January 22, 2018

Interlanguage of Bangla Speakers in Learning English

 Interlanguage of Bangla speakers in Learning English

 by Shahinur Islam & Rezaul Karim


During the learning of the second language, learners develop their own language, which is neither the native language nor the target language. This is known as ‘interlanguage’ which continues being constructed until the standard level is achieved. This paper endeavours to pinpoint and explore the interlanguage of the Bangla speakers to learn English as a foreign language by exemplifying and drawing comparisons between the two languages. The development of interlanguage, which is actually the learners’ individual language constructed under the influence of  their native language to a great extent  and the target language to some extent, can be identified with five cognitive processes— ‘language transfer’, ‘transfer of training’, ‘strategies of L2 learning’, ‘strategies of L2 communication’ and ‘overgeneralisation’. Thus while learning the foreign or target language in a considerable variety of interlanguage between systematic and unsystematic linguistic forms and rules, the learners from their point of view may perceive it correct what they say whereas the native speakers from their standpoint consider it incorrect.

Key Words: interlanguage, transfer, cognitive, communicative strategy, overgeneralisation


Interlanguage, which is the personal or individual language of the learners of a foreign or second language developed steadily in the entire process up to the acceptable level of picking up the target language, receives substantial importance. From the beginning of learning English to the reaching of a standard of that language, the English learners of Bangla speakers usually express their ideas and feelings in interlanguage. Because of their lack of full capacity to express in the target language, they take recourse to it, and thus develop their ability by creating their own variety through trial and error. But this variety is in no way tantamount to that of the native speakers. The importance of interlanguage, nevertheless, cannot be undermined as they learn the language in their calumniating phase until and unless they fail to master the English language. Interlanguage can be defined as “the type of language produced by second- and foreign-language learners who are in the process of learning a language.”(Richards, John, and Heidi 145)

Another definition of interlanguage is available in Wikipedia, where it is said that interlanguage is a continuous process until enough proficiency is gained:

An interlanguage is an emerging linguistic system that has been developed by a learner of a second language (or L2) who has not become fully proficient yet but is approximating the target language: preserving some features of their first language (or L1), or overgeneralising target language rules in speaking or writing the target language and creating innovations. An interlanguage is idiosyncratically based on the learners’ experiences with the L2.(“Interlanguage”)

Interlanguage is embedded on the theory that there is a “psychological structure latent in the brain” which is activated when one tries learning a second or foreign language.  Larry Selinker is said to have pioneered the theory, but Uriel Weinreich as well as others has also contributed to forming the basic concept before Selinker’s 1972 paper. Selinker noticed that the utterances made by the learners in a given circumstance were different from those of native speakers to express the same meaning. This system can be observed while studying the utterances of the learners of Bangla speakers who try to convey the meaning in using English, but it is not noticeable when the same learners do form-focused tasks, such as oral drills in a classroom. Interlanguage is variable in different contexts; for instance, it may be more appropriate, complex and fluent in one discourse area than in another. That is, interlanguage becomes more or less target-like when produced in different social contexts. “To study the psychological processes involved one should compare the interlanguage of the learner with two things. These two things are as under: (1) Utterances in the native language to convey the same message made by the learner (2) Utterances in the target language to convey the same message made by the native speaker of that language” (“Teaching English Interlanguage”).

The practice of interlanguage is a vibrant microcosm of linguistics. It is possible to utilise an interlanguage perspective to the Bangla speakers’ latent knowledge of the English language sound system (interlanguage phonology), grammar (morphology and syntax), vocabulary (lexicon), and language-use norms as well as rules, which are found among the learners of Bangla speakers (interlanguage pragmatics). By elaborating the ways in which English learners of Bangla speakers’ language complies with the universal linguistic norms and rules, interlanguage research has made considerable contribution to our understanding of linguistic universals in the English language acquisition.


This research has been conducted by concentrating on and extracting the materials found from print and online sources. Then data have been analysed carefully and an outline of the paper made. Next, all the materials have been generalised and the first draft of the paper made followed by the second draft. In the end the final draft has been made, and the paper submitted following the mechanics of writing.

The variable shape of interlanguage

The concept of interlanguage has had a significant impact on the field of second or foreign language acquisition. Studies on interlanguage focus on the linguistic and psychological aspects of research. This paper demonstrates how the concept of interlanguage developed. Because the interlanguage concept is important for the development of the learners’ grammar system, this paper also studies how it applies to the other items of language and the consequences of the concept for the teacher and the learners.

