Negative transfer with languages

Most people, who have the gift to communicate in more than one language, will have experienced at some point the “negative transfer” affect. Probably it wouldn’t have been called a good gift by a time when the witch hunt was going on though.
Back to the subject; What is actually negative transfer? It refers to speakers or writers applying knowledge from one language to another language. That clears it up. If not, please go ahead and read below:
There is the primary language and then the second language, which you have learnt later on. There are the lucky once you have learnt two languages at the same time simultaneously. It seems to be more and more common that the children, who have mixed parents, from two different countries (obviously!) are getting the advantage of learning these at the same time. However, this might have positive or negative impacts. There is research ongoing how the child will get affected through them. Usually children with bilingual upbringings are late speakers and either they continue in both languages or fix on one. But as I said the research for this area is ongoing and has done a 180 degree change but I will come to that part at the paragraph regarding “Bilingual upbringing”

Negative transfer examples

These negative transfers are based on the universal language English. As it says in an article I recently read: “I wanted to let people not know only my “English language version”, which describes it perfectly. In another article I have read that the language you speak in makes you as a person seem like a different personality. Have you ever noticed that? The sound, the speed, the tone we use changes and adapts to the language spoken. It is almost if another “version”, as quoted above, is displayed whilst communicating in another language.

  • In your native language you can express some feelings better and the jokes in that language are not transferable. One of my favourite words in Turkish is “dinleme özürlu”, which means that the person you describe with this word has a “listening disability”, which is in English referred to someone, who is not good at listening. So, somehow within the translation the essence that the person is really bad at listening to almost comparable to a disability can be not interpreted as well. 
  • There are many other examples like when you think about a joke, which you tried to translate from one language to another and got barely the polite smiles out of other people. Also some expressions do not function. The famous “Niente” of Italians turns when used by non fluent English speakers the literal translation of “Nothing”, which you will experience at some point or another. 
  • In Persian the “he” and “she” is not defined therefore it is quite common that you will hear Iranian misuse the gender whilst describing the person or an event about the person. Unless the name is clear as female or male you will probably most likely guess during the entire conversation, which gender the described person is. 
  • Also Turkish say “sigara içiyorum”, where the literal translation is “I am drinking the cigarette”. 
  • When you hear a German saying “I have hunger” you can be certain that the person has used the literal translation from German, which is “Ich habe Hunger”. 

If you are long enough at a certain country within a nationality, you will pick up where the main mistakes are coming from and you can imagine which word or sentence is being presented literally translated to you. And if you stay even longer then you will recognise that you start doing the same “mistakes”.
Bilingual upbrining

The definition of bilingual is “Someone, who is fluent in more than one language and uses both languages on a regular basis.” A generation ago, the belief was that learning two languages with limit a child’s capability and that it would have a negative effect on that kid, when raised bilingual. Since that time the theory has been however revised. It is known that bilingual children are usually late “speakers” in order for the brain to absolve the languages. There is a temporary disadvantage in having a bilingual childhood, which is the negative transfer stated by the Professor Tony Cline of Luton University’s Centre for Education Studies is a psychologist specialising in language development in children as “The child sometimes applies the rules of one language to another, and so makes mistakes. But these grammatical ‘errors’ are trivial and soon outgrown. Any slight delays in language development are more than outweighed by the benefits of bilingualism” Some children rebel against the “minority language“, which makes the parent who speaks it feel rejected and upsets family relationships (

Also there are some disadvantages but the main one will be regarding the cultural identity issue. So, you speak two languages but what are you? Which nationality are you? At the end the advantages do outweigh the disadvantages due to the known reasons, which are open mindedness, empathy capability, multi tasking capability and so on.

 Adult learners

Mixing languages as described above is not only a practice used by children but is done also by adults. In Germany you will hear many Turkish speakers switching within the same sentence between Turkish and German. Usually when the word is not remembered immediately and pops up first or if one language describes the word better it is the used one.
Since English is the universal language, some countries do not invest as much than others in developing the languages. At some point or another you will hear a negative English speaker say the following words “ Why should I learn another language? Everyone speaks English”. Is it a good attitude or a bad one? Will is really impact that much the development of a certain place? Will a whole country go down because of lacking of improvement in learning other languages than English? We will see what happens in the future.
Having the ability of communicating in different languages is a brilliant thing and the most important advantage from this whole post is that if languages have the ability to increase our empathy towards others and help us to  maintain or increase our open mindedness, everybody should learn a second language. 

Empathy will bring us forward, more than any other characteristic.


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