This project examined the influence of mother tongue in learning of English Language In Secondary School. Four research questions and four hypotheses were formulated to guide the study. The sample size for the study were 200 English teachers selected from 10 secondary schools in Education District (II). The descriptive survey research method was adopted in carrying out the study while the Pearson Product Moment Correlation (PPMC) statistical tool was employed in data analysis. The findings of this study were as follows:Mother tongue has a significant influence on the pronunciation of vowel sounds among secondary school students; Mother tongue has a significant influence on the pronunciation of consonant sounds among secondary school students; Mother tongue has a significant influence on the intonation of secondary school students; Mother tongue influence the syntax of secondary school students. The following recommendations were made: Enough time should be made available for the teaching of oral English. Adequate time allotment is one way the goal of effective communication in the language can be achieved; Emphasis should also be laid on stress and intonation right from the primary school; Teachers’ motivation of the student’s is necessary, especially in encouraging the students to use Received Pronunciation even when they are been made jest of by their fellow students. They should be made to understand that English is not just a subject to be passed during examinations but that the ability to express one clearly and to be understood by the native speakers of English is the ultimate goal; Teachers and educated parents should always pay attention correct children’s errors in pronunciation, syntax and intonation immediately those errors are made; Teachers must continually update their knowledge within their discipline. They must keep information about new methods and materials that will make their teaching more effective.



Background to the Study

Learning a second language has been important to human beings from earliest historical times. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics states that “the Sumerians of the third millennium BC used bilingual tablets in Sumerian and Akkadian to educate their children, and compiled the world’s oldest known bilingual dictionaries. Bilingual tablets were used in ancient

Egypt, and, in the Ptolemaic period, the upper classes in Egypt received their education in Greek. In the Hellenistic period, the majority of people in Asia  Minor who could read and write did so in Greek, their second language. Until the fourth century BC, bilingual education in Greek and Latin was an importantpart of the curriculum for Roman children (Brown, 2012).

In line with this, Otagburuagu (2009) stated that “second language learning could arise from a social or political factor. For instance, colonization, trade and commerce could create a conducive atmosphere for the development of a second language”. He continued by saying that “the colonization of Nigeria, Ghana and so on by Britain must be seen as the primary factor that gives rise to the adoption of the English language as the second language in these countries. Multilingualism as well as the desire for social integration could give rise to second language learning too”. In support of this view, Verghese (2007) also stated that “it is a historical accident that led to English taking deep roots in Canada, Australia and the United States”. He further states that “history again has played a part in English being used widely in other countries in Africa and Asia. Those countries were the colonies of Great Britain, and since the day they came under Britain rule, English has been taught and used as a medium of communication there”

Apart from colonization, other possible reason(s) why English is mostly used as a second language is that it “is spoken around the globe and has wider dispersion than any other language. From its earlier home within what is now called the united kingdom (with 56 million speakers), English has spread to nearby Ireland (three and a half million), across the Atlantic for America (where some 232 million people speak in the united states, with perhaps as many as 24 million additional speakers in Canada, and across the world to Australia and New Zealand (with about 17 million English speakers between them)”Hence, English language is “is the sole official language in more than two dozen other countries: Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe in Africa; Jamaica, the Bahamas, Dominica and Barbados in the Caribbean; and Vanuatu’s, Fiji and the Solomon Island in the pacific, to a sample”.

Foreign language is a language which is not a native language in a country. A foreign language is usually studied either for communication or for reading material in a country (Brown, 2012). Studies on the interdependence between mother tongue and foreign language (Williamson, 2009; Swain, 1996) indicated a linguistic interdependence with regard to multiple subsystems (phonological, syntactic, semantic and textual). Due to globalization, every aspect of our world is undergoing a transformation. In the present scenario those who are well versed in English can reap its benefits, those who are not are marginalized. The changing and fast evolving times have witnessed the growing importance of English language in all spheres of life. Conscious and unconscious use of English words in our everyday conversation bears evidence to this fact.


Second language learners appear to accumulate structural entities of the target language but demonstrate difficulty in organizing this knowledge into appropriate coherent structures. There appears a significant gap between the accumulation and the organization of knowledge. If the structure of two languages are distinctly different, then one could expect a relatively high frequency of errors to occur in second language learning thus indicating an interference of L1 on L2 (Dechert, 2003 ; Ellis 2007). Ellis (2007) refers to Interference as ”transfer‟ which he says is ―influence that the learner‘s L1 exerts over the acquisition of L2.

