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نویسنده : غلامعلی عباسی - ساعت ۱٢:٠٧ ‎ق.ظ روز ۱۳٩٠/۳/۱٤
 

 

خطاهای زبانی فراگیران

نگرشها و اهمیت

نگارش: احمدرضا پیرزاد

کارشناس ارشد آموزش زبان انگلیسی

و

دبیر زبان انگلیسی منطقه سیلاخور

استان لرستان

کدپرسنلی:  38008115

تلفن تماس:  09163997843

پست الکترونیک:  pirzad75@gmail.com

بهمن 1387

  

چکیده

این مقاله بطورکلی شامل دو بخش می باشد: در بخش اول-بخش تئوری- نگرشهای مختلف در مورد خطاهای زبانی، تصحیح خطاها، وسه فرضیه بسیار تأثیرگذار درمورد خطاها، شامل زبانشناسی مقابله ای، تجزیه وتحلیل خطا، و فرضیه زبان بینابینی مورد بحث قرار گرفته اند. در بخش دوم- بخش کاربردی- دو گونه از خطاهای زبانی بسیار رایج، شامل خطاهای واژگانی و دستوری، در بین دانش آموزان دبیرستانی و مراکز پیش دانشگاهی به همراه نمونه هایی از این خطاها مورد اشاره قرار گرفته اند.و در ادامه تدابیری جهت بهبود آگاهی فراگیران نسبت به این خطاها بیان شده است.

 

کلید واژه ها:  خطاهای انتقال، زبانشناسی مقابله ای، تجزیه وتحلیل خطا، زبان بینابینی

 

 

 Language learners Errors,

 Approaches and Significance

 By:

Ahmad Reza Pirzad

 MA in TEFL

 English teacher -Silakhor, Lorestan Province

 Bahman 1387/ February 2009

Mail: pirzad75@gmail.com

Tel: 09163997843

 

 

Language learners Errors- Approaches and Significance

Ahmad Reza Pirzad

 English teacher at Silakhor, Lorestan Province, 2009

Abstract

This paper mainly consists of two sections: In the first section, the theoretical section, different approaches to language errors, error correction, and the three most influential theories on errors- contrastive analysis, error analysis, and interlanguage theory- have been discussed. In the second section, the practical one, two types of most widely spread language transfer errors- lexical and syntactic- among high school and pre-university center students have been mentioned along with some prevalent examples. The rest includes some strategies to improve learners’ awareness of language transfer errors.

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خطاهای زبانی فراگیران

نگرشها و اهمیت

نگارش: احمدرضا پیرزاد

کارشناس ارشد آموزش زبان انگلیسی

و

دبیر زبان انگلیسی منطقه سیلاخور

استان لرستان

کدپرسنلی:  38008115

تلفن تماس:  09163997843

پست الکترونیک:  pirzad75@gmail.com

بهمن 1387

  

چکیده

این مقاله بطورکلی شامل دو بخش می باشد: در بخش اول-بخش تئوری- نگرشهای مختلف در مورد خطاهای زبانی، تصحیح خطاها، وسه فرضیه بسیار تأثیرگذار درمورد خطاها، شامل زبانشناسی مقابله ای، تجزیه وتحلیل خطا، و فرضیه زبان بینابینی مورد بحث قرار گرفته اند. در بخش دوم- بخش کاربردی- دو گونه از خطاهای زبانی بسیار رایج، شامل خطاهای واژگانی و دستوری، در بین دانش آموزان دبیرستانی و مراکز پیش دانشگاهی به همراه نمونه هایی از این خطاها مورد اشاره قرار گرفته اند.و در ادامه تدابیری جهت بهبود آگاهی فراگیران نسبت به این خطاها بیان شده است.

 

کلید واژه ها:  خطاهای انتقال، زبانشناسی مقابله ای، تجزیه وتحلیل خطا، زبان بینابینی

 

 

 Language learners Errors,

 Approaches and Significance

 By:

Ahmad Reza Pirzad

 MA in TEFL

 English teacher -Silakhor, Lorestan Province

 Bahman 1387/ February 2009

Mail: pirzad75@gmail.com

Tel: 09163997843

 

 

Language learners Errors- Approaches and Significance

Ahmad Reza Pirzad

 English teacher at Silakhor, Lorestan Province, 2009

Abstract

This paper mainly consists of two sections: In the first section, the theoretical section, different approaches to language errors, error correction, and the three most influential theories on errors- contrastive analysis, error analysis, and interlanguage theory- have been discussed. In the second section, the practical one, two types of most widely spread language transfer errors- lexical and syntactic- among high school and pre-university center students have been mentioned along with some prevalent examples. The rest includes some strategies to improve learners’ awareness of language transfer errors.

