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Contrastive analysis in language teaching,

time to come in from the cold. (Language

Teaching & Learning).


The purpose of this short paper is to first argue that the rejection of the value of contrastive
analysis Contrastive analysis is the systematic study of a pair of languages with a view to
identifying their structural differences and similarities. Historically it has been used to establish
language genealogies. (CA) input in foreign and second language teaching (FSLT FSLT First
Ship Lease Trust (Singapore) ) in the 70% and beyond was unjustified on both theoretical and
empirical grounds and then, based on classroom-based research, demonstrate the value for
teachers of using CA in their teaching.


Very few teachers in FSLT of any experience would deny the value of some degree of explicit
understanding of the grammar of the language they are learning. Though that understanding in
some simple cases may be derived from exposure to comprehensible input, there is ample
evidence to demonstrate that learners in normal classroom situations are unable to acquire most
grammatical knowledge without the benefit of explicit grammar instruction. Furthermore, it is
contended here that that understanding may be facilitated by an awareness of the differences
between the L1 and the TL.

To put this in concrete terms, francophones when asked a question such as "How long have lived
here for?" will tend to reply "I live here since two years", based on the French "Je demeure ici
depuis deux ans." Similarly, they may say "I have 15 years" and "I am born in Montreal"
calquing the French forms. To help learners overcome such problems, CA input enables them to
understand the reasons for such errors and thereby go some way to avoiding them. In the case of
the first example, one of the errors is caused by the fact that "depuis" may function with both the
meaning of "for" and "since". Students need to understand this contrast and then to grasp the fact
that "for" is used for a period of time whereas "since" refers to the point in time at which the
period began as in "I have lived here four years/I have lived here since 1995".

All language groups engaged in FSLT will make many such L1-influenced errors. Furthermore,
though all errors are potentially fossilisable, a number of studies have shown that it is L1-
influenced errors which will prove to be the most persistent (See Sheen 1981, Marton 1981,
Mukattash 1986). Given then the substantive presence of L1-influenced errors, their tendency to
become fossilised Adj. 1. fossilised - set in a rigidly conventional pattern of behavior, habits, or
beliefs; "obsolete fossilized ways"; "an ossified bureaucratic system"
fossilized, ossified

inflexible - incapable of change; "a man of inflexible purpose" , and, assuming the validity of the
premise that learners need to understand the nature of that influence in order to overcome it, it is
difficult to understand how the field of language teaching and applied linguistics Applied
linguistics is an interdisciplinary field of study that identifies, investigates, and offers solutions
to language-related real life problems. Some of the academic fields related to applied linguistics
are education, linguistics, psychology, anthropology, and sociology. allowed and even
encouraged the rejection of CA input in the 70% and has continued to sanction it.

In order to help in the understanding of this rejection, I will trace the events which caused it and
demonstrate the degree to which it was unjustified. Then, based on this and the description of
classroom-based research studies, I will argue for the reintegration reintegration /re·in·te·gra·tion/
1. biological integration after a state of disruption.

2. restoration of harmonious mental function after disintegration of the personality in mental

illness. of CA input into FSLT.

Following the success of the Army Special Training Programme (partly based on behaviourist n.
1. same as behaviorist.

Noun 1. behaviourist - a psychologist who subscribes to behaviorism


psychologist - a scientist trained in psychology

Adj. 1. learning principles) in WW II in teaching American soldiers foreign languages, the early
fifties saw the development in US universities of a structural teaching approach which was to
develop into the audiolingual method (See Brookes 1964). This method revolutionalised and
dominated language teaching in the decades following. CA became an integral part of the
method as it was argued that habits associated with the L I would interfere with the learning of
the TL. Thus, because francophones say "J'ai 15 ans", they will tend to say "I have 15 years" in
English rather than "I'm 15", at least in the case of beginners. Thus. CA was exploited in order to
identify those linguistic habits of the LI which were different from the TL and which might,
therefore, cause errors. This then informed material writers as to the forms which would require
special attention in the repetition and memorisation Noun 1. memorisation - learning so as to be
able to remember verbatim; "the actor's memorization of his lines"
committal to memory, memorization

learning, acquisition - the cognitive process of acquiring skill or knowledge; "the child's
acquisition of drills which characterized the audiolingual method.