Language, as Fromkin, Victoria, Rodman, Robert and Nina (2007) posits,  is a way of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of a system of arbitrarily produced symbols for physiological as well as psychological survival. In a tropical African region where English acts as a second language, the aim of teaching English is not to develop British or American accent but to help the learners to overcome regional accents, wrong pronunciation and gradually train them in proper articulation. The aim of this research is to discuss the mother tongue influence in the process of English Language learning and how a teacher can help to overcome some of the problem encountered by the Nigerian learners of English as well as to improve his/her communicative competence.

In the second language teaching learning context such as in Nigeria, pronunciation of the target language is generally not given adequate importance; but it plays a pivotal role in the entire process of language learning. It develops the communicative skills and helps the learners to acquire a good command of the language he learns. It is normally argued that, to acquire command of a second language, a learner has to develop four basic skills listening, speaking, reading and writing. All these four skills interact with each other and they are essential for teaching and learning of second language. Wong (2007) is of the view that even when the non-native speaker‘s vocabulary and grammar are excellent, but their pronunciation falls below a certain threshold level, they are unable to communicate efficiently and effectively. A second language learner has a tendency to transfer his habits from his mother tongue to the second language system. This transfer of L1 linguistic features to L2 is called Interlingual Interference. This interference can be of two types. 1. Interference of the First language items with the second language items where both possess certain similarities. 2. Interference of L1 items in L2 items which do not possess similarities. At points of similarities between L1and L2, the second language learner employs his L1 learning strategies and techniques in his L2 learning. But at places of differences he faces difficulties. So a second language teacher should be very careful in employing his teaching strategies to help learners to overcome such difficulties.

Aladeyomi & Adetunde (2007) observed that sounds such as the voiced labiodentals /v/ and the voiceless fricative /f/ which are present in English but are absent in Yoruba for instance make it difficult for Yoruba to acquire the English sounds. Similarly, the lack of long vowels in Yoruba hinders the acquisition of long vowels in English by Yoruba English bilingual. It is difficult at times for these learners to distinguish between such words sit, /sIt/ and seat /si:t/. Also, there are some sounds in English language which the Yoruba Language does not have e.g. /z/ /tS/ sounds. The short voiceless bilabial plosive /p/, voiceless and voiced labiodentals fricative /f/ and /v/ and the long vowels /i: /, /u: / and /o: /, etc., in Yoruba, for instance, makes it difficult for Yoruba English bilingual to acquire such sounds. Hausa speakers of English tend to replace bilabial voiceless stop /p/ with labiodentals fricatives voiceless /f/ and vice versa, for example, ‘problem’, ‘pyramid’, ‘pot’, ‘paper’, ‘people’ and so on. They tend to pronounce /froblem/, /firamid/, /fot/, /fefa/, /fi:fl/.They also tend to insert vowel between a syllable-final consonant and initial consonant of ‘an’ immediately following syllabic. For instance, /rezigineiSn/ instead of /rezigneSn/ for the word ‘resignation’. Igbo speakers of English, even some well-educated ones, tend to transfer the vowel system of their language into English. They usually pronounce /folo/ for the word follow instead of /folw/ because of the sequence of /o/ and /o/ in two successive syllables is not permissible in Igbo. Some are fond of replacing the interdentals  fricative voiceless /0/ as in ‘thin’, ‘think’ with alveolar voiceless /t/ ‘tin’, ‘tink’. Also, Igbo speakers do substitute the vowel sound /e/ for /I/. Words such as, ‘presented’, ‘headed’ are pronounced as /prizentid/,  /hedid/ instead of /prizented/, /heded/ and so on.

To mention one of the minor ethnic groups in Nigeria, Tivs are known for their inability to use the alveolar liquid (voiced), lateral /l/ and retroflex /r/ consonants when speaking English appropriately because these do not occur in their language, and these sounds are always presented in the reverse order interchangeably. For instance, ‘ruler, road, rubber, reach, radio’, and so on are pronounced thus, /lula/, /lod/, /loba/, /litS/ and /ledio/ respectively.