Before the 1960s language was not considered to be a mental phenomenon. It was learnt like other behaviour patterns or habits. As a child learns his/her mother tongue by imitating the sounds and patterns he/she hears around him/her,  adults disapproves or approves his/her efforts, and thus shapes his/her correct forms. But under the influence of cognitive linguists this explanation of first language acquisition was generalised. Language cannot be verbal behaviour only, since children are able to produce an infinite number of utterances that have never heard before. This creativity is only possible because a child develops a system of rules, patterns or structures. A great deal of studies has revealed that children actually do construct their own rule system, which continues being constructed until it corresponds to the system of the adults. There is also evidence that they pass through similar stages acquiring grammatical rules. Under the influence of cognitive linguists as well as first language acquisition research, the notion developed that second language learners, too, could be viewed as actively constructing rules from the data they encounter and that they gradually adapt these rules in the direction of the target language. However, wrong and inappropriate  sentences of the learners may be in regard to the target language system, they are grammatical in their own terms, since they are a product of the learners’ own language system. This system gradually develops towards the rule-system of the target language. The various shapes of the learners’ language competence are called interlanguage. The term draws attention to the fact that the learners’ language system is neither that of their mother tongue nor that of the second language, but contains the elements of both. Errors, therefore, need not be seen as signs of failure only, but as evidence of the learners’ advancement towards the target language.

While the behaviorist approach led to teaching methods which used drills and considered errors as signs of failure, the concept of interlanguage liberated language teaching and paved the way for communicative teaching methods. Since errors are considered a reflection of the students’ temporary language system and, therefore, a natural part of the learning process, teachers could now use teaching activities which did not call for constant supervision of the learners’ language. Group work and pair work became suitable means for language learning.

Literature Review:

 Interlanguage, which is more precisely ‘interim language’, is coined by Larry Selinker to refer to the individual or personal language of learners while learning the target language. There are a few other linguists and sociolinguists who have attempted to explain ‘interlanguage’. For instance, Nemser terms it as ‘approximative system’. Another linguist, Corder refers to the same phenomenon as ‘transitional competence’ and also Corder calls it ‘idiosyncratic dialect’. Corder seems to regard interlanguage as a developmental process of transitional competence rather than a process of restructuring or generalisation. Spolsky views it as the intermediate status of an L2 learner’s system between the L1 and the L2. More importantly McLaughlin defines it as ‘the interim grammars constructed by the second-language learners on their way to the target language’ (60).

Larry Selinker also shows the development of interlanguage through five central cognitive processes involved in second or foreign language learning—‘language transfer’, ‘transfer of training’, ‘strategies of L2 learning’, ‘strategies of L2 communication’ and ‘overgeneralisation’. Though the processes are mistakenly considered to be separate ones, they are actually several manifestations of one principle of learning.

The first one is ‘language transfer’, which is actually transferred from the mother tongue of the learners to the target language. It is categorised into two types—negative transfer and positive transfer. Negative transfer, which is also known as ‘interferrence’, occurs when the learners use the patterns or rules of their native-language leading to an error or inappropriate form in the target language. It can be exemplified like this: an English learner of Bangla may use the incorrect sentence It is raining since morning instead of It has been raining since morning. It happens because of the transfer of the Bangla pattern   shokal theke bristi hochchhe (“It is raining since morning”), which is usually false inference between the present continuous tense and the present perfect continuous tense. And positive transfer, which makes learning easier, takes place when both the mother tongue and the target language usually bear the same form. For instance, both English and Bangla have many common words, which can bear the same meaning such as chair in both languages. To clarify the terms, the following definition can be taken into account:

Positive transfer occurs when the prior knowledge benefits the learning task—that is, when a previous item is correctly applied to present subject matter. Negative transfer occurs when the previous performance disrupts the performance on a second task. (Brown 90)

It is, however, important to note that the native language of second or foreign language learners is often positively transferred.

The second one is ‘transfer of training’ (also known as induced error) occurs when the learners of second or foreign language are taught some specific features of the training process. That is, learning “the way in which a language item has been presented or practiced.”(Richards, John, and Heidi 138) For example, if the teacher teaches the use of preposition at and exemplifies it with I am looking at the bottle of water by holding up the bottle in his/her hand. In this case the learners may infer that at means under and thus may make an incorrect use of it in such cases as  The mouse is at the table instead of The mouse is under the table.

The third one is ‘strategies of L2 learning’, which occurs when some elements of the interlanguage may be the output of the effect of some particular approach to the material to be learnt by the second or foreign language learners. It is “a way in which a learner attempts to work out the meanings and uses of words, grammatical rules, and other aspects of a language, for example by the use of ‘generalisaton’ and ‘inferencing’.”(Richards, John, and Heidi 162) Thus a second or foreign language learner of Bangla speakers may think that the first mentioned noun in a sentence refers to the person/thing performing an action, For example, The mouse was chased by the cat. may mean the same to him/her as     The mouse chased the cat.

