Today, every community in the world has a distinctive language used by its inhabitants for communication purposes. This is because language is a veritable tool through which human beings are able to interact and express their thoughts and feelings. Hence, every human being born and brought up in a particular speech community definitely acquires the language of that community effortlessly, that is, without undergoing any formal training on the application of grammatical, morphological and phonological features of language. In other words, the speaker gets acquainted with the structural patterns of the language and uses them fluently in various communication processes that permit its usage. In this direction, Eka (2000) noted that such language happens to be the first language (L1) of the person which is alternatively referred to as the mother tongue.
The phrase ‘mother tongue’ refers to the first language a child is exposed to from birth without any formal education. Such language serves as a mark of cultural identity. According to Bathurst, D. & S. G. Shankar (2002), every community has a particular language that is spoken by its habitants. In Akwa Ibom State for instance, Ibibio is being spoken as the general language of Akwa Ibom citizens among other minor ones like Oro and Annang. As a natural language, its syntactic, morphological and semantic features differ from other natural languages in the world such as English, Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo and so on, (Essien, 1990). In view therefore, when an Ibibio speakers comes in contact with another language such as English for instance, which he or she has not been adequately exposed to it’s different grammatical and phonological patterns, the task of using the target language (English) correctly as a medium of communication becomes challenging. This difficulty according to Afangideh and Enighe (2001) is caused by the interplay of the speaker’s mother tongue interference on the second language which in this case is English.
The phrase ‘mother tongue interference’ is used by language scholars and experts to describe the situation in which the person’s first language (L1) exert a tremendous influence on the learning and usage of another language, (Eka, 2000). Eka further stressed that this influence maybe observed more easily and readily at phonological level of analysis, though the semantic levels are also revealing. Such phonological levels of interference experienced by a typical Ibibio speaker in his attempt to speak English are manifested on the areas of pronunciation, intonation, rhythm and stress. The word ‘pronunciation’ as used in the context of this research work refers to the way words or sounds of a particular language is articulated or uttered. In view of this, certain consonants such as /ɵ,đ,v/ among others which are present in English seem to be lacking in the Ibibio language. Therefore, when these sounds are seen in words like ‘though’ /ɵɔ:t/, ‘breathe’ /brI:đ/ and ‘verse’ /vƷ:s/, an Ibibio speaker tends to pronounce them as, ‘tought’ /tɔ:t/, ‘bread’ /brI:d/ and ‘fes’ /fes/, (Eka, 2000).
Another aspect of mother tongue interference between Ibibio and the English language is intonation which is variation in the rise and fall of the voice in speech. The Ibibio language is tonal in nature, that is, the Ibibio speaker’s tone suggests the word classes and their meanings whereas in English, a change in tone by the speaker affects the entire sentence. Rhythm on the other hand is the flow of speech in communication. It is an important ingredient in speech since it helps to bring out the harmony inherent in language. Stress is the degree of prominence a word, sound or syllable receives during articulation. Its importance is that it helps to convey the proper meaning and word classes, (Roach, 2009).
Inadequate knowledge and inappropriate utilization of all the aspect of mother tongue interference of Ibibio on English language is perceived as the reason for student’s poor academic outcome especially on the spoken aspect to the English language. The influence of mother tongue interference on students is a negative influence as it is evident in their low creativity in spoken and written English. This has become a nagging problem to Nigerians owing to the fact that English is the only officially recognised medium in which Nigerian can interact with other countries of the world. This statement runs parallel with Azikiwe (2001) that ‘inspite of the official and public emphasis on English, the schools do not seem to be producing an adequate number of pupils who are sufficiently creative in English; the performance of candidates in terminal examination in English has never be satisfactory. Their understanding and use of English has not attained a stand considered reasonable by our diverse mother tongue interference on English language among others’.