                                                                   

Key words: ICALL transfer errors, contrastive analysis, error analysis, interlanguage

 

1. Introduction

Errors are an integral part of language acquisition. The phenomenon of error has long interested second/foreign language learning researchers. In a traditional second language teaching situation, they are regarded as the linguistic phenomena deviant from the language rules and standard usages, reflecting learners’ deficiency in language competence and acquisition device. Many teachers simply correct individual errors as they occur, with little attempt to see patterns of errors or to seek causes in anything other than learner ignorance. Presently, however, with the development of linguistics, applied linguistics, psychology and other relevant subjects, people’s attitude toward errors changed greatly. Instead of being problems to be overcome or evils to be eradicated, errors are believed to be evidence of the learners’ stages in their target language (TL) development. It is through analyzing learner errors that errors are elevated from the status of “undesirability to that of a guide to the inner working of the language learning process” (Ellis, 1985, p. 53).

Corder (1967) introduced the distinction between systematic and non-systematic errors. Unsystematic errors occur in one’s native language; Corder calls these "mistakes" and states that they are not significant to the process of language learning. He keeps the term "errors" for the systematic ones, which occur in a second language.

 According to Karra, errors are significant in three ways:
- to the teacher: they show a student’s progress
- to the researcher: they show how a language is acquired, what strategies the learner uses.
- to the learner: he can learn from these errors (Karra, 2006).

 

2. Approaches to error correction

Over the years, there have been a range of approaches to error correction in language teaching and learning. According to the behaviourists, untreated errors would lead to fossilisation and therefore required rigid and immediate correction if bad habits were to be avoided (Skinner, 1957). Chomsky (1959) however, approached error from a cognitive point of view, according to which errors are the result of the learner thinking through the process of rule formation. According to Corder (1967), errors provide evidence of progress, while Selinker (1972) argued that errors are a natural part of the learner’s developing interlanguage. Krashen and Terrell (1983) proscribed error correction, since they believed it had no place in a Natural Approach to learning language which should be developed in the same way as children learn their first language. As the Communicative Approach came into vogue, a common position was that errors were not important as long as they did not affect communication (Littlewood, 1981). On a pragmatic level, Long (1977) suggested that much corrective feedback is erratic, ambiguous, ill-timed and ineffective, while Truscott (1998) maintained that error correction is ineffective and even harmful.

Students naturally want the English they produce to be understood, and they usually expect to be corrected (Ur, 2000). Grammar and vocabulary errors, as well as consistently mispronounced sounds may affect their ability to be understood. Students are often aware of the importance of feeling confident that they will be understood, and believe it is the teachers’ job to provide for their communicative needs. Students often don’t know they are making errors, and require feedback from teachers to raise their awareness. According to this view, focus on errors is a good use of some class time as those errors may hinder the successful completion of a classroom task.

According to a communicative philosophy, errors that detract from successful completion of a task or which could lead to misunderstanding should probably be dealt with. Repeated or shared errors are also ones that teachers should consider correcting (Kelly, 2006).

 

3. Error theories

There are three different approaches to the analysis of “learner English” (Swan and Smith, 1987), namely, contrastive analysis, transfer analysis (interlanguage theory), and error analysis. As Okuma (2000) noted, these approaches differ in their standpoints. Contrastive analysis compares the structures of two language systems and predicts errors. Transfer analysis, on the other hand, compares “learner English” with L1 and attempts to explain the structure of those errors that can be traced to language transfer. Error analysis compares “learner English” with English (L2) itself and judges how learners are “ignorant” (James, 1998).

 

3.1 Contrastive analysis

Contrastive Analysis (CA) stresses the influence of the mother tongue (MT) in learning a second language in phonological, morphological, lexical and syntactic levels. It holds that L2 would be affected by L1. Here, language is taken as a set of habits and learning as the establishment of new habits, a view sprung from behaviorism, under which language is essentially a system of habits.