Furthermore, it was argued that the large majority of errors were caused by L1 influence and that
they could be predicted by CA. CA functioned, therefore, as an agent for prediction and as a
means of providing linguiistic information to the material writers. However, it needs to be
emphasized here that CA input was not used as a means of providing explicit instruction but as
an indicator of which habits were to be eradicated by means of drills. As CA was then exploited
to suit the purposes of audiolingualism, it became indelibly associated therewith there·with
1. With that, this, or it.

2. In addition to that.

3. Archaic Immediately thereafter.

Adv. 1. and, therefore, was unjustly stigmatized as being essentially behaviorist Behaviorist

1. One who accepts or assumes the theory of behaviorism (behavioral finance in investing.) 2. A
psychologist who subscribes to behaviorism.

When it comes to investing, people may not be as rational as they think. whereas in actual fact it
is neutral in terms of learning theory. That is it takes no position on the nature of the process of

While audiolingualism was enjoying its success in the 60's, developments in theoretical
linguistics For the journal, see .

Theoretical linguistics is the branch of linguistics that is most concerned with developing
models of linguistic knowledge. Part of this endeavor involves the search for and explanation of
linguistic universals, that is, properties all languages have inspired by Chomsky's work was to
lead indirectly to its demise. Those developments were to result in the establishment of
generative grammar generative grammar

Finite set of formal rules that will produce all the grammatical sentences of a language. The idea
of a generative grammar was first definitively articulated by Noam Chomsky in Syntactic
Structures (1957). as the received linguistic theory and the rejection of the behaviourist-inspired
structural linguistics structural linguistics
n. (used with a sing. verb)
1. A method of synchronic linguistic analysis employing structuralism, especially in contrasting
those formal structures, such as phonemes or sentences, that make up systems, such as and, to
cut a long story very short, in the acceptance of foreign and second language learning Not as the
acquiring of a new set of habits but as a creative construction process (Kennedy & Holmes 1976;
Krashen 1981) akin to the acquisition of the L1. That process was to be engendered by exposing
learners to comprehensible input in communicative situations affording explicit instruction a
minimal to non-existent role. Thus, audiolingualism died and was ultimately replaced by
communicative-type methods.

Because of CA's link to audiolingualism and, therefore, behaviorist learning theory, it was
viewed as being ill-suited to new communicative methods on theoretical grounds though this did
not extend to practice in Europe (see Fisiak 1981). However, its ultimate rejection was also
based on empirical arguments albeit ones of a spurious nature. The new field of error analysis
became the means by which it was shown that many errors were caused by factors other than L1-
influence (see Richards 1971, 1973). This was indeed true. However, as so often happens in this
field, the tendency became exaggerated -- so exaggerated, in fact, that three prominent applied
linguists A linguist in the academic sense is a person who studies linguistics. Ambiguously, the
word is sometimes also used to refer to a polyglot (one who knows more than 2 languages), or a
grammarian, but these two uses of the word are distinct. of the period, Dulay, Burt and Krashen
(1982), felt justified in making the following statement: Learners' first languages are no longer
believed to interfere with their attempts to acquire a second language grammar, and language
teachers no longer need to create special grammar lessons for students from each language
background. (p. 5)

To support this, they cite Lance (1969), Richards (1971), Ervin Tripp (1970), George (1972),
Valdman (1975), Hanania and Gradman (1977), all of whom arrive at very low estimates of
grammatical L1-influenced errors. The Dulay et al. position is suspect for two reasons. First, it
ignores other findings with appreciably higher estimates. Hocking Hocking may refer to:

• Hocking County, Ohio

• Hocking Hills in Ohio
• Hocking College in Ohio
• Hocking River in Ohio
• William Ernest Hocking, American Idealist philosopher

(1973), Cornu cornu /cor·nu/ (kor´noo) pl. cor´nua [L.] horn.

cornu ammo´nis hippocampus.

cornu cuta´neum cutaneous horn. (1973), Mougeon and Hebrard (1975), Sheen (1976), James
(1980) and Steinbach (1981) arrived at findings which estimate the magnitude of such errors in
the 60% range. Furthermore, as already mentioned, Marton (1981) and Sheen (1981) find that
the errors in the English of near bilinguals largely comprise residual and possibly fossilized
v. fos·sil·ized, fos·sil·iz·ing, fos·sil·iz·es

1. To convert into a fossil.

2. To make outmoded or inflexible with time; antiquate.

v.intr. errors related to L1 influence. Second, a substantial number of studies involved in the
body of method comparison research of the 60% and 70's had demonstrated the effectiveness of
teaching methods using CA input. (see Von Elek & Oscarsson, 1973 for a review of this research
and a description of their own rigorous work with a replication study replication study Internal
medicine A clinical study that seeks to verify data from a prior study ). It is true that such
research has been criticised for a lack of control of variables. Nevertheless, the consistency of the
findings is such that they cannot be ignored.

