Lecture Service for Secondary Schools - We help to motivate your students. Click for details

web counter
web counter


Return to Index page

Dr Klaus Bung
68 Brantfell Road
Blackburn BB1-8DL


© 2012 Klaus Bung

Teachers tell you WHAT to learn, IDYLL (R) shows you HOW to learn it.

previous/next bar go previous next page


Klaus Bung:
Equal goes it loose, or:
How to get rid of interference mistakes

In an Arabic-English language forum, an Arabic speaking member asked the English members for examples of errors caused by the learner's native language and for advice how to eliminate them.

Read more

2012-04-14 Equal goes it loose,
or: How to get rid of interference mistakes

In an Arabic-English language forum, an Arabic speaking member asked the English members for examples of errors caused by the learner's native language and for advice how to eliminate them.

The mistakes which the questioner has in mind are technically called "native language interference" (often shortened to "interference"). A great percentage of all mistakes made by language learners are of this type. There is no point in asking a teacher or an informant (e.g. native English speakers in the group) to produce such examples and then suggest how to eliminate them.

Moreover, if the English informant does not know Arabic, he CAN see and correct the English mistake that has been made, but he can NOT know whether it is due to interference or some other cause.

In our group, the best way of eliminating such mistakes is the following:

  1. Let the learner (in our case Arab learner of English) make his mistake.
  2. The informant corrects the mistake and, if necessary, explains in terms of English grammar what is wrong.
  3. Now THE LEARNER (who knows his native language) should think about what caused his mistake. If it is due to interference, then he should increase his awareness of this danger and watch out for this potential mistake in everything he writes.
  4. He should also before posting anything read it carefully and try to find mistakes. There should be fewer typing mistakes than we often find in this group. (It is impossible to eliminate typing mistakes altogether, but one can try to reduce them by careful checking.)
  5. Careful checking and finding one's own mistakes is easier if you do NOT post into Facebook directly. Write all your contributions in Notepad first, then check them (perhaps even print them for checking because it is easier to spot mistakes on paper than on the screen). When the contribution has been carefully checked, copy and paste it into Facebook. Do not let other people find mistakes which you can find yourself.

Once you have found such mistakes, intermediate students can combat them further by using the SENTAL METHOD.  If you concentrate on one type of mistake for a while, as suggested by SENTAL, you can eliminate it.

In brief, learners of English are well capable of producing plenty of mistakes of their own. They do not need native speakers of English (their informants) to produce such mistakes for them.

The fact that Arabic does not have the copula verb (is, are, was, etc), which English idiotically requires, regularly causes mistakes in English. Arab learners of English should be able to find this mistake on their own in their own writing.

But there are hundreds of other possibilities of interference mistakes, too many to list here. Just wait until you have made them. Then try to recognise and eliminate them.

Interference in other languages

What is said here about interference mistakes applies to ALL PAIRS OF LANGUAGES.

The examples I gave are therefore NOT in any way embarrassing for the Arabic speakers in our group. On the contrary, they are a BADGE OF HONOUR for them. Mistakes are the rungs (steps) on the ladder to success. Be proud of your mistakes.

English people are known for their ingenuity. They are also prone to making interference mistakes in Arabic. They avoid such mistakes by not learning Arabic. If you do not learn Arabic, you cannot possibly make Arabic mistakes. This is therefore a method which I highly recommend. It will always be 100% successful.

There is a Latin proverb which can be applied to this situation: "O, si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses" (Oh, if you had kept your mouth shut, you would have remained a wise man).

Lübke English

The most famous example of a great and kind man who did not keep his mouth shut and therefore made an interference mistake was former German president, Heinrich Lübke (1884-1972), in office from 1959 to 1969.

I take the following from Wikipedia:

-- quote starts --

Lübke was a very bad public speaker and was frequently subject to ridicule, especially near the end of his term of office when his age and his failing health started to affect his memory. He frequently forgot where he was (Lübke: "When I talk to you today in...eh... in.." Voice from the crowd shouting: "Helmstedt!" Lübke: "...eh...when I talk to you today in ... Helmstedt, then it was following my own will...", etc..). This was further ridiculed in the German translation of Danger Mouse, where Penfold is called "Lübke" and is frequently ordered to "shut up" (Lübke, Schnauze!)

According to the most famous anecdote, in 1962 he addressed a crowd in Liberia: "Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Negroes...". This quote has never been verified, however, and is most likely an urban legend (according to the weekly newspaper Die Zeit). Various other slips are well documented, though. His word-for-word translations of German into English (see Lübke English) were also the subject of much mockery.

Tapes from Lübke's speeches were collected by the German satirical magazine Pardon and distributed on a best-selling record.

-- quote ends --

google: "Lübke English"

There are more examples of Lübke English, i.e. the result of interference. When the Queen (of England) came to Germany for a state visit, from 18 to 28 May 1965, Lübke and the Queen were waiting for a fireworks display to start. Lübke tried his "English" on her (a German never misses a chance when he has an educated native speaker handy and he doesn't have to pay a teacher), literally translating a German idiom into English: "Gleich geht es los" (= It will start any minute now), but he translated:
gleich = equal,
geht = goes,
es = it,
los = loose,
and said accordiingly: "Equal goes it lose". The Queen must have been perplexed, but some journalists overheard it.

The following morning all German newspapers had banner headlines, such as:

All these are German idioms, translated into English word by word. If you don't know German, you cannot possibly understand them. You have to translate them back into German, word by word (and study German for five years) to know what they mean.

But this incident unleashed the internationally famous German sense of humour. During the weeks that followed the *** German *** newspapers and magazines were inundated with readers' letters, poems and articles written in this new language, Lübke English, and they were published.

Contrastive analysis

The differences between pairs of languages (any two languages) have been studied systematically to help teachers help students avoid interference mistakes; e.g. German-English, Spanish-English, French-English etc. This field of study is called "contrastive analysis". There are such studies for Arabic as well. There are also studies in "error analysis" for Arab students learning English.

"contrastive analysis", arabic, english

Here stand I poor black man and sing

To conclude with, here is the beginning of a poem written in Lübke English:

Here stand I poor black man and sing
And nobody let what for me spring.
Total groggy I can me no more out
All is now plem plem no doubt
And overall is abgegrast;
By me is now Matthaei on last
Let it once said be,
zis pi pa po hangs me
Meterlong to ze mouse

Teachers tell you WHAT to learn, IDYLL (R) shows you HOW to learn it.