A Cognitive Approach on Bidirectional Language Transfer: How to Figure Out the Ground?


The purpose of this study is to examine the bi-directional language transfer between Mandarin and English from the cognitive approach. While previous studies mostly focused on “transfer” from the habit of L1 (Kleinmann, 1977) or avoid to use L1-L2 different forms (Laufer and Eliasson,1993). Our research questions are: Does bidirectional language transfer exist? And how is it correlated with L1 and L2 proficiency. We conducted a cognition-based experiment with 33 participants using picture description task (Isurin, 2005) to test the ‘figure-ground’ relationship in L1 Mandarin and L2 English. Our study differed in the way that: First, we chose speech rather than written form. Second, we included the two possible directions of influence. Third, certain forms of L2 may be dispreferred by learners due to their grammatical complexity (Dagut & Laufer, 1985), therefore we adopted a cognitive approach to narrow down the interference. The results interestingly showed that bi-directional transfer did occur within the whole speech structure and not only on specific sentence, especially in learners of higher L2 proficiency level. We provided explanation through cognition and Krashen (1982)’s Monitor Model. As an example: advanced L2 English learners displayed higher tendency of shifting from L1 Mandarin since they had sufficient knowledge to create an English sentence reflecting the Mandarin pattern but at the same time grammatical according to their L2 interlanguage. As conclusion, language habits are strong. That is why L1 transfer to L2. However, with the increased L2 experience, the L2 pattern will also influence one’s cognitive system, resulting in bi-directional transfer.

Author Information
Marc Tang, National Chengchi University, Taiwan
Min-Hsin Chen, National Chengchi University, Taiwan

Paper Information
Conference: ACLL2015
Stream: Conversation analysis

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