In spite of this convincing counter evidence, it is the Dulay et al. position which has won the day.
This can be seen by examining the text books for FSLT available today from publishers. They
are all solely in English, making no reference to the L1 of the learners. This, of course, suits
publishers for it enables them to sell the same text books all over the world thus increasing their
sales many fold. It also suits the many anglophone teachers of English as a second or foreign
language for it enables them to teach anywhere in the world without knowing the L1's of the
students they teach. It might be legitimately argued, and for obvious reasons, that such text books
are suitable for learning groups made up students with different L1's. However, most FSLT
entails homogeneous L1 groups. Publishing solely monolingual mon·o·lin·gual
Using or knowing only one language.

mon o·lin texts without CA input and arguing that they are the best choice for all situations is,
therefore, unjustified.

While this situation continues to characterize FSLT, developments in the field of second
language acquisition research have refocused attention on the influence of the L1. The Gass and
Selinker (1983) collection of papers was to reveal that "... that there is overwhelming evidence
that language transfer is indeed a real and central phenomenon that must be considered in any
full account of the second language acquisition process." (p. 7). That this was the case was later
confirmed by the publication in 1986 of Kellerman's and Sharwood Smith's "Cross Linguistic
Influence in Second Language Influence" and in 1989 Odlin's "Language Transfer".

In spite of these publications and others, there has been no apparent influence on the world of
SFLT in terms of the availability of teaching texts which exploit CA input. This is perhaps
understandable given the economic factors related to publishing and employment mentioned
above and the theoretical bent of these publications. Publishing practices will not change unless
economic pressures oblige publishers to do so. Such pressure needs to come both from the grass
roots grass roots
pl.n. (used with a sing. or pl. verb)
1. People or society at a local level rather than at the center of major political activity. Often used
with the.

2. The groundwork or source of something. in the form of teachers' needs and from the
demonstration by means of research studies of the efficacy of explicit CA input in SFLT. This
has already happened to some degree in terms of a return to the inclusion of explicit grammar
instruction content in text books. The early years of communicative methods saw the publication
of text books which contained little to no explicit grammar content. However, as experience and
research findings have demonstrated that the ignoring of some type of focus on form is not the
optimal choice, publishers have returned to publishing text books with an underlying
grammatical syllabus. This has not, unfortunately, extended to supporting it with CA input. Yet
the acceptance of the principle of the need to understand the grammar of a language should
justify the provision of CA input as it may facilitate that understanding.

Justification for this is provided in the already-mentioned method comparison research of the
60% and 70's. Following their review of that research and a description of their own replicated
study, Von Elek and Oskarsson came to the following summary of their findings:
The only safe conclusion one can draw is that, in the teaching of foreign
grammar to adults, such techniques as grammatiical explanations, deductive
presentations of the subject matter, translation, the use of the native
language, and CONTRASTIVE ANALYSIS (my emphasis) are jointly superior to the
combination of techniques constituting the implicit method.

It was this conclusion along with the related studies and my own practical experience as a
teacher which led me to carry out my own research in order to compare a method based on
communicative-cum-structural principles with a method founded on explicit teaching of
grammar based on CA input where relevant. The findings are available in a paper published in
1996 in The International Review of Applied Linguistics (Sheen 1996). The study entailed
comparing two comparable groups of Saudi Arabian graduate adults preparing for MBA MBA
Master of Business Administration

Noun 1. MBA - a master's degree in business

Master in Business, Master in Business Administration study in the USA during a forty-week
period of intensive English in Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia (sä `dē ərā`bēə, sou`–, sô–), officially
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, kingdom (2005 est. pop. . The results, operationalised in terms of
frequency of error, are revealing for the study allowed for the comparing of the performance of
the experimental group (EG) (ie with CA input) with the control group (CG) on those items
involving CA input specifically. The items were as follows: 1. The copula copula /cop·u·la/ (kop
1. any connecting part or structure.

