Scholarly article on topic 'Learning English in Algeria Through French-based Background Proficiency'

Learning English in Algeria Through French-based Background Proficiency Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Mohammed Nassim Negadi

Abstract With globalization leading to an ever-increasing connectedness of the world, learning a foreign language has become a requirement rather than an indulgence. Yet, learning a second and/or a third language may present a challenge and the issue in Algeria is no exception. In addition to the mother tongue (Arabic or Berber in some regions), French is the second most spoken language in the country, and thus, its relatedness with other Western languages facilitates the learning of English as a third language. Already acquired, not only in the primary school process but also in the community's linguistic practices, French helps learners to develop proficiency in English through the transfer of their French-based background, in particular the typological (syntactical and lexical) similarities between French and English. The aim of the study is to show that the learners’ prior linguistic experience in L2 may be a facilitator to learn an L3. In this study, a group of 25 male learners aged between 20 and 30 years old was chosen. Their L1 is Arabic. The participants are bilinguals (Arabic/French) with different levels of competence in French. They had to translate an English text into the language of their choice, i.e., either Arabic or French. The results have shown that learners who already know French find it easy to learn English because of their ability to use resources in L2 to learn L3.

Academic research paper on topic "Learning English in Algeria Through French-based Background Proficiency"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 199 (2015) 496 - 500

GlobELT: An International Conference on Teaching and Learning English as an Additional

Language, Antalya - Turkey

Learning English in Algeria through French-based background

proficiency

Mohammed Nassim NEGADIa*

_aUniversity of Tlemcen, 13000, Algeria_

Abstract

With globalization leading to an ever-increasing connectedness of the world, learning a foreign language has become a requirement rather than an indulgence. Yet, learning a second and/or a third language may present a challenge and the issue in Algeria is no exception. In addition to the mother tongue (Arabic or Berber in some regions), French is the second most spoken language in the country, and thus, its relatedness with other Western languages facilitates the learning of English as a third language. Already acquired, not only in the primary school process but also in the community's linguistic practices, French helps learners to develop proficiency in English through the transfer of their French-based background, in particular the typological (syntactical and lexical) similarities between French and English. The aim of the study is to show that the learners' prior linguistic experience in L2 may be a facilitator to learn an L3. In this study, a group of 25 male learners aged between 20 and 30 years old was chosen. Their L1 is Arabic. The participants are bilinguals (Arabic/French) with different levels of competence in French. They had to translate an English text into the language of their choice, i.e., either Arabic or French. The results have shown that learners who already know French find it easy to learn English because of their ability to use resources in L2 to learn L3.

© 2015 TheAuthors. PublishedbyElsevierLtd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of Hacettepe Universitesi.

Keywords: Bi/multilingualism; Second language; Third language; Language learning.

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +0-000-000-0000 ; fax: +0-000-000-0000 . E-mail address: nmnassim@yahoo.fr

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of Hacettepe Universitesi.

doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.07.537

1. Introduction

The effect of globalization is today deeply felt all over the world and bi/multilingualism is becoming more and more a common language phenomena. Competence in only one language is no more advantageous and being proficient in foreign languages is rather a requirement than a pleasure. The last three decades have witnessed a fast increase in interest in bi/multilingualism. In this research, the term bilingualism will also be used to refer to multilingualism. The focus of research on bilingual education is how to learn/teach languages in bilingual contexts since learning a foreign language may present a challenge to learners, teachers, and policy makers in many countries of the world, and Algeria is no exception. Indeed, in Algeria, where French is the second most spoken language, learning English as a third language is now felt more than ever, as a growing necessity in many domains of the individual's life. The benefits of bilingualism and bilingual education have been advocated for the last decades. In particular, findings in the area of third language learning and bilingualism, which has established itself as a field in its own right, have contributed to a better understanding of bilingual processes and use. In education, the focus is on how to teach foreign languages effectively and effortlessly in a relatively short time.

In the case of Algeria, an Arabic speaking country, it is possible to create a learning environment where English is taught by means of French. The relatedness of French with English may facilitate the learning of the latter as a third foreign language. Thus, due to the similarities and cross-linguistic influence of French and English, we assume that English can best be taught through French. However, this study does not suggest that L1 (Arabic) delays achieving control over L3 (English), but assumes that French may be used as a facilitator leading the learner of English to gain time and energy.

This research aims at looking at developing the process of learning English as an L3, typologically distant from Llspeakers, in a functional perspective. This implies to take into account the learners' prior linguistic experience in language learning as well as the sociolinguistic situation in Algeria. Following this introduction, this paper will proceed to review the literature about learning a third language in a bilingual context, to give an overview of the sociolinguistic situation of Algeria, to present the study methodology, and finally to give results and some recommendations.

