I’ve just been reading a very interesting article about language interference.
It recounts the story of a Chinese student in the US who, during a fluent English presentation, happened to glance over to her Chinese professor and accidentally used a simple Mandarin word instead of the corresponding English word.
Further studies showed that when we speak a language we have a lot of cultural baggage associated with it. When an English speaker for example thinks of the word “beer” they are likely to think of the type of brew they prefer, the taste, their favorite bar and perhaps the company they keep when out drinking.
And the reverse is true. Seeing a picture of the White House or perhaps Big Ben is likely to flash into your mind words and ideas associated with them.
What happens, then, if you are in an Italian coffee shop in Rome and you see a picture of your favorite beer from back home? The likelihood is that you’ll momentarily be mentally transported back to your favorite bar!
Bringing this back to language teaching, let’s take a class of Korean students in Seoul learning English. They may well have masses of Korean influences around them which will distract them from English. If they look out the window turn to their classmates and so on they are likely to feel the subconscious pull of Korean and get distracted from English.
On the other hand, the same students in the United States will have many of those distractions removed and English will have a much stronger hold while they speak.
So what’s the answer? Perhaps what we have always advocated: make the classroom as English as possible and removed (insofar as one can) those distractions.
English Only – speak only English in the classroom
The Ideal TEFL Classroom – what your classroom could look like