THE the L1 of most Indonesians is Bahasa Indonesia.


Dewi Rosaria Indah

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Abstract. Learning new language can
be a striving effort because of the differences in rules between the L1 and L2.
In Indonesia, English is a foreign language while the L1 of most Indonesians is
Bahasa Indonesia. Students learn both of these languages since elementary
school. They make mistakes and errors. To understand and to fix the problem of
the difficulties, a study on L1 interference has been conducted. There are some
approaches to investigate L1 interference. Some of them are discussed in this
paper. They are the contrastive analysis that focuses on negative transfer. The
second is the hierarchy of difficulty. It gives a way on how to analyze error
through six levels that the center of attention is using contrast and comparing
between L1 and L2. The last is the error analysis. It covers most of the two
approaches above. It also considers the learners’ language culture. This paper
is intended to give an overview on what and how to choose an appropriate
approach to conduct a L1 investigation, especially in writing. Writing is a
product of learners that is easy to observe because they are in form of
writing. Hopefully using an appropriate approach to study L1 interference will
help both the teacher and the students to a better teaching and learning in

Keywords: transfer, interlanguage,
contrastive analysis, and error analysis.



new language is interesting for some people and may be challenging for the
others or can be a penance for the rest. Learning new language is penance
because it is difficult. It is difficult because of the differences in rules.
Each language has its own grammar that governs the usage.

Indonesians have Bahasa Indonesia as their first language. If, it cannot be
said like that, then Bahasa Indonesia has the first place for most of Indonesians
to be used as a means of communication. Bahasa Indonesia is the national and
official language. Students learn Bahasa Indonesia and they use it at schools
where they spend some of their days in.

schools, the students also learn other languages, like local language, the
ethnical language where they live and others. Some of the other languages are
Chinese or Mandarin, Japanese and English. English is a foreign language. It is
taught from the elementary level. Some students find it difficult to learn
English. Ruddel (2007:47) quotes Krashen who says that to understand the
content of communication, we use what we already know about the language. This
is done by focusing on both structures and understanding the meaning of a
communication containing new structures. Learning new structures means learning
grammatical competence that which part of communicative competence (Yule,
2006:169). Moreover, Brown
(2000:68) states that the adult learner’s first language affects second
language linguistic process. Bahasa
Indonesia affects the students’ English.

Indonesia and English as any other languages have rules and grammar.
Consequently, the rules and grammars are not the same. The same rules will help
students to learn while on the other hand, the differences will impede. This
makes learning English difficult for the students. Thus, from the differences
between Bahasa Indonesia and English, students make mistakes and errors.

of L1 interference has been conducted all this time. Mostly, they are to find
out what errors that learners make. Assumed, this paper will help both teacher
and students. Among the four skills, writing is easier to be observed because
it is one of the forms of the learners’ product in learning a language. Senior
high school students are often required to make compositions in performing the
writing skill. They are somewhat in intermediate level in learning English,
considering English has been learned from elementary school.

and what kind of approaches that appropriate to choose to conduct a study of  L1 interference in students’ writing study is
going to be discussed in this paper.

The Approaches in L1 Interference Study

The theory of the second language interfered had develop since 1950s and
1960s (Connor, 1996:12). The major model of research that focus on the
negative, interfering effects on second language acquisition is assumed as the
theory of the second language learning. All of the approaches below will deal
with the words interference and transfer.

Interference refers to language interactions like linguistic borrowing
and language switching, that occur when two language are in contact while in
the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis states that interference takes place
because the differences between L1 and L2 that makes the learners have
difficulties in learning L2 (Dulay, Burt & Krashen, 1982).

Furthermore Dulay, Burt & Krashen (1982:101) say that transfer is
defined by Behaviorist psychologist as an automatic process, uncontrolled, and
subconscious using past learned behaviors to produce new responses.

Transfer is divided into two: negative and positive.
While the negative transfer is transfer that is the error result then, the
positive transfer refers to the correct results of both the old habitual
behavior in producing new behavior. 

A.    The Contrastive Analysis

(1996:13) said, “The contrastive analysis was originally developed by Fries in
1945 and expanded by Lado in 1957.” The contrastive analysis claimed that a
learner’s first language affects the learner’s second language and it makes the
learner has difficulties in learning the second language.

difficulties arise because there are different structures from L1 to the L2.
This kind of error is said to be the L1 interference (Dulay, Burt &
Krashen, 1982: 97). The Contrastive analysis describes the two languages
structures so that it can determine valid contrast or comparison, or
differences between them.

structure of the L1 is not the only thing that influences the production of L2
but also culture of L1. Robert Lado as quoted by Brown (2000:208) states that
there is an assumption about things that make difficulty and not causing
difficulty by using the prediction and the description that this is done by
comparing the language and the culture of the student systematically.

the contrastive analysis is the approach to study the L1 interference by
contrasting or comparing the structures of the L1 and L2. To make it more
complete, the culture of the student should be one of the consideration in
making the investigation.

B.     The Hierarchy of Difficulty

There is a well-known model proposed by Stockwell,
Bowen, and Martin in 1965 (Brown, 2000:209). This model of approach is a
support to what some researchers said to be empirical method of prediction.
This enables a teacher or linguist make a prediction of the relatively
difficulty of the L2. In making contrast in phonological, there are eight possible
degrees of difficulty. The degree is based on the notion of transfer that is
divided into three: positive, negative and zero.

Stockwell also provided a hierarchy in investigating
L1 through grammatical structures of the L1 and L2 as illustrated below (Brown,

0—Transfer. That is no difference or contrast present between the two
languages. The learner can simply transfer (positively) a sound, structure, or
lexical item from the native language to the target language. Examples: English
and Spanish cardinal vowels, word order, and certain words (mortal, inteligente, arte, americanos).

