Linguistic Analysis of an ELL student


LinguisticAnalysis of an ELL student


SaintLeo University

LinguisticAnalysis of an ELL student

Interlanguageis the kind of language produced by second language learners who arelearning a second language. During the process of learning the secondlanguage, learner’s errors are caused due to the issues ofborrowing words and patterns from the first language extending themto the target language, and conveying meanings using the syntax andvocabulary which they already know. This report involves a study thatwas carried out to evaluate the problems a Spanish learnerexperiences when learning English as a second language (Smith &ampSwan, 1987).

Researchindicates that the learner has been studying English. Thesample of the study involved one participant who is a Spanish and islearning English as a second language. The Spanish learner has stayedin the international school for one year since he migrated to Americato join his father who is working as a lecturer in one of theuniversities of America. He speaks Spanish and some Castilian. Theteachers of the learner reported that he is in grade seven and he istrying to adapt into the new environment since the culturalbackground of Spain is quite different from the American culture.They also reported that the learner has been experiencing socialproblems like not able to socialize with his fellow students becauseof language barriers and depression because of change of environment.The student is therefore under the process of acculturation.

Thisstudy aims at identifying the errors made by Spanish learners wholearn English as a second language. It will therefore help in guidingteachers who teach Spanish learners to anticipate the possible errorsmade by their students and understand how they arise since theinfluence of L1 on L2 cannot be overlooked. Analysis indicates thatin order to understand the structures that different languages anddialects use to express the grammatical meaning, it is important tounderstand the influence of L1 on L2 to know the error the learnersof English are likely to make (Brown, 2001)


Whenone works with a bilingual learner it is important to be informed ofthe typical articulation patterns and rules of speech existing in thelearner’s language and dialect. Mastering these differences helpsthe teacher to complete an evaluation to determine the disorders thatmight arise and the differences that can result from the given rulesand patterns of the learner’s first language (Crandall, Dias,Gingras &amp Harris, 1981).

Inthe research conducted, analysis indicates that there are severaldifferences between the consonants in Spanish and English wherebythere are fifteen phonemes that exist in both languages. The phonemes“sh” and “ch” are different in the English language, such‘church’ which has sound /tʃ/ and shirt /ʃ/ but in Spanishlanguage they can be used interchangeably for example a learner canpronounce ‘chimenea’as ‘shimenea’or ‘chimenea’.Thedata analysed indicates that the learner pronounces the word ‘shirt’as / tʃat/ and this alters the meaning of the word. Phoneme‘v’ and ‘b’ are also different in the English language, butin Spanish the two phonemes are pronounced as ‘b’. For example,‘baja’can be pronounced as ‘baja’and ‘vaca’isalso pronounced as ‘baja’. Thelearner pronounces the word ‘both’ as ‘voth’ and so if thelistener does not have any linguistic knowledge about Spanish he/shewill not understand what the speaker wants to communicate.In the English language, phoneme “s” and “z” are pronouncedas different sounds but in Spanish language the two phonemes appearin written documents but they are pronounced as “s”. Forexample the learner pronounces the English word ‘zebra’ as‘sevra’ whereby sound /z/ and /b/ are not pronounced correctlyand ‘zigzag’ as ‘sigsag’.In some cases the learner produces “th” instead of /s/ andresearch indicates that this is the influence of the Castilianlanguage on the English language. For example the word ‘sing’is pronounced as ‘thing’ The Spanish language has allophonicvariations which do not exist in the English language such as “b”which is pronounced as /β/. Inpronunciation the leraner pronounces words like ‘bee’ as /βi/(Benjamin&amp Butt, 2000).

TheSpanish language has syllables that fall between and within words andall syllables have similar durations no matter the position of thestress in a word. Spanish language is therefore perceived as asyllabic language. On the other hand, English has an accent which isrhythmic whereby the accented syllables are pronounced in a longerduration than the unaccented syllables. Forexample, ‘she reports every Friday’has three accented areas of stress that are pronounced with aslightly longer duration than the rest of the soundsinthe sentence. The learner stresses all the sounds in the sentencemaking it monotonous (Crandall,Dias, Gingras &amp Harris, 1981).

Placementof an accent on a word can change its meaning in Spanish language.For example the word ‘camino’can express different meanings depending on accent used whenpronouncing it. It can either mean ‘she/he walked’ when accentedas “caminό”or mean ‘I walk’ when accented as “camino”.The English language has a pitch that varies depending on the type ofthe sentence unlike the Spanish language whose pitch does not varyand this explains why a Spanish speaker who is learning English as asecond language sounds monotonous (Coe, 2000). Forexample ‘where is she?’ Is a question mark and is read with arising tone in English but the learner reads it in a falling tone asif it is a statement.

Tohelp a Spanish learner learning the English language as a secondlanguage, it is important to be aware of the phonemic instructionswhich will help in laying the foundation of decoding skills to helpin the comprehension when reading and decoding proficiently (Fillmore&amp Snow, 2000).