Two versions of CA were proposed, a strong version and a weak version, and on the former those who write contrastive analyses usually claim to base their work. Purists of contrastive analysis advocate a “strong” approach—predictions about learner difficulties and development of teaching methods based on a comparison of phonological, grammatical, and syntactic features of the native language (NL) and target language (TL). A second or “weaker” version looks for learners’ recurring errors and attempts to account for those errors by ascribing their NL/TL differences (Jie, 2008).

 

3.2 Error analysis

Error  Analysis (EA) received considerable attention and finally became a recognized part of applied linguistics in the 1970’s since the strong version of CA turned out not to be a productive pedagogical tool. James defined the notion of EA as “the study of linguistic ignorance, the investigation of what people do not know and how they attempt to cope with their ignorance” (James, 2001, p. 62).

In order to analyze learners’ errors in a proper perspective, EA enthusiasts considered it crucial to make a distinction between mistake and error, which are “technically two very different phenomena” (Brown, 1994, p.205). Corder (1967) made use of Chomsky’s the “competence versus performance” distinction by associating errors with failures in competence and mistakes with failures in performance. In his view, a mistake occurs as the result of processing limitations rather than lack of competence. That is, it signifies L2 learners’ failure of utilizing their knowledge of a TL rule. All people make mistakes, in both native and second language situations. As a matter of fact, falling back on some alternative, non-standard language uses like false starts, hesitations, random guesses, confusions of structure or slips of the tongue is a regular feature of native speaker speech. Native speakers are normally capable of recognizing and correcting such mistakes. Nevertheless, an error, in this technical sense, is the breaches of rules of code; it is the noticeable deviation in grammaticality resulting from a lack of requisite knowledge. It arises because of the lack of competence. Native speakers may also make errors but they are able to correct their own errors; nevertheless, L2 learners cannot, by any means, always do so.

 

3.3 Interlanguage theory

The concept of interlanguage (IL) was suggested by Selinker (1972) in order to draw attention to the possibility that the learner’s language can be regarded as a distinct language variety or system with its own particular characteristics and rules. IL is a structured and interlocking system which the learner constructs at a given stage in his development. An L2 leaner, at any particular moment in his learning sequence, is using a language system which is independent of both the TL and the learner’s mother tongue (MT). It is a third language, with its own grammar, its own lexicon and so on. The rules used by the learner are to be found in neither his own MT, nor in the TL.

Various alternative terms have been used by different researchers to refer to the same phenomenon as IL. Corder (1971) proposed the notions of “idiosyncratic dialects” to identify the idea that the learner’s language is peculiar and “transitional competence” to pinpoint the dynamic nature of the learners’ developing system. In another similar model, a paper by Nemser (1971) referred to this learner language as “approximative system”, one of a series of approximative stages through which the leaner moves in his acquisition of the TL.

 

3.3.1 Interlanguage and language transfer

According to the Interlanguage Hypothesis( Selinker, 1972; Selinker et al., 1975), learners create an interlanguage when they try to express meaning in a second language. Language transfer is the central element in the process of creating the interlanguage, because learners need to make use of available linguistic resources in creating the interlanguage, and these resources often come from their native language. Therefore, language transfer plays a very important role in second language acquisition.

However, language transfer is not restricted to L1 transfer. Odlin (1989) defined transfer as “the influence resulting from similarities and differences between the target language and any other language that has been previously (and perhaps imperfect) acquired.” Bull (1995) discussed the importance to recognize the role played by other foreign languages in addition to the learner’s native language. Our discussion will be restricted to L1 transfer here, because in the case of Persian learners of English, L1 transfer is primary: the majority of Persian learners of English either do not know any other foreign language, or do not know one well enough for L3 transfer to be of significant interest.

 

3.3.2 Language transfer and fossilization

Fossilization refers to the phenomenon where a linguistic form, feature, rule, etc. becomes permanently established in the interlanguage of a second-language learner in a form that is deviant from the target language norm and that continues to appear in performance regardless of further exposure to the target language (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1987). A linguistic form may also be temporarily stabilized in the interlanguage instead of permanently fossilized, and stabilization needs to be distinguished from fossilization (Han and Selinker, 1999). Needless to say, however, both fossilization and stabilization of any false linguistic form, feature or rule are not desirable for second language learners.

Selinker and Lakshmanan (1992), among others, proposed the multiple effects principle, which links language transfer and fossilization. Their basic idea is that when two or more source language factors work in tandem, there is a greater chance of stabilization of interlanguage forms leading to possible fossilization, and language transfer is a necessary co-factor in setting multiple effects. Once a