Interlanguage fossilization is a phenomenon of second language acquisition (SLA) in which second language learners turn linguistic features that are correct in their first language into permanent errors in the way they speak and write the new language. (Wikipedia.org, 2019) Direct translation, a more specific form of fossilization is mentioned by many teachers as one of the biggest language learning challenges. According to italki German teacher Daniela Fries, students who learn their first foreign language sometimes find it hard to get used to the new language's structure and try to translate literally. Have you encountered similar situations where students constantly repeat their mistakes as they are influenced by the habits of their mother tongue?
- Working on differences and develop a feeling for the language
I have an American student who reached a B1 level of German as far as reading and understanding is concerned but was stuck at A1 as far as her use of grammar was concerned. I could tell from her written homework assignments that she translated literally from English to German and eventually decided to let her translate English A2 level text to German in class. Instead of translating word by word, we worked on the structural differences between English and German and how to express certain grammatical structures (eg. the English progressive form which doesn't exist in German). Step by step, she developed a feeling for the language and stopped thinking in English all the time. It's not something I'd do with every student but it was a solution for her and shows how important it is to use different approaches for different people.
-- by German Teacher, Daniela Fries
I often find that students from English-speaking countries do not know their own grammar, which makes Spanish grammar more boring or more complicated, because some grammar does not exist in their mother tongue. Therefore, I have studied English morphology and syntax in order to give them examples with their mother tongue and explain concepts to them. Later I do the same in the Spanish language. It has been super useful and beneficial.
-- by Spanish Teacher, Carmen
Students can be influenced by their mother tongue or other languages they know. Depending on each country, they have different problems when pronouncing. Chinese students have a hard time pronouncing the "rr". Practice as much as possible with them and work with audios in their spare time to improve pronunciation on their own. Always motivate your students and in no case make them feel bad for their mistakes. The best advice I can give is to study the language by yourself. It will help you a lot to understand how your students feel and will make you improve as a teacher.
-- by Spanish Teacher, Irene
- Create awareness of mistakes and do on-the-spot correction
It has been said that the first step to change is awareness. Most Italki students are not aware of their fossilized mistakes, so it is our duty as their teacher to help them. Most of the mistakes are articles, plurals, and verb tenses. After explaining each mistake to the student, I make a list. During a 5-minute conversation and I mark each time they make a mistake. After I show it to them, it encourages them to try harder the next time. Now, they are aware of their error. Then, we continue the conversation for another 3 minutes, but I always do on-the-spot correction when I hear the mistake. I either say, "mm?" or "excuse me?" and they correct it themselves. After this, I do another 5 minutes of conversation and silently notice their errors. Most of the time, the students auto-correct during this round. For homework, I give them questions to answer in an audio file. When they hear themselves speak, they become more aware and the fossilized errors become fewer and improve.
-- by English Teacher, Morgan Worden
Students from Brazil tend to struggle with aspirated consonants and struggle with words ending in 'y' (technology, security) and words such as 'office' and 'suffice.' To help them overcome these difficult sounds, I like to draw attention to them as soon as the opportunity arises with new students. I like to use the aid of videos to demonstrate these sounds and clearly explain the mechanics of aspirated sounds. More generally, I also love to tell my students that you cannot pronounce certain sounds in English without feeling a little silly at times (think about 'th'). I like to share my own mishaps with language learning to help them understand how small pronunciation mistakes can mean a big misunderstanding. This often helps them relax and make more efforts to unfamiliar sounds.
-- by English Teacher, James
Students from China generally can read and write clearly with the exception of the fossilized errors of articles and gender confusion. Their main struggle is pronunciation. The letters are short /i/, /r/, and /l/. Most Chinese learned English pronunciation from a Chinese teacher who also had poor pronunciation and the method of instruction was only "listen- repeat." This means that Chinese students find it difficult to follow other methods. However, I have found that explaining mouth mechanics to a Chinese native successful. Although they are bashful, I encourage them to use their "selfie" feature of their cell phone so they can see where they need to put their tongue, jaw, and lips to create the sound. Then, we use listening exercises of minimal pairs to verify understanding of the sounds. This method has worked well and they generally are able to achieve the correct accent.
Portuguese is a syllable-timed language and the Brazilian students tend to give emphasis to each word, compromising their pronunciation. Regarding grammar, most Brazilians struggle with to/for and make/do. I explain to them with pictures that “to” is movement and/or verbs whereas “for” is “purpose” and/or nouns. Then using Paint, I give them various sentences and they need to fill in the blanks.
-- by English Teacher, Morgan Worden
- Use vivid examples or games to explain the reason behind the grammar rule
When teaching the present perfect in English to students who have no concept of this tense in their language, I use the following example: Teacher: What time is it now in your country? Student: It is 2 pm. Teacher: So I guess you have eaten lunch, have you? Student: Yes. Teacher: What time did you eat your breakfast? Student 8 am. Teacher: Can you think of a reason why I said "what time did you eat breakfast" not "What time have you eaten breakfast." Student: I'm not sure. Teacher: Well, breakfast is not still in your stomach. It is not important anymore; it is not your current experience." Student: But lunch is still in my stomach, so you said "have you eaten lunch," but "did you eat breakfast!".
-- by English Teacher, IELTS Coach Kate
English and Czech teacher Nick Randl describes the three-step process to getting rid of repeat mistakes. First, help your student recognise the errors in context. Second, help your student understand and review the mistake and finally, let the student critically correct any repeated errors all by him/herself.