instruction or for individual conferences or tutoring. The lists that follow are organized differently—by language. If you have several students in your class from the same linguistic and cultural background, the information in these lists should be useful to you if you come across puzzling errors that you find difficult to explain. Some of the error types may be more common at beginning levels of language learning, however, when writers grapple with challenging new ideas and difficult reading material, their command over syntax and grammar may lapse as they fall back on the familiar structures of the native language while making sense of new material.
For each of the ten languages discussed in detail (Arabic, Chinese languages, Farsi, French and Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese), significant features of difference from English are noted. An additional section lists some key features of Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Portuguese, and Tagalog. Examples, marked with an asterisk (*) show the types of error that can result in English because of language transfer, and section numbers provide a cross-reference to the handbook. Please be aware that this is a highly selective list, not an exhaustive one. The list derives from my more than thirty years of teaching experience, but it does not claim to cover every linguistic difference. I’d be grateful if you would let me know of any other features or languages you think I need to include.
Tip Sheet Index
- The Chinese Languages
- Farsi (Persian)
- French (and Haitian Creole)
- Some Other Language Differences