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Contrastive Analysis

  Contrastive analysis, in applied linguistics, is a method first proposed by Uriel Weinreich in the 1950s. It highlights the structural differences between two languages, with the aim of identifying potential sources of difficulty for people learning a foreign language. On the basis of the behaviourist idea that old habits can interfere when learning new habits, it was suggested that knowledge of one\'s first language (L1) might interfere with the learning of a second language (L2). Interference creates difficulties for the L2 learner, leading to an increase in the production of errors. And the likelihood of interference increases as the level of difference (linguistic distance) between two languages increases.

However, the assumption that linguistic difference can be equated with the psychological concept of learning difficulty is not supported. An enormous number of errors predicted by the contrastive analysis hypothesis simply do not occur. For example, English L1 speakers learning L2 Japanese have to contend with the fact that verbs go at the end of Japanese sentences. However, this fundamental difference rarely provokes learners of Japanese L2 into using English word order when speaking Japanese. The difficulties with contrastive analysis stem mainly from the inappropriate application of behaviourist concepts. However, the idea that learner difficulties may be predicted on the basis of structural differences between two languages is of value and continues to guide research (see universal grammar). In particular, contrastive analyses based on the sound systems of different languages can provide highly reliable predictions concerning the difficulties which may face learners in the pronunciation of a particular foreign language. MS



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