The fourth one is ‘strategies of L2 communication’, which happens when some elements of the interlanguage may result from some specific ways that the learners learn to communicate with the native speakers of L1. To put it precisely, it is  “a way used to express a meaning in a second or foreign language, by a learner who has a limited command of the language. In trying to communicate, a learner may have to make up for a lack of knowledge of grammar or vocabulary.”(Richards, John and Heidi 48) Different learners may prefer different solutions to solving their problems. For instance, a learner may fail to produce It’s forbidden to blow horns here and so s/he may say This place, no horn. Or, Here not any horn. This strategy is one type of paraphrase or sometimes circumlocution innovated by the learner.

The last one is ‘overgeneralisation’ (also known as over-extension/over-regularisation/analogy), which is a process of extending the use of a grammatical rule or linguistic element beyond its correct or accepted uses, usually by making words or structures follow a more regular pattern. In plain words, it generalises a particular thing or object or rule in the second or foreign language. For example, a child may say ball to generalise all the round things or say childs instead of children for the plural form of child.


Like other speakers of different languages, the English learners of Bangla speakers undergo the process of interlanguage. In so doing, they pass through some phases like ‘random error’, ‘emergent’, ‘systematic’, ‘stabilisation’, etc. Based on the five cognitive processes of developing interlanguage in the case of learning the second or foreign language, this paper now attempts to explore and exemplify it against the background of learning English as a foreign language of Bangla speakers. Many examples of those processes that occur in the learners of English of Bangla speakers can be presented here. But due to the limitation of number of words for the research, this illustration and exemplification will be confined to a few numbers.

Among the five cognitive processes the first one is ‘language transfer’, which is also split into ‘negative transfer’ and ‘positive transfer’. When the Bangla speakers begin to learn English, they usually become confused in using the appropriate tenses. This process happens because of the influence of the learners’ native language- Bangla in terms of words, syntax, usage, etc. Here the learners borrow the patterns, rules and structures from Bangla .This phenomenon can be exemplified in the following table first on ‘negative transfer’, then on ‘positive transfer’:

Usual use of Bangla Speakers Influences of Bangla/English patterns/


Correct Use in English
I am seeing a bird. Aami paakhi dekhchhi.

Influence of Bangla present continuous tense

I see a bird.
I know her for a long time. Aami take onekdin dhore chini.

Influence of Bangla present tense

I have known him for a long time.
He is ill since Monday. She shombar theke oshushtho.

Influence of Bangla present tense

He has been ill since Monday.
It is raining for an hour. Ek ghonta dhore bristi hochchhe.

Influence of Bangla present continuous tense

It has been raining for an hour.
He has come yesterday. She gotokal eshechhe.

Influence of Bangla present perfect tense

He came yesterday.
Is he go there? She ki shekhane jay?

Influence of Bangla ki as in she ki oshushtho/Dhakay,etc.

Does he go there?
He can to go to college. She jete pare. Influence of Bangla  te suffix as in jete/khete chai. He can go to college.
She sing a song. She gaan gay.  Influence of English pattern I/You/They/We sing. She sings a song.
When it will stop raining, then we’ll go out. Jokhon brishti thambe tokhon aamra

 baire jabo.  Influence of Bangla future tense

When it stops raining, we’ll go out
I congratulate you for your success. Influence of Bangla preposition jonno I congratulate you on your success.
Nobody cannot do it. Influence of Bangla na Nobody can do it.
I am student. Influence of Bangla ami chhatro. I am a student.
My all friends helped me. Influence of Bangla pattern Aamar shob bondhu aamake shahajjo kkorechhilo. All my friends helped me.

Now some examples of ‘positive transfer’ can be presented in the following table. It is called positive because it makes Bangla speakers learn English easier. It is usually obvious in the languages of the same origin. As Bangla and English originated from the same Indo-European language block, they have some similarities, and thus facilitate the learning process. For further information, the following table can be taken into account:

Usual use of Bangla Speakers Common patterns/structures Correct Use in English
table, chair, computer, calculator, stadium, cinema, bus, train, etc. many same words available in both languages table, chair, computer, calculator, stadium, cinema, bus, train, etc.
This is a very expensive shirt. Same pattern (adv + adj + noun) as Bangla This is a very expensive shirt.
Tenses in Bangla most of the Bangla tenses are available in English.
Pronunciations by Bangla speakers are fairly intelligible Most of the sounds of English are present in Bangla

The second one is ‘transfer of training’, which occurs when the learners of English of Bangla speakers misconceive of a rule, pattern or structure presented to them by the trainer. Again another table can be observed:

Usual use of Bangla Speakers Influences of training Correct Use in English
I am used to take tea. after ‘used to’ base form of verbs are used I am used to taking tea.
She is looking up the flower. when the flower is being held up and  taught like this, the learner thinks that it means ‘up’ instead of ‘at’ She is looking at the flower.

