Contrastive analysis in modern language teaching. Analysis of didactic materials and practices.


For my final papers as a Translation and Interpreting postgraduate student, I developed my research project with the aid of two guide questions.



Objective of the research
The aim of my research was investigating the role of linguistics comparisons in foreign language teaching, with a particular focus on related languages (namely Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Italian and French).

Structure and theoretical framework
The work thesis is structured into two main blocks; the first section (composed by the first and the second chapter) provides a diachronic framework of teaching approaches and methods through history, with special regard to the role played from translation and the learners’ mother tongue.

The second section of the paper is dedicated to the analysis of didactic materials and practices, by examining both 50 course books and the results of eleven interviews to romance languages professors (mainly in translation-oriented degree courses).

In the light of the results obtained from the analysis, it has been decided to dedicate the third chapter to the notion of intercomprehension, with a particular focus on its didactic implications.

After having analysed the most important intercomprehension-based approaches, it has been observed that some of its principles could be integrated with a positive impact on traditional didactic practices, sometimes too dogmatics and strict when it comes to include other languages in the classroom.

In the appendix of this paper you can find a model and an example of interview, and read the contribute of an I.C expert, together with the one of a translation professor.

Analysis of didactic materials results

The analysis of didactic materials has been carried out by selecting a sample of 50 course books addressed to learners of Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Italian and French as foreign language, from level A1 to C1 (fig.1).
The main objective of the analysis was to pinpoint how linguistics comparisons were carried out, with a particular focus on the activities and sections dedicated to plurilingual awareness ‘awakening.



Most of the references to the L1 or to other potential languages knew by the learners were found mainly in course books addressed to a specific public (romance language speakers, members of the European community etc.), in the following contexts:

  • Grammar explanations
  • Lists of false friends.
  • Multilingual glossaries
  • Translation’s exercises

In the 80% of the analysed books, languages were compared in order to prevent mistakes caused by interferences, implying a negative vision of the linguistic closeness. This is particularly true for what it concerns lexical transparency: the near totality of the books presented an explicit or implicit list of “false friends”.
It was very interesting to notice that there was a constant focus on the disadvantages, while the advantages deriving from the shared Latin heritage of romance languages were often overlooked (positive transfer, orthographic and morphological correspondences, similar sentence structure etc.).

In the last few years, there were some attempt to include the plurilingual dimension in the form of multilingual glossaries and appendixes. Unfortunately, the linguistic combination of these glossaries rarely coincided with the one of addressee of the book.

As regards translation’s exercises, in 100% of cases short, unrealistic and out of context, sentences were used in order to show false friends or dissimilar structures.

Interview’s structure and results

The aim of the interviews was to find out the importance given from eleven teachers (mainly university professors of romance languages), to the role of the L1 and to the linguistic background of the learners.
The qualitative data have been collected with the aid of semi-structured interviews, whose main results are summarized below (fig. 2).



Needs and solutions

In view of the particular problems emerged from the analysis of didactic materials and practices, and in order to stimulate the plurilingual competence of the learners, some needs and solutions have been highlighted:

  • Overcoming the limits and dangers of comparing languages to prevent mistakes.
  • Presenting examples, which take into account the use of language in real life.
  • Avoiding translation exercises based on “artificial” and “isolated” sentences.
  • Insisting on the positive aspects of “language closeness”.

How intercomprehension principles can help in overcoming the limits of traditional didactics.

According to the definition of Jaimet and Spita, intercomprehension is a concept brought forward (at least initially) during the recent evolution of foreign language teaching to adults.
Afterwards, its didactic implications were extended to all age groups, including children:

 “Il s’agit de développer, par une méthodologie appropriée, la compréhension réciproque de sujets s’exprimant dans des langues différentes et se servant, pour comprendre les autres, non seulement de leur langue maternelle, mais de toutes les langues dont ils possèdent des connaissances.”

