The Impact of Interference on Communication at Various Levels

Interference is anything that interrupts or causes obstruction, hindrance, or any phenomenon that makes communication impossible. Interference may not be destructive or deliberate sometimes, but at other times they cause distinct obstructions in communication. Hence, one must handle interference efficiently to have effective communication.

Factors like human differences, cultural differences, social differences, and environmental differences may give rise to problems during transmission. One cannot communicate beyond one’s language competence or experience. Also, linguistic factors can contribute to interference in communication. Interference occurs at the following levels, Phonological level, Semantic level, Syntactic level, and Lexical level.

(A) Phonological Level

At this level, interference is caused by the wrong pronunciation of words during communication. Phonology is concerned with the study of the production of speech sounds. It is the study of the correct pronunciation or articulation of words.

Interference manifests at this level because of the failure to pronounce words correctly. Phonological interference is mainly caused by the differences between the indigenous and English languages. Most speakers adopt the indigenous language phonological system instead of the English speech sounds and patterns while speaking English. In other words, some users of English transfer the sound patterns of their mother tongue (L1) into the sound patterns or characteristics of the English language. Hence, one hears the accents of their mother tongue while they speak or pronounce English words. The transfer of the sound patterns of the mother tongue to the English language distorts the pronunciation of the words.

Many factors are responsible for phonological interference. For instance, certain sounds present in English may be absent in the speaker’s mother tongue (L1). Hence those that pronounce such words are most likely to substitute with similar sounds. For example, many Nigerian languages do not have the voiced dental fricative /ð/ and the voiceless dental fricative /θ/. Therefore, they substitute them with the voiced alveolar stop /d / and voiceless alveolar stop /t/ sounds in their mother tongue. Hence, they pronounce ‘this’ as ‘dis’ and ‘thing’ as ‘tin.’

(B) Semantic Level

Semantic is the study of words and meaning. Semantic interference in communication can occur when the definition of a word or expression in the second language (L2) is broader or narrower in scope than its equivalent in the mother tongue (L1). Also, there may not be an equivalent in some cases. Meaning is culture-bound and may obstruct communication when there are differences in the frame of reference.


English Language         –        Nigerian English

(i)     Visitor                        –        stranger

(ii)    Sponsor                     –         sponsorer

(iii)    Reverse                    –         reverse back

(C) Syntactic Level

The syntax is the logical arrangement of words, following grammar rules, in forming meaningful expressions. Interference in communication can occur at this level when there is a wrong arrangement of words. Some language users transfer constructions and phrases from their mother tongue (L1) to the English language (L2). Some of these sentence constructions do not fit in and are regarded as errors. Unfortunately, some of these users may not know that such structures are incorrect. Hence some of the mistakes become permanent features of their use of English. Also, speakers may find it difficult to express themselves adequately.


English Language                   –                 Nigerian English

(i)  Return it                             –                   Return it back

(ii) I can hear you                    –                   I am hearing you

(iii) As I have said                   –                   Like I said

(iv) The Second position is no mean feat. It is not easy to carry second.

(D) Lexical Level

Language reflects its environment of use. The expressions in language use are induced primarily by one’s understanding, knowledge, belief, culture, experience, and worldview in general. These influence the acquisition of the lexical terms that one uses. One’s linguistic proficiency is sometimes determined by the richness of his environment, experience, and exposure to the items that provide the vocabulary of a language. Hence, if the acquisition and use are deficient in the lexical items of a particular language, it may hinder communication.

A learner of the English language starts by using it to describe his local settings. Therefore, his vocabulary includes words required to convey the local environment. Hence, a Nigerian may use terms like an aunt, brother, father, mother, sister, and uncle to refer to persons in the extended family but not in the British sense. He may also use existing English words to describe local settings. Such terms may not be used in the same way as done by the native speakers of English.


English Language                      –                                Nigerian English

(i) Game                                        –                                bush meat

(ii) Traffic                                     –                                go slow

(iii) Gossip                                    –                                gossiper

(iv) Rich woman                           –                                cash madam