Wordformation is another area of concerning when analyzing thediscrepancies between the English language and Spanish language. TheSpanish-speaking leaner does not the slight difference that existsbetween synonyms. For example the word ‘comprehension’ meansunderstand ding in Spanish and so the leaner uses it as “she is acomprehend ding mother” meaning “she is an understanding mother”.This kind of misuse of words indicates that there is an influence ofthe native language on the targeted language (Nobel, 2002).

SomeSpanish words carry different meanings and learners of the Englishlanguage translate them intro the English language to mean exactlywhat they are trying to communicate. The analysis indicates that thelearner uses the word “hard” to mean ‘cruel or harsh’. Forexample, ‘Madam Mary is a very hard person’ to mean ‘madam Maryis a very cruel person’. This is because the Spanish word “duro”means “harsh or hard or cruel’ thus to some extent the learner isright only that he failed to choose the right English translation ofthe word “duro” (Benjamin &amp Butt, 2000).

Thelearner often confuses the preposition ‘from’ and ‘of’ simplybecause in Spanish the word “de” means ‘from’ or “of’.The words ‘as’ and ‘like’ are also used interchangeablybecause “como” is a word which means ‘as’ or like’. Thelearner often confuses these words in sentences for example, ‘shebehaves like if she is above the law’ instead of ‘she behaves asif she is above the law’. The learner confuses words that soundalmost the same such as ‘the hold family’ when he means ‘thewhole family’ (Crandall, Dias, Gingras &amp Harris, 1981).

Thesemistakes arise because the learner hears spoken words without knowinghow to write them. This can be dealt with by teaching the learnersthe root words and inflections because nouns are inflected forgender, number and verb agreement. Structural analysis should also becarried out to help in teaching the vocabulary of the language sincemorphological clues are heavily relied on in recognizing the words ofa language (Fillmore, &amp Snow, 2000).


Therhetorical strategy in English is almost similar to that of Spanish.The Spanish speaking learners follow a basic structure of the thesisfollowed by the body and then the conclusion but their structure issomehow less direct as compared with that one of an English nativespeaker. In the English language, a paragraph usually follows astraight line of development unlike in Spanish where a paragraph isformed with interrupted lines of thought which express a complexdigression (Crandall, Dias, Gingras &amp Harris, 1981).

Thisindicates that the rhetorical patterns of a language differ from oneculture to another and teachers of the English language should beaware of this in order to help the learners to know how to writeproficiently. The most noted difference between the semantics of theEnglish and Spanish languages is the run-on sentences which is verycommon in Spanish and willingly acceptable (Nobel, 2002).

Thelearner uses some of the words in an inappropriate manner because theSpanish leaener does not know the meaning of the English words. Forexample, ‘Go to the library and buy some books.’ In Spanish‘libreria’ means ‘bookstore’ and so the learn misinterpratesthe meaning of the word bookshop to mean library. Another errorobserved is the misuse of words because the learner does notunderstand the meaning of the words. For example ‘Mr. John is ahard person’ meaning ‘Mr. John is a harsh person.’ In this casethe learner has used the word hard incorrectly because he does notunderstand the meaning. Another problem observed is that the learnerdoes not know the meaning of the words like and as. He thereforemakes mistakes such as ‘Jane did the work like if she was anexpert.’ Instead of ‘Jane did the work as if she was an expert (Smith &amp Swan, 1987).


Analysisindicates that the Spanish-speaking learner makes many errors at thislevel because of the different sentence structures in the secondlanguage. At some point the learner can translate Spanish words forword into English language and this is a commonly noted mistake thathas to do with tense. The tense is therefore the most difficult partto master when learning a second language (Smith &amp Swan, 1987).

TheEnglish language learner has the tendency of defaulting back whenpresenting verb tense in cases of uncertainty. Several errors areobserved in present tense because it is the first English tenselearned by the English learners. Analysis indicates that the learneruses the tense consistently and it proves to be the biggest problem.For example, “Jane goeshome when she was called and preparessupper for the family”. In order to improve the tense of thelearner it is important to encourage the learner to practice speakingin the English language as well as reading more (Benjamin &amp Butt,2000).

Thereare also several mistakes noted in the sentence structure sincesentences are structured differently in Spanish as compared withEnglish. Spanish proves to have a less restricted word order ascompared with English and this simple observation helps inpositioning the subjects and their verbs in a sentence. When alearner fails to master the English structure he ends up translatingSpanish word for word to English. For example, ‘also in theirschool learns John.’ This is not correct in the English languagebecause the subject John comes after the verb learns and both areproceeded by a prepositional phrase. The sentence structure of theEnglish language is subject +verb +direct object (Smith &amp Swan,1987).

