Communicative vs. Linguistic Competence


Developing English language skills for Vietnamese learners of English through raising their awareness of the contrastive linguistic features

By Pham Huu Duc, PhD & Nguyen Cong Dan, MA

Department of English

International University

– Vietnam National University HCM


- The knowledge of contrastive linguistic features comes as the essential complementary factor to the receptive skills and productive skills.

- Understanding contrastive linguistic features is closely associated with the use of a language, especially when English is used by the great number of non-native speakers in Southeast

Asian (Duong, 2012).

The purpose of the study

- To r aise Vietnamese learners’ awareness of linguistic features of

English and Vietnamese through comparison and contrast;

-To bring ideas from the conceptual frameworks and approaches together with contrastive aspects of English and


-To further research the second language acquisition theory (SLA) through contrastive analysis.

Limitations of the study

Comparison and contrast are supposed to be mainly phonological, lexical, and syntactical;

Referring to the linguistic features of the texts, excluding what forms of press, and article titles are;

Considering language structures in lexicalgrammatical aspects through the metaphorical expression of grammar



Literature review

How people use language is the question of:

How people interact naturally using the authentic speech and writing in certain social contexts.

How language is structured, language users interact through sounds, words or sentences to make themselves understood and understand others.

(Halliday, 1994; Martin,1992; Eggins,1993)


Literature review






(words & structures )

Phonology (sounds / letters)

Source: Eggins (1993: 27)

Contrastive linguistic features

Languages English

Inflectional language


Isolating language

Subject Prominent



Theme prominent



Grammaticalized (lexicogrammar)

Limited pronouns (7)

Non - grammaticalized

Various pronouns

Contrastive linguistic features

Krzeszowski (1991:10) indicated that contrastive linguistics describes similarities and differences in languages, which leads to the results that are related to the linguistic theory in the search for linguistic universals.

Contrastive linguistic features

Lado (1957) in his study also states the comparisons and contrasts of the systems of:






grammatical structures.



Sample: the sample (N= 1000), 1000 English news texts and 1000 Vietnamese news texts, were compared and contrasted.



Materials: The source of 1000 texts in English and 1000 texts in Vietnamese covers the recurrent themes in the press coverage of social issues, culture to daily news.

The English texts were from the NBC, and the

Vietnamese texts from the Youth newspaper including articles written in the years 2005, 2006 and 2007, and from VNExpress.



Procedures: the analysis focuses on the comparisons and contrasts of sounds, vocabulary and grammar in the two languages.

4. Results: Analysis and interpretation of data collected

Phonological contrastive analysis

From the phonological perspective, contrastive study is carried out in two aspects: a) segmental b) suprasegmental.

4. Results: Analysis and interpretation of data collected







Total phonemes










22 initial sounds & 9 final sounds


(Cao Xuan Hao, 1998: 96-102)

4. Results: Analysis and interpretation of data collected

b) Suprasegmental

- Contractive linguistics deals with the suprasegmental phenomena such as: tone, stress, intonation.

- Vietnamese is a tonal language with six tones while English has stress or intonations.

4. Results: Analysis and interpretation of data collected






Young rice plant






4. Results: Analysis and interpretation of data collected

Lexical contrastive analysis

Robert Lado (1957) identified three levels of lexical contrasts: form, meanings, and distribution.

4. Results: Analysis and interpretation of data collected

1) Similar in form and meaning

These are usually the borrowings, for example,

“TV”, “radio”.

2) Similar in form and different in meaning

For example, “may (luck)” in English and “may” in Vietnamese

4. Results: Analysis and interpretation of data collected


) Different in form and similar in meaning both

“eat” in English & “ăn” in Vietnamese means “to put food into the mouth, chew it and swallow.

4) Different in form and in meaning

“first floor” in American English & “tầng” in Vietnamese.

5) Different in morphological formation

“use up” ( verb + adverb )

English, &

“dùng hết” (verb + modal particle) in Vietnamese


4. Results: Analysis and interpretation of data collected


Similar in original meaning and different in derivative meaning

“cat” in English also means a “clever woman”, whereas

“mèo” in Vietnamese means “mistress”

7) Similar in meaning and different in geographical meaning

“petrol” is used in English, and “gasoline” is used in

American English

4. Results: Analysis and interpretation of data collected

Syntactical contrast



Deals with the units of a language: words, sentences structures as well as other means of expressing relationship and grammatical category.

In written texts, the nominalization (turning a verb into a noun) is often used to make the writing more concise and exact. This is also considered information packing.

4. Results: Analysis and interpretation of data collected

English Vietnamese


(primary change)


(secondary change)


Bài diễn văn

Niềm hạnh phúc


Việc) học

5. Discussion

For the phonological contrastive analysis:

- Both English and Vietnamese have /t/ sound, but that of

English is pronounced either in an aspirated way /th/or not in an aspirated way/t/ whereas that of Vietnamese is only pronounced as /t/.

- Vietnamese learners of English pronounce /t/ or /k/ with a closed mouth since Vietnamese has the sound: uc /

Ɯ ʊk p

/, ôc / ɤ w k p

/, oc /ɑ w k p


- People whose native language is isolating and has such a phoneme as /tu/ may pronounce /t/ and /u/ at the same time

Cao (1985: 164). They may pronounce that phoneme as /tu/ or /ut/ at the same time, not in a linear way. → Vietnamese hardly pronounce the final sounds such as /t/ or /p/

5. Discussion

- The pronoun references in Vietnamese texts do not sometimes use pronouns "he / him

“, but use

“the title + name”. If learners want to refer to a proper noun such as the leader's own name, then

“ title + name" must be used.

- The English pronoun "he" can be used to replace the name of the national leader, or the synonym, such as "the president", or just his/her name is used. e.g

“(President) Bush".

5. Discussion

For the syntactical contrastive analysis:

- In Vietnamese texts, the nominalization is formed: putting

“sự” or “việc" before an adjective or a verb“; putting " cái" or "máy" before a noun.

Meanwhile, in English, the nominalization is formed: a) through the primary change of a verb: "to give" into a noun "gift", or "to speak" into "speech

”, etc.

b) through the secondary change by adding the affixes

(prefixes and suffixes).

c) putting "the" before the adjective, for example

“the + poor

” (poor people).





L 2 L 1


Cummins (2000): "Conceptual knowledge developed in one language helps to make input in the other language comprehensible."



-The study forms a prototype related to the comparison and contrast of the aspects of phonology, lexicology, and syntax between English and Vietnamese.

-This greatly helps to improve the progress of

Vietnamese learners

’ English language performance in developing and in achieving their language proficiency.

-The prototype indicates two features, each of which reflects one of the three meta-function of systemic functional linguistic theory - Interpersonal, Experiential

(using nominalization) and Textual, and also three modes of communication - Interpretive, Interpersonal and Presentational.

Implications of the study

The study will significantly contribute to:



Working out the appropriate methods to improve students’ weaknesses through the awareness of the distinctions of linguistic features, on which a system of language performance is built.

The theoretical framework that supports the processes of identifying language similarities and differences in SLA ,

Implications of the study

The awareness of the distinctions of linguistic features can allow teachers and students to get more access to the solutions to language barriers while language learners of different systems learn each other’s languages

The study may also serve as a model in exemplifying not only how research on contrastive linguistics affects the second language acquisition, but also how immersion programs and non-immersion programs can meet to form a seamless connection. It holds much promise for the future as our profession continues to advance in standards-based instruction and assessment.


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