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Interlanguage and Teacher Frustration

Are they learning? It sometimes seems like students aren’t learning. Or even worse that they are simply forgetting everything that they learned. It is important to remember that language learning is not linear.

Students create a complex interlanguage, while learning English. An interlanguage is a mental construct– a language that only exists in the learner’s head. The interlangauge may be similar in ways to a student’s native languages (L1) and the target language (L2), but it is in many ways different.

Many language educators may be very aware of interlanguage. Students’ interlanguage is individual and may follow completely different rules than their native language or English. Interlanguage rules are also more fluid and dynamic than normal language rules. Students’ perception of how past tense is made, for example, may be ever changing and developing.

This happened in my English class. The students “learned” simple past several months ago. They successfully completed two tests on the subject and used simple past correctly in classroom discussions, but NO ONE remembers it now. Sure they know some irregular verbs, but they don’t know how to ask questions or negate sentences.

Before I or any other teacher get too frustrated, we need to remember that language learning is not a simple progression from knowing one language to knowing a second language. Students are going to be constantly adjusting their interlanguage rules and sometimes that will make them perform more accurately and other times it will make them perform less accurate.

How can we as teachers overcome the frustration of learners’ mistakes?

I think, we need to remember that they are creating a complex interlanguage. And their interlangauge will become more and more like English, but it takes time. And it is not linear!

One Response to “Interlanguage and Teacher Frustration”

  1. Stitch Says:

    I’m not a teacher, but I’m a “experienced” ESL student.

    I think students share similar frustration as their teachers. As a Chinese as L1 speaker, there was no existence of the “Verb Tense” concept in my head. It was simply the most frustrating thing to learn (and I still make mistakes and get frustrated with it at times after living in the U.S. for many years), also because it is in every English sentence. Knowing the rules and passing the tests are definitely not enough.

    This is why I think people should use English, baby! I deeply believe that we learn language through using it. What we learned in classes was valuable to establish a framework, but the languages really comes alive when they are used. English, baby! offers a fun and encouraging environment for students to use what they learned in class in real life. I think it helps the development of students’ Interlanguage toward English.

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