Cross-linguistic Similarity in Foreign Language Learning

Author: Håkan Ringbom

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Multilingual Matters
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This book explores the importance of cross-linguistic similarity in foreign language learning. While linguists have primarily focussed upon differences between languages, learners strive to make use of any similarities to prior linguistic knowledge they can perceive. The role of positive transfer is emphasized as well as the essential differences between comprehension and production. In comprehension of related languages, cross-linguistic similarities are easily perceived while in comprehension of distant languages they are merely assumed. Production may be based on previous perception of similarities, but frequently similarities are here merely assumed. Initially, effective learning is based on quick establishment of cross-linguistic one-to-one relations between individual items. As learning progresses, the learner learns to modify such oversimplified relations. The book describes the ways in which transfer affects different areas of language, taking account of the differences between learning a language perceived to be similar and a language where few or no cross-linguistic similarities can be established.

This book is a very timely and important contribution to the field of applied linguistics. Håkan Ringbom addresses the fundamental but unfortunately largely neglected question of the impact of cross-language similarity in foreign language learning. The extensive bibliography shows that the author has as a thorough knowledge of the development of research on the topic. He has also skillfully exploited the Finnish context, which provides an ideal "natural laboratory" for research on the role of cross-language similarity. The studies he cites are likely to be largely unknown but they are undoubtedly highly relevant to the international research community. The author provides a balanced review of the findings and presents a comprehensive theoretical approach to the study of SLA. This will provide many stimuli for a more sophisticated research agenda. This book is a must for anyone interested in SLA.

The volume evokes an array of interesting issues for future research to investigate, some new and some perennial. The volume makes an important addition to SLA literature. It deserves the attention of anyone striving for a sound understanding not only of crosslinguistic influence but also of the history of SLA.

SSLA Vol 30:3

Ringbom's latest work provides a thorough summary of cross-linguistic research that is readily applicable to the language teacher as well as the researcher.This text will assuredly contribute to your knowledge of language acquisition and stimulate your classroom practice and research horizons for years to come.

The Language Teacher 31:9, September 2007

Håkan Ringbom is Emeritus Professor of English at Åbo Akademi University, Turku/Åbo, Finland. His published monographs include a study of the narrative technique of Beowulf and Lawman's Brut, a stylistic study of George Orwell's essays and his 1987 study of the role of the first language in foreign language learning. He has also published some 50 articles in the fields of second language acquisition, multilingualism, corpus linguistics, contrastive analysis and stylistics.


1. Introduction

2. Different Types of Cross-linguistic Similarities

3. Learner Expectations, On-line Comprehension and Receptive Learning

4. Cross-linguistic Similarities in Comprehension and Production: The Mental Lexicon

5. Transfer: The Use of Cross-linguistic Similarities. The Finnish Scene

6. Tests of English Comparing Finnish and Swedish Speakers in Finland

7. Levels of Transfer: Items and Procedures (Systems)

8. Item Transfer in Production: Areas of Language

9. Skill Theory, Automaticity, and Foreign Language Learning

10. The Development of Foreign Language Learning

11. Consequences for Teaching

12. Further Research Needed

13. Conclusion



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