(Jaimet & Spita, 2010:23-24)

As pointed out from Cortés (2015), studies on I.C are characterized by a highly interdisciplinary connotation, being closely linked to all those disciplines that deal with the study of the closeness between languages, to Comparative Linguistics and Contrastive Analysis, and at the same to Second Language Acquisition Studies.
Intercomprehension-based approaches are a consequence of the constant effort of the European Union to enhance and promote linguistic diversity.

These plurilingual approaches share some common features:

– they consider as an advantage lexical similarity between related languages.
– they encourage foreign language learning.
– they exploit the learner’s previous linguistic knowledge.

EuRom5 as a positive example of comparing languages

After having presented the main intercomprehension-based approaches and European projects, I used the most known intercomprehension handbook as an example to show one possible “positive” way of comparing languages. EuRom5 is a method, which aims at developing the reading ability of the learners in five languages: Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan and French.
By using specific meta-cognitive strategies, “learners are encouraged to decode texts by splitting up some words or by identifying important similarities between their L1 and other languages, exploiting interlinguistic transparency, without losing sight of the entirety of comprehension, and integrating textual and extra textual information (Cortés, 2015: 3)”.
In this learning method, “true friends” (positive lexical transfers), are more important than “false friends”, which can be easily disambiguated in an authentic text (fig.3).


Grammar issues are presented as an aid at the end of the handbook, in a section named “Reading Grammar”, which was built in order to face grammar difficulties arose during the experimentation sessions.
The EuRom method uses translation in order to reconstruct the global meaning of the text, by putting more emphasis on the comprehension process.  While in traditional course books, the sentence represents the basic unit of translation exercise, in the EuRom method the whole text is the point of departure.
A research conducted in Roma Tre University showed that EuRom 5 could be a useful tool in the first years of translation-oriented degree courses. This methodology, which recalls the thinking aloud protocol, allows both the valorisation of the top down and bottom up process.
A constituents’ analysis in a global perspective, which takes into account the logical semantics articulation of the text, represents one important step towards good translation skills. (Bonvino & Pippa: 2012).

All these principles could easily being integrated in traditional approaches, without necessarily substituting them. In my view, since education is the first step to build plural and plurilingual societies, all these approaches should be more widespread and practised.

To learn more about this subject please find Flaminia’s papers.

Flaminia Paternoster


Flaminia Paternoster holds a Master’s degree in Interpreting and Translation from the UNINT University of Rome (Università degli Studi Internazionali di Roma), and she received her B.A in Intercultural Mediation from Sapienza University of Rome. In March 2016 she graduated with a master thesis entitled “Contrastive dimension in language teaching. Analysis of didactic materials and practices”, with professor and linguist Francisco Matte Bon and Diego Cortés Velásquez. She is specialized in English and Spanish and she is currently studying French and German. She has spent her Erasmus in Seville. Her research interest include multilingualism, intercomprehension and translation. She is currently working on a project entitled “Intercomprehension and immigration: citizenship and new models for the social inclusion in Strasbourg.




  • Blanche-Benveniste, C. (2001). “Nouveaux apports de la grammaire contrastive des langues romanes”. In Uzganga Vivar, I., Llamas Pombo, E. & Pérez Velasco J.M. (coord.), Presencia y renovación de la lingüistica francesa: atti del III Colloquio Internazionale di Linguistica Francese, Università di Salamanca, novembre 1997, Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca, 41-54.  [Last consulted: 18/10/2016]
  • Bonvino, E. & Pippa S. (2012). Archives – Repères DoRiF. Available at: (Accessed: 17 November 2016).
  • Cortés Velásquez, D. (2015). “Mona Lisa in the classroom. An education proposal for Integrated Training in Intercomprehension and Multilingualism”. In Dolci, R.Tamburri, A.J. (eds.), Intercomprehension and multilingualism an asset for the Italian language in the USA. New York: John D. Calandra Institute Transaction.
  • Jaimet M.C. & Spita, D. (2010). “Points de vue sur l’intercompréhension: de définitions éclatées a la constitution d’un terme féderateur”. Redinter-Intercompreensão, 1: 9-28.  [Last consulted: 18/10/2016]