A prominent form of grammatical interference that manifests more often in students’ writing than in speech is a redundancy in the parts of a sentence (i.e. subjects, verbs, objects). It is not unusual to encounter constructions similar to “Mohammed he loves a girl he met her last year” (redundancy in the subject and object), yet this, in fact, is a direct translation of the same sentence written in formal Arabic. Inappropriate pronouns don’t just stop at redundancy. Arabic’s rules for gender often lead to the incorrect use of ‘he’ or ‘she’ instead of ‘it’ for inanimate or neuter nouns because there is no corresponding word for ‘it’ in Arabic; it is a dual gender language. Further confusion comes from Arabic’s pronoun-antecedent rule for inanimate plural nouns, which, no matter the gender of the singular noun, always take ‘she’ when plural.
Grammatical Interference – Teaching Writing in the UAE
Just as there is no ‘it’ in Arabic, there is also no indefinite article (a/an). Indefiniteness is often simply signaled by the absence of the definite article. Furthermore, there is no present tense form of the verb ‘to be’. For example, the construction ‘he man’ for ‘he is a man’ is grammatically complete in Arabic. The definite article does exist in Arabic but you may find it in unexpected places in your Arab students writing. In Arabic, if you wanted to write ‘he is the man’, it would translate as ‘he the man’; however, if you wanted to write ‘he is the tall man’, it would translate as ‘he the man the tall’. In other words, when defining a noun in Arabic you must also define any adjectives modifying that noun. This confused me when learning it in Arabic. Unlearning it for Arab students can be an equally confusing challenge.
Lexical Interference – Teaching Writing in the UAE
Two other major areas of interference I have noted in my students’ writing are prepositions and lexical usage. The meaning and usage of Arabic prepositions do not always correspond with their otherwise English counterparts. In prepositional and verbal phrases in Arabic, a different pronoun is often used than the one we would expect given our language. For example, the verbal phrase ‘afraid of’ directly translates from the Arabic as ‘afraid from’. This can sometimes have more comical results, such as ‘I saw him in the television last night’. Be on the look out for cases where Arab students have translated Arabic phrases and expressions directly into English without considering their appropriateness or clarity. Many such phrases and expressions in Arabic become odd, if not downright befuddling, when translated word for word into English. Oftentimes the problem may lie with a single lexical interference where the word in Arabic, when translated directly, conveys a different meaning in English.