1—Coalescence. Two items in the native language become coalescence into
essentially one item in the target language. This requires that learners overlook
a distinction they have grown accustomed to. Examples: English third-person
possessiveness require gender distinction (his/her),
and in Spanish they do not (su); an
English speaker learning French must overlook the distinction between teach and learn, and use just the one word apprendre in French.

2—Underdifferentiation. An item in the native language is absent in the target
language. The learner must avoid that item. Examples: English learners of
Spanish must “forget” such items as English do
as a tense carrier, possessive forms of wh-
words (whose), or the use of some with mass nouns.

3—Reinterpretation. An item that exists in the native language is given a new
shape or distribution. Example: an English speaker learning French must learn
new distribution for nasalized vowels.

4—Overdifferentiation. A new item entirely, bearing little if any similarity to
the native language item, must be learned. Example: an English speaker learning
Spanish must learn to include determiners in generalized nominals (Man is
mortal/ El hombre es mortal), or most commonly, to learn Spanish grammatical
gender inherent in nouns.

Level 5—Split. One item in
the native language becomes two or more in the target language, requiring the
learner to make a new distinction. Example: an English speaker learning Spanish must learn the distinction
between ser and estar (to be), or the distinction between Spanish indicative and
subjunctive moods.

The Error Analysis

Learners in learning a new
language make mistakes and errors. The production of a learner is the
representative of the learner’s performance and competence. According to Brown
(2000:216) performance is the overtly and concrete manifestation of competence
while competence refers to one’s underlying knowledge of a system, event, facts
that are non-observable.  

Mistake is the performance
error that does not relate to the learner’s competence that is due to things
like slips of tongue. According to James as quoted by Brown (2000:216) a
learner cannot correct an error by himself. The learner is not aware that this
is an error and that he may not know or understand how it should be. How error
is made and why is illustrated into an investigation named, the error analysis.

The error analysis according
to Brown (2000: 217) is generated because the learners of L2 are apt to make
errors and that these errors can be observed, analyzed, and classified to
reveal something.

From this analysis, the term
interlanguage emerged. The term “interlanguage’ was defined by Selinker, Swain,
and Dumas in 1975 (Connor, 1996: 13) and it refers to a different system from
both the L1 and L2. Interlanguage research has excluded semantics, phonology,
and pragmatics by including only syntax.

Brown (2000:218) claims two
important things: first, that the error analysis is different from the
contrastive analysis and second, that the error analysis left the contrastive
analysis behind. The error analysis covers all possible sources, not only
negative transfer. The error analysis takes place the contrastive analysis
because learners make only some error that is transferred from the L1. Learners
do not make all errors that the contrastive analysis predicts; thus, the
contrastive analysis cannot cover all the errors and explain the findings.

Furthermore, Brown adds that
errors are an overt manifestation of learner’s systems. Errors emerge from
general things. They are interlingual errors of interference from the L1 or
within the L2, the sociolinguistic context of communication and also psycholinguistic
or cognitive strategies. Error is not just a matter of lack of knowledge but
also the impact of the way the social communication and cognitive mold the way
a learner communicate.

The first step in the
process of the error analysis is the identification and the description of
errors. The error is distinguished between overt and covert. An overt error is
ungrammatical at sentence level. A covert error describes error in discourse
level. It is more difficult to recognize and analyze a covert error because it
also puts context in the discourse into account. In writing form, it is easier
to recognize and cite ungrammatical sentences.

Brown (2000:222) gives
categories to describe errors.

The most general
omission that can be identified are: errors in addition, omission,
substitution, and ordering, using technical terms, mathematics terms for

Look at the
levels of language: phonology or orthography, lexicon, grammar, and discourse.

Global or local
errors according to (Burt & Kiparsky 1972). Global errors caused the hearer
confused because it is impossible to interpret. Local error is only minor error
and the hearer can still guess the meaning.

Domain and
extend errors. Domain refers to the linguistic level unit from the smallest:
phoneme to discourse. All of these should be put in context to make the error
vivid. The extend error is the rank in linguistic unit that would have to be
deleted, replaced, supplied, or reordered. The phrase “a scissors” will give a
description. The domain is the phrase itself and the extend error is the
article, “a” in that phrase.

Analysis on second language
acquisition has undergone metamorphosis. From the contrastive analysis to the
error analysis, each of them has its own weaknesses and strengths. The
contrastive analysis has the weakness. It focuses on the negative transfer
only.  The error analysis covers also the
error that learners make as what the contrastive analysis predicts. Error
analysis also puts the learner’s cognitive, psycholinguistic, language and sociolinguistic
communication background into account.

As long as there is learning
new language, there will always be error and mistake that learners of the new
language make. It is said the error analysis has been subsided recently;
therefore it is not too easy to find related study or find related literature.
One should be scrupulous in looking for them. Investigating error and mistake
is still needed since it can help both a teacher and students. It can help the
teacher to know, find and fix what should be given emphasized during the
teaching. For the students, it might help them to know what kind of error and
mistake that they tend to make so that later they can learn more and avoid
making the same mistake and error. 



Brown, H. D. (2000). Principles of Language
Learning And Teaching fourth edition. NY: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Connor, U. (1996). Contrastive Rhetoric.
(M. H. Richards, Ed.) New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Dulay, H., Burt, M., & Krashen, S. (1882).
Language Two. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ruddel, M. R. (2007). Teaching Content
Reading and Writing. Manhattan: Wiley.

Yule, G. (2006). The Study of Language 3rd
Edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, New York.