Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

Studies on Contrastive Analysis

Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

Studies on Contrastive Analysis

Article excerpt


This paper discusses the development and eventual rejection of Contrastive Analysis, which emerged in the 1950's as a strategy for comparing specific languages and predicting the difficulties students would experience in learning them. Using an historical perspective, the paper traces initial enthusiasm for Contrastive Analysis, along with related unsupported pedagogical applications, one of which was the audio-lingual method. The link between structuralist linguistics and behaviorism is noted, and the process of Contrastive Analysis is described. The questionable predictive claims of Contrastive Analysis are analyzed and discussed, and the later modifications of the theory described. The possible utility of Contrastive Analysis in phonology is recognized, as is its total absence of semantic application. The paper details how Chomskyan concepts of language acquisition and deep structure forced a complete revision and eventual discrediting of Contrastive analysis. Noted are concomitant findings from language acquisition research, which also influenced the demise of Contrastive Analysis.

Error Analysis and Interlanguage Theory are presented as subsequent developments in second language acquisition researches, which have attempted to describe issues once addressed by Contrastive Analysis. Readers are encouraged to view earlier theoretical perspectives in historical context.

[Keywords] Contrastive analysis; audio-lingual; linguistics; audiolingual method; TEFL; China; Army method; FLT


The success of the "Army Method" had a significant effect on Foreign Language Teaching (henceforth FLT) in the US. It was designed to provide the American government with personnel fluent in a wide range of languages such as German, French, Italian and Chinese. After the emergence of the US as a world power, it was extended to civil ends. A demand for foreign expertise in the teaching of English increased as thousands of foreign students entered American universities and required training in English to begin their studies. Thus in 1958, the US government allocated funds for the development of teaching methods that would ensure effective teaching. Around the same time, Lado developed his theory of Contrastive Analysis (hereafter CA). His Linguistics across Cultures (1957) was published in 1957.

CA is concerned with solving the problems that second language learners have in learning a second or foreign language. (In this paper, the terms second and foreign language are used interchangeably learning and referred to as L2.) This is supported by behaviorist/ structuralist studies on bilingualism which argued that the problems faced by learners learning L2 were attributable to interference from the L1. In its early formulation, Lado's CA offered new perspectives to applied linguistics, as this theory seemed to offer the key to second language acquisition. A major role was attributed to L1 in second language learning.

Linguists were enthusiastic about Lado's claims and embarked, perhaps too hastily on a comparison of English with other languages. Many teaching materials reflecting this approach were published. CA became very academically fashionable, and it entered classrooms without empirical investigation. But theoretical linguistics manifested a radical reorientation following Chomsky's ironic Syntactic Structures (1957) and subsequent review of Skinner's Verbal Behavior (1959). Identification of inadequacies at both the theoretical and practical level marked the downfall of what was for a decade a promising and popular theory of L2 learning. This paper is to identify the reasons that lead to the discrediting and eventual rejection of CA. The present work is organized around: 1) A brief outline of Contrastive Analysis, involving its historical as well as linguistic, psychological, and pedagogical origins followed by the pedagogical implications and applications of CA. 2) The major developments in linguistic and psychological theory as well as in second Language Acquisition (SLA) researches. …

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