Transfer effects in the acquisition of English as an additional language by bilingual children in Germany

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In this paper, we investigate the language development of children with migration backgrounds who live in Hamburg and are currently learning English as a foreign language in school. With data collected from bilingual Russian-German, Turkish-German, and Vietnamese-German children, we evaluate both the quality and the quantity of transfer effects. The investigated linguistic features are subject-verb-agreement and the use of articles. We interviewed 160 12- and 16-year old test subjects, distributed equally according to language cluster and age, comparing the results to test subjects’ developmental levels in their heritage language and German, which were investigated independently. In addition to the main cohorts, additional cohorts of L1 speakers of Turkish, Russian, and Vietnamese with English as an L2 as well as adult bilinguals in Germany were interviewed. After factoring out language external phenomena, we can observe that both L1 and L2 have an influence on the acquisition of English, but that these effects depend on the phenomenon investigated and the language pairs involved. Our findings suggest a model of language transfer in which the grammatical status of a phenomenon interacts with the learner’s developmental level yielding qualitatively different transfer effects.


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