2. a median ventral elevation on the embryonic tongue formed by union of the second pharyngeal
arches and playing a role in tongue development. (non auxiliary use of the verb "to be"). Arabic
does not have it. 2. The determiners "a" and "an". Arabic does not have them. 3. The simple and
prospective futures. Arabic only has the former. 4. The prepositions "in", "on", "at", "from". 5.
The use of auxiliaries in question and negative forms. Arabic does not use them. 6. Relative
clauses in which the relative pronoun relative pronoun
A pronoun that introduces a relative clause and has reference to an antecedent, as who in the
child who is wearing a hat or that in the house that you live in.

Noun 1. refers to the object of the clause. In such cases, Arabic uses a resumptive Re`sump´tive

a. 1. Taking back; resuming, or tending toward resumption; as, resumptive measures s>.
pronoun pronoun, in English, the part of speech used as a substitute for an antecedent noun that
is clearly understood, and with which it agrees in person, number, and gender. as in "That's the
car which I bought it". 7. The use of the verbs "take", "make" and "have". Arabic does not have
the verb "have" as English does,

In the case of lessons with the EG entailing these items, they began with an explanation of how
the two languages differed. Various exercises, including limited use of translation, were used to
afford practice of the items both orally and in written form. Great emphasis was placed on the
understanding of grammar and lexical meaning Noun 1. lexical meaning - the meaning of a
content word that depends on the nonlinguistic concepts it is used to express
content word, open-class word - a word to which an independent meaning can be assigned and
the necessity for a conscious effort to commit it to memory and to use it correctly. In the the case
of the CG, the CA items were given no special treatment but simply taught as were the other
non-CA aspects, that is with a largely inductive inductive

1. eliciting a reaction within an organism.


inductive heating
a form of radiofrequency hyperthermia that selectively heats muscle, blood and proteinaceous
tissue, sparing fat and air-containing tissues. approach but with the addition of grammatical
summaries at the end of sections. In the case of the non-CA items, the EG received the same
treatment as the CG. Thus the essential difference between the two groups was in the treatment
of the CA items.

During the forty week period, there were five series of tests, eight weeks apart. Each series
consisted of written, aural aural /au·ral/ (aw´r'l)
1. auditory (1).

2. pertaining to an aura.

au·ral 1
Relating to or perceived by the ear. and oral tests. Subsequent statistical analysis by means of t-
scores produced the following results. The EG performed significantly better on the CA items
than did the CG in all three tests though the findings were the least significant in the oral parts.
Thus, the treatment of the CA input was appreciably more Effective with the EG than with the
CG in reducing the number of errors. It might be argued, however, that the difference may be
accounted for by the fact that the greater emphasis on the CA items may have caused the
significant difference. Equally, it might be argued that the EG had different teachers to the CG.
However, if these arguments were valid one would expect that these differences would effect the
results on the non-CA items. They apparently did not. The CG and the EG results for the non-CA
items revealed no significant difference. It is, therefore, valid to conclude that it was the
providing of CA input to the teaching of the CA items and the subsequent practice which
produced the better performance on the part of the EG. This finding confirms other research
already referred to; furthermore, research in the new field of language awareness provides further
support for the advantage of providing CA input. (See Kupferberg & Olshtain 1995 and Trevise

Of course, one must be careful about generalising such findings to all teaching situations for it is
not all learners who can benefit equally from explicit instruction. However, it does demonstrate
the invalidity of the 70's absolute rejection of the usefulness of CA input in FSLT and though it
may not result in publishers' accepting the usefulness of CA input and though it may not result
immediately in a change in the policy of only producing monolingual text books, it is to be
hoped that it will encourage those involved in FSLT to introduce CA input into their various
classroom teaching strategies.

A contrastive analysis describes the structural differences and similarities of two or more
languages. As an area of enquiry, contrastive analysis (CA) is concerned with the principles and
uses of such descriptions. It implies a belief in language universals; as in any contrast, if there
were no features in common, there would be no basis for comparison. (A cuckoo and a crow can
be compared more easily than a cuckoo and a cough.) Broadly defined, CA has been used as a
tool in historical linguistics to establish language genealogies, in comparative linguistics to
create language taxonomies and in translation theory to investigate problems of equivalence. In
language teaching it has been influential through the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH)
which claims that difficulties in language learning derive from the differences between the new
language and the learner's first language, that errors in these areas of difference derive from first
language interference and that these errors can be predicted and remedied by the use of CA. The
CAH was widely influential in the 1950s and 1960s, but from the 1970s its influence
dramatically declined. This was due in part to the supplanting of structuralist linguistics, with
which it was closely associated. The CAH was also at odds with the views in SLA and inter-
language theory that only a small proportion of errors derived from first language interference. In
recent years the reputation of CA has revived. This is due in part to a reappraisal of the role of
interference and also to the extension of CA to pragmatics and discourse analysis.