The third one is ‘strategies of L2 learning’, which is split into ‘metacognitive’, ‘cognitive’ and ‘socioaffective’ strategies. Among the three, the latter actually falls into the communication strategy. This process is an attempt to decipher the meaning and usage of words, rules, and other aspects of the English language. As a result, the learners of Bangla speakers usually resort to ‘generalisation’, ‘inferencing’, ‘repetition’, ‘translation’, ‘note taking’, ‘imagery’, ‘keyword’, ‘contextualisation’, ‘question for clarification’, etc. The following table contains some example of this phenomenon.

Usual use of Bangla Speakers Influences of L2 learning Correct Use in English
English speaks across the globe inability to differentiate between the active and passive voice English is spoken across the globe.
The boy was jilted by the girl. inability to identify ‘who was jilted, the boy or the girl?

The fourth one is ‘strategies of L2 communication’, which are related to learning styles. The English learners of Bangla speaking people use production strategies so as to communicate their messages, but this strategy is a source of error. They use their known words and grammatical rules to express the desired meanings. Thus syntactic or lexical avoidance, word coinage, circumlocution, false cognates, and prefabricated patterns are some examples of the communication strategy. This process is elaborately exemplified in the following table:

Probable use of Bangla Speakers Influences of L2 communication Correct Use in English
Dhaka, many people live. insufficient knowledge of English Many people live in Dhaka.
With long long hair a man I saw insufficient knowledge of grammar I saw a man with long hair.
natural helicopter word coinage dragon-fly
It is a cloth for wiping the face. lack of vocabulary/ circumlocution It is a handkerchief.
We gave him… (showing the clapping). Nonverbal use We applauded him/

We clapped him.

house(meaning a thatched one) approximation a thatched house
I killed a bird with a gulti. borrowing from native language/language switch I killed a bird with a catapult.
My going did not happen. literal translation It was not possible for me to go.

The last one is ‘overgeneralisation’, which is noticed in the second language learners of Bangla speakers when, at the beginning and intermediate level, they learn a rule or an item and generalise it, bracket it in the same pattern or structure as others. This can occur at a number of levels—at phonetic, grammatical, lexical and discourse level. Sometimes the learners extend the patterns or structures from the English language. For example, they can do it by drawing analogies. Some other examples of ‘overgeneralisation’ are given below:

Probable use of Bangla Speakers Influences of overgeneralisation Correct Use in English
He go to school. Influence of the pattern I/you/they/we go. He goes to school.
Look at the ball in the sky. Similarity of roundness to mean ‘the moon’. Lexical level error. Look at the moon in the sky.
I see a cow.(pointing at a bull) lexical level error. I see a bull.
Mans and womans were present there. influence of plural pattern  using ‘s’ Men and women were present there.
I taked him to hospital. Generalisation of past pattern adding ‘-ed’ I took him to hospital.
He asked me what is your name? as in Bangla She aamake jiggesh korlo aamar naam ki? Overgeneralisation of interrogation. He asked me what my name was.
Involvation, revolvation, etc. as in innovation, calculation, etc. involvement, revolution, etc.
handfull, carefull, housefull, etc. influence of the word ‘full’ handful,  careful, houseful, etc.
wellcome, allready, etc. influence of the words ‘well’ and ‘all’ respectively welcome, already, etc.
He is a doctor. after learning the pronunciation of ‘r’, the Bangla speakers may pronounce ‘doktor’. Phonetic level error. He is a docto(r).



Without the help of the native language, it is not possible for the adults and the adolescents to learn the second or foreign language. Unlike children, the adults and the adolescents undergo the interlanguage process, which is actually not stable, rather always in a state of flux. To them, the native language is a major source of learning the target language. Like the learners of English of other languages, Bangla speakers share some common phases of interlanguage development through the patterns, structures, grammars, vocabulary of their native language and the target language. In this case the first phase is called random errors, in which the Bangla speakers are slightly conscious of the systematic order to a particular class of items, rules or structures. The second phase is emergent, in which the learners find increasing consistency in linguistic production. Thus if the English learners of Bangla speakers master some rules, which may not be “correct” by the target language standards, they are notwithstanding legitimate in the mind of the learners. The third phase is systematic phase, in which the learners can show some consistency in producing the target language. And the final phase is stabilisation phase, in which the learners make few errors and are fluent. Here the learners can stabilise too rapidly.


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