There are twelve monophthongs and nine diphthongs. They are given below together with examples:

Monophthongs: /ә / above; / ^ / cut; / a: / dance; / I/ sit; / i:/ sheep; / e / ten; / u / pull;   /u:/ pool; /ב / cot; / ב: / bought; / æ / apple; / з:/ curl.

Diphthongs: /ei/ mail; /ai/ mile; /au/ now; /eә/ air; /iә/ fear; /uә/ poor; /ɔɪ/ coil; /әu/oldIn matters of syntax, Nigerian speakers tend to erroneously translate expressions directly how it is spoken in their native language. For example: a Yoruba child could say “They are calling you”, a direct translation of   “Won pe yin” (You’re being called), “Won” in Yoruba (in this context) is used as a sign of respect for an elder. Below are other examples common to the different Nigerian tribes.·      I heard the smell of jollof rice (I perceived the smell of jollof rice)·      Driver, please wait, I want to get down (Driver please wait, I want to get off)·      NEPA has taken light. (NEPA has interrupted power supply)·      Our leaders have eaten our money. (embezzled)·    Take a bus going to Lagos Island, drop at the bus stop (Board a bus going to Lagos Island, alight at the bus stop)

It is assumed that these socio-cultural encumbrances get in the way of students learning of English in the form of interferences in speaking and n writing. This is what this study aims to assess.

Statement of Problem

English language has been dubbed “The Queen of All Subjects.” It has been implied that proficiency in English Language would promote proficiency in other subjects. Also, having a good command of English contributes tremendously to an individual’s social value. It is for this reason that any barriers likely to be encountered by students while acquiring English language speaking and writing skills should be investigated.  By addressing the influence of mother tongue on students’ learning of English as a second language, students are expected to properly manipulate the segmental and supra segmental features of English to effectively pass across messages without distortion that may hamper semantic expression as a result of mother tongue interference.

This study therefore seeks to investigate the influence of mother tongue in learning of English Language In Secondary School.

Purpose of Study

The main purpose of this study is to investigate the influence of mother tongue in learning of English Language In Secondary School. Specifically, this study aims to:

  1. find out the influence of mother tongue on the pronunciation of vowel sounds by secondary school students
  2. find out the influence of mother tongue on the pronunciation of consonant sounds by secondary school students
  3. find out the influence of mother tongue on the intonation of secondary school students.
  4. find out the influence of mother tongue on the syntax of secondary school students

Research Questions           

The following research questions will be answered in the course of this study:

  1. Does mother tongue influence the pronunciation of vowel sounds by secondary school students?
  2. Does mother tongue influence the pronunciation of consonant sounds by secondary school students?
  3. Does mother tongue influence the intonation of secondary school students?
  4. Does mother tongue influence the syntax of secondary school students?

Research Hypotheses

The following research hypotheses will be tested in the course of this study:

  1. Mother tongue does not significantly influence the pronunciation of vowel sounds by secondary school students
  2. Mother tongue does not significantly influence the pronunciation of consonant sounds by secondary school students
  3. Mother tongue does not significantly influence the intonation of secondary school students
  4. Mother tongue does not significantly influence the syntax of secondary school students


Significance of the Study

This study could be of immense importance to the teachers of English Language, students, curriculum planners, examining bodies, textbook writers, educational administrators and possibly parents. This study could also be of great importance

to researchers and other interested bodies in the field of language and communication studies.

Furthermore, Teachers of English Language would find this study valuable. This study could benefit the teachers in their choice and emphasis, regarding ways in planning and presenting their lessons. As a result of this choice, teaching/learning materials appropriate to the students’ spoken ability could be selected and used for the lessons.

Other teachers in other fields could equally benefit from the present study. Aspects of knowledge organization and presentation that involve spoken English, analysis and transcription would definitely require insights from studies such as the present one.

Curriculum developers could find this study relevant. It would help in making decisions relating to content selection, materials and areas for development.

Operational Definition of Terms

Mother Tongue (MT): the native language one first learns to speak before other languages.

Interference:  interruption of a language by another especially in pronunciation, intonation, syntax and in semantics.

English as a Second Language: a traditional term for the use or study of the English language by non-native speakers in an English-speaking environment.

LIC: Language of Immediate Community