Interference errors

The question in the exam was ‘Put the words in the correct order to make a sentence’. One set of words was ‘next / they / What / are / do / to / going / year / ?’. Most students got it right, several wrote ‘What they are going to do next year?’, and eight of them wrote ‘What are they do going to next year?’. My first thought was that they had ‘cooperated’ on the exam, but checking their names showed that they were sitting in different parts of the room, and the rest of their answers showed no signs of ‘cooperation’.

While I was entering the results of the exam into the university’s computerised system, a colleague came into my office for apparently no reason other than that he’d seen my door open, and I mentioned it to him. He said ‘That’s a first language interference error. They’re thinking in Korean then translating into English’. I didn’t immediately believe him, because it didn’t look or sound like an interference error, but after further thought I think he’s right. The nearest equivalent of going to do is 할 거예요 (hal geo-ye-yo). 하 (ha) is the stem of 하다 (ha-da, to do), and ㄹ 거예요 is the conjugation (I don’t know the literal meaning, if it has one). That still doesn’t explain why eight of them made exactly the same error, which I had not encountered before in three and a half years teaching English in South Korea.

In another clearer example of an interference error, one student wrote ‘Where’s your located in city?’ instead of ‘Where do you live?’.


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