Sentencesegmentation is also very common in the writing of a Spanish-speakinglearner because in Spanish language missing subjects often occurbecause run-on sentences are very common in the rhetoric of theSpanish language. This explains why the learner leaves out some ofthe pronouns or even confuses them. The learner omits predicateswhen constructing sentences and this is not an influence of L1 on L2because both Spanish and English languages do not omit predicates. Another syntactical error that the learner makes is failure toconvert a root word into the correct part of speech. For example,“this book talks about the betray of Jesus Christ.” In this casethe learner fails to convert the verb betray into a noun betrayal.The teacher should therefore help the learners of the Englishlanguage to understand the language in order to avoid such kind oferrors (Nobel, 2002).

Discourseand Pragmatics

Analysisindicates that the Spanish learner has the tendency of deviating inhis writing. The learner has the tendency of personalizing hiswriting.For example, in the composition the learner wrote: I think this topicis interesting for me…. Another example is when biggining thecomposition the learner wrote: I am going to write this compositionbecause…. Another problem observed is the use of metaphors becausethis is very common in Spanish and the learner transfers thisknowledge to English and constructs sentences like “my stomach isfull of demons” meaning that “I have a stomach ache”.Spanish language is a romance language and when learners of theEnglish language express their love feelings they use words that maysound awkward but they sound to be eloquent. For example, a learnerdescribes love with words like as sensible and strong as diamond oras big as heaven (Nobel, 2002).

InSpanish a word can convey different meanings and this creates anegative influence on the second language. For example, the word‘puro’ can either mean “chaste, pure, only, clean and sheer”and the adjective “mero” also means “real, same, very andmere.” This makes the learner to use some of the English wordsinappropriately. Forexample, “Mr.John is a really man and he has a really family. “ The use of manyadjectives weakens the writing of the learner since they are onlyused as filers which have no meaning (Smith&amp Swan, 1987). The teacher should therefore teach the pragmaticof the English language in order to help the learner note thedifferences between the first language and the targeted language. Theteachers should apply the literacy instructional approaches sincethey will support the influence of Spanish language on the Englishlanguage (Fillmore, &amp Snow, 2000).


Theteachers of the second language learners are required to develop afull range of the skills of the targeted language including writing,reading and possess the content-area knowledge of the languageminority students. To achieve this, the teachers must apply theoriesand principles of psycholinguistics related to the English languageacquisition along with the recommended literacy practices (Nobel,2002).

Researchindicates that the learner transfers Spanish strategies and skill toEnglish language. For example, the learner uses the simple presenttense to indicate a future action such as ‘I go to the shoptomorrow’ instead of ‘I will go to the shop tomorrow.’ This isbecause Spanish language uses simple present tense to indicate afuture action. Another problem is that the learner uses personalprepositions after a transitive verb because this is what happens inSpanish. For example, ‘who killed to Jame?’ instead of ‘whokilled james?’ When two languages have some similarities in writingsystem there is a greater degree of transfer, thus making itdifficult for the learner to learn how to read the second language.Whenteaching learners English as a second language the most importantpart to start with is the phonological system since it is related tothe writing or the orthographic system of a language (Fillmore, &ampSnow, 2000).


Teachersof English language should determine methods which do not frustratethe learner when assessing his/her reading levels and select theappropriate instructional level of texts for direct instruction aswell as the independent level of reading which will make the learnercomfortable and more productive when learning. Students should alsobe introduced to learning and reading styles as well as appropriateinstructional strategies which fit in the cultural learningorientation and in the idiosyncratic preferences. It is noted thatteachers should be familiar with the literacy patterns of thelearner’s family and culture as well as understanding how readingis taught in the first language of the learner and the semanticpatterns commonly used in the written texts of the first language. The criteria of choosing the appropriate reading materials should bebased on the redundancy of conceptual complexity, linguistic formsand the cultural relevance of the learner. Teacher should also comeup with a variety of methods and approaches to use in teachingdecoding and comprehension without excluding the skills andprinciples of phonics (Benjamin &amp Butt, 2000).

Corevalue integrity

Duringthe preparation of the research I first registered the research viathe university on-line research governance registration system inorder to receive a document which granted me the permission toconduct the research. Later I had to seek the consent of theparticipant that is the learner and the family and assured them thatany information they produced shall be treated as private andconfidential. I also had to seek the consent of the school where thelearner studies as well as the consent of the teacher who teaches theEnglish language (Coe, 2000).


Benjamin,C. &amp Butt, J. (2000). Anew reference grammar of modern Spanish Lincolnwood,IL: NTC Publishing Group.

Brown,H.D. (2001). Teachingby principles: An interactive approach to languagePedagogy.WhitePlains, NY: Longman.

Coe,N. (2000). Speakers of Spanish and Catalan. Learner English, 54,72-89.

Crandall,J.A., Dias, J., Gingras, R.C., &amp Harris, T.K. (1981). Teachingthe Spanish-speaking child. EnglewoodCliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.

Fillmore,L.W., &amp Snow, C.E. (2000). What teachers need to know aboutlanguage. Washington, DC: US Department of Education.

Nobel,B.L. (2002). Linguistics for bilinguals. Rowley, MA: NewburyHouse Publishers.

Smith,M. &amp Swan, B. (1987). Learner English. Cambridge, England:Cambridge University Press.