In a broad sense, CA has always been practised in linguistics and is implicit in many language
teaching materials. However, it was the structuralist linguists of the 1940s and 1950s (see
structuralism) who promoted the term and drew explicit attention to the relevance for language
teaching of linguistic description in general and of contrastive descriptions in particular. Fries
(1945), for example, summarized the CAH by writing that:

The most efficient materials are those that are based upon a scientific description of the language
to be learned carefully compared with a parallel description of the native language of the learner.

The first systematic and extensive formulation of the CAH was by Lado (1957) in Linguistics
across Cultures: Applied linguistics for teachers, a book which is widely regarded as having
launched the CA ‘movement’ in language teaching. Using structuralist linguistic methods, Lado
set out procedures for the comparison of phonology, grammar and vocabulary, and discussed
ways in which such analyses might be relevant to syllabus and materials design, methodology
and testing. He also embarked upon a simplistic contrastive analysis of cultures. His methods are
most successful in the area of pronunciation (where interference is evident, extensive and easily
described), rather less successful in the description of grammar and lexis, and least successful of
all in the analysis of culture. The book inspired an eruption of activity in contrastive analysis and
the 1960s saw numerous research projects and publications. The same period saw parallel work
using CA in lexicology and in translation (Catford, 1965). Another active area at this time was
the empirical study of language universals (Greenberg, 1963) using CA to categorize languages
by structural similarities and differences.

The growing challenge to structuralist linguistics mounted by chomskyan linguistics from the
late 1950s onwards initially contributed to the decline of the CA. There was also disenchantment
with the over-confidence of the structuralists that insights from linguistics would lead
automatically to improvements in language learning and teaching. (In contrast, Chomsky wisely
disclaimed any direct relevance of his theories to language teaching.) A rejection of CA does not
follow from the abandoning of structural linguistics, however, for its principles may stand
independently of any particular school of linguistic description, and indeed di Pietro (1971)
produced an influential approach to CA based on transformational generative grammar.

A more fatal blow to the CAH was the widespread acceptance of the morpheme acquisition
studies claiming that foreign language errors derived more from a natural order of acquisition
(see natural order hypothesis) than from first language interference. These studies received
theoretical backing from the writings of Krashen. In addition, the theory of interlanguage listed a
number of sources of error of which first language interference was only one. error analysis, the
examination of attested learner errors, began to replace the error prediction of CA. Although the
morpheme studies were soon discredited and the importance of interference re-established, the
fashion for contrastive analysis had passed. Its rapid decline was furthered by a growing Anglo-
centricity in English language teaching. The promotion of native-speaker monolinguals as
teachers is at odds with CA, as such teachers often do not have the necessary knowledge of their
students’ languages to use CA. In addition, a systematic application of CA was impossible in
classes of a type very common in the English-speaking countries, with students from several
language backgrounds.

Recent years have seen some revival of interest in CA under new names. In Chomskyan
linguistics the growing interest in parameter setting contributed to some revival, as has the study
of transfer analysis in SLA.

Although CA of linguistic systems for language teaching has never been revived on the scale of
the 1960s, an interest has developed in contrastive pragmatics and discourse analysis, based on a
premise very similar to that of the CAH: that descriptions of areas of difference can be used to
predict areas of difficulty for learners (James, 1980). As in linguistic CA, contrastive pragmatics
(Thomas, 1983) has relied upon statements of universal principles in order to elucidate different
realizations. The Contrastive Rhetoric Hypothesis has developed the notion that ‘different speech
communities have different ways of organising ideas in writing, which reflect their cultural
thought patterns’ (Kachru, 1995) and that such differences may cause failure of communication
for learners. Both contrastive rhetoric and CP encounter the problem that there is no one-to-one
relationship between language and culture or between culture and nation, and that there is far less
homogeneity in the discourse and pragmatic behaviour among members of a given culture than
there is in their language. Yet despite theoretical and descriptive problems, many interesting
insights have been achieved, and both areas are undoubtedly important to an understanding of
the ability to communicate in a foreign language.