2. Literature review

Until recently, research in foreign language learning/teaching and bilingualism has developed separately. This separation of related issues has its origin in the theoretical framework of both fields of study. Foreign language learning research stems from a pedagogical background whereas bilingualism research stems from a sociolinguistic one. One of the most crucial aspects of third language research, the effects of bilingualism on third language acquisition (TLA), clearly shows how intertwined the two research areas are. In other words, the move beyond the contact of two languages was a necessary prerequisite for researchers to become aware of the relatedness between bilingualism and foreign language learning/teaching. In this sense, bilingual education refers to education in more than one language, often encompassing more than two languages (Baker, 2006).

Bilingualism and bilingual education have received much interest in last decades. But, up to the 1960s, bilingualism was seen as a worthless language phenomenon deserving little attention. Such feeling originated from the monolingual ideology that using another language is a threat to one's mother tongue. Thus, many countries regarded bilingual education as a threat to their constitutional structures. At the individual level, learning foreign languages has always been a controversial issue. Early studies on bilingualism (e.g., Laurie, 1890; Jespersen, 1922; Saer, 1923; Smith, 1923) emphasized the negative effects of bilingualism on intelligence and cognition that would lead to psychological confusion among children (see Baker 2006). Among the specific problems is the phenomenon of interference described as negative transfer. Bilingual children were thought to be cognitively inferior to monolingual ones. Learning foreign languages at an early age is still a perplexing issue since, as Nikolov and Mihaljevic Djigunovic (2006: 234) assert, "On the one hand, early exposure is often seen as a key to success and a solution to all problems in language education; on the other hand, it may be perceived as a threat to first language development and identity."

However, researchers like Cummins, 1979, Klein, 1995, Sanz, 2000, Valencia & Cenoz, 1992, Hoffman, 2001 (for more details see Cenoz 2003) advocate the opposing view bringing evidence that bilingualism has a positive effect on children's cognitive development. For example, Peal and Lambert (1962) found that the bilingual group scored higher than the monolingual group on the measures of both verbal and nonverbal intelligence. In another study, while comparing monolingual and bilingual learners in Finland (Finnish-Swedish) learning English as their L3, Ringbom (1987) found that the bilinguals surpassed the monolinguals. Thomas (1988) found that bilingual learners in the USA (English-Spanish) performed significantly better than monolinguals when learning French. He argues that (p. 240):

Bilinguals learning a third language seem to have developed a sensitivity to language as a system which helps them perform better on those activities usually associated with formal language learning than monolinguals learning a foreign language for the first time.

The efficiency of bilingual education is that accumulated knowledge and learned skills in one language are transfer to the other language. The transfer is exponential when languages are typologically close to each other. For example, the similarities between the languages facilitate the learning of the vocabulary. As far as the Algerian context is concerned, learning English as an L3 may pose problems to some learners since Arabic and English are typologically distant. Yet, the sociolinguistic situation of Algeria reveals that in addition to the mother tongue, French is the second most spoken language in the country.

3. Language contact in Algeria

The sociolinguistic diversity in Algeria reveals the presence of different languages and varieties of languages, a diversity due to historical, social, economic and geographical events. Modern Standard Arabic is the official language of the country, used in formal settings, while Dialectal Arabic is the mother tongue of almost all Algerians except for some scattered parts in the country where Berber is spoken. Consequently, different languages and cultures have coexisted for centuries.

The French colonisation (1830-1962) has deeply affected the linguistic and cultural aspects of the country. The contact between Arabic^ and the French language and culture has resulted in bilingualism. The language contact may occur at different periods of the life of the speakers and may concern different degrees of competence in one of the four language skills, listening comprehension, speaking, reading or writing. In Algeria, for example, French, a socially-valued language, is often associated with modernity and technological advancement and it is still taught today as a second language at different levels, while at the university, it remains the language used for instruction in a number of streams, scientific, medical and technological, in particular. In their daily conversations, most Algerians code switch between Arabic and French.

This study tries to consider the following questions:

1. To what extent and how is French (L2) involved in learning English (L3)?

2. Does a typologically close language have more impact on learning an L3 than a distant one?

3. Can we speak about transfer of knowledge acquired in L2?

4. Methodology

In this study, a group of 25 male learners was chosen. They are aged between 20 and 30 years old and their L1 is Arabic. All the participants were bilinguals (Arabic/French) with different levels of competence in French. They were studying English as a foreign language in a private school. Living in Tlemcen or its outskirts, all of the learners

t . This work has focused on Arabic and French in Algeria, but Berber has not been dealt with.

have already studied English as a foreign language in school for at least 3 or 4 years and enrolled in an elementary level.

At the start, the participants were given a text in English and the instructions were given in English. The test was done in one session of approximately 60 minutes. They had to translate an English text about 'Robots' into the language of their choice, i.e., either Arabic or French. After the end of the allotted time (20 minutes for the test), the papers were collected. The participants were asked to explain orally what they understood and the difficulties they encountered during the task.

5. Results

In testing the learner's language abilities, it was found that learners with a higher proficiency in French were more proficient in English than the learners with low proficiency in French. The results showed particularly wide gaps in the command of English between the participants. Thus, two subgroups were identified: those who know French (20 learners) were able to understand and translate the text from English to French while those who hardly understand French, the remaining 5 learners, had more difficulties to understand and translate the English text. Among the reasons evoked by the majority of the learners who were able to translate the text are the orthography and word order similarities between French and English. They said that they understood the English text because of the similarity between the words used in French; thus it was easy to guess the meaning of the sentence. After learning a second language, learners can transfer the learning strategies they have acquired to subsequent language learning and become better language learners in general. The positive transfer of vocabulary processing skills from L2 to L3 occurs in the context of the two linguistically and orthographically close languages Cenoz; 2001, Cenoz et al; 2001). Therefore, the closeness of the languages has positive effects on third language learning in terms of vocabulary.

The ease of learning will be influenced by the proximity of languages. If the learner already knows French as a second language it will be a lot easier for him/her to learn English than another typologically unrelated language to English for example, Thai as a third language. According to Gallardo del Puerto (2007), "bilinguals who speak a language typologically similar to the target language tend to achieve a significantly better acquisition of the third language than bilinguals who do not have a language typologically close to the L3 in their linguistic background."

However, in some cases they admit that they misunderstand and mistranslate the sentence because the meaning of the word in French is not the same as in English. False friends, considered as a negative transfer, may become common and represent a true learning problem when they become frequent. The phenomenon of language transfer in such situation is an extremely complex process that occurs at all o levels, phonological, syntactic, semantic and recently on pragmatic level which may pose some problems of misunderstanding.

6. Recommendations

In Algeria, the French language must be seen as a richness that must not be neglected to be open to today's world. The parents and families should look at French as a good opportunity for their children and should be encouraged to share language and literacy with their children in whatever languages in which they are most comfortable, because learning new things first in the family languages will make the learning in an additional language easier and stronger. Algerian pupils learn French as the first foreign language at school and become quickly familiar with English when they begin learning it as French shares some characteristics with it. Therefore, they gain time in understanding the common structures of these languages and learn easily. Seeing the differences between their L1 and L3, learners may take more time to learn English. In addition and for a better result, an adequate learning environment for the learners of English must be created. When learning English, learners should be exposed to cultural entities and country features of that language. On the other hand, French should be used as a momentary language facilitator. Indeed, it is possible to use French only to help Algerian bilingual learners gain confidence in English. Then, when their English reaches a suitable level, they do not need to use French for learning anymore and the bilingual support can be removed.

7. Conclusion

Nowadays, learning foreign languages and especially English becomes more and more a requirement in many domains of the individual's life. Research in third language learning has shown that in many cases, bilingualism has a positive effect on learning a third language. The languages having common words and similar syntactical structures are easily learned. Yet, further research is needed on the impact of bilingualism on L3 acquisition in different bilingual communities. In this paper, we have suggested that teachers may use French if they are aware of the similarities between French and English to make a comparative teaching while false friends should be taken into consideration and explained to the learners.

Although in this study we have focused mainly on distance/closeness of the language typology, other factors, cultural, social such as age and gender, personal and historic, can also affect foreign language learning in Algeria. Third language learning must take into consideration the effects of variables such as age, gender, and the effects of prior linguistic experience on language learning as well as the use of the L1 and the L2. Language transfer at different levels (phonological, syntactic, semantic), can follow up other studies. Bilingual education can only be successful if language teaching in general is restructured and oriented towards bilingual norms. More fundamental work on multilingual education lies ahead of us and certainly presents challenges for researchers, educators and politicians involved in language planning.

8. Limitations of the Study

Though this study does not pretend to present comprehensive findings, it shows the positive relationship between bilingualism and L3 acquisition. The present study suffers from a few limitations that should be taken into consideration when interpreting its results: The small sample that threatens the ability of generalization; the English test was done only once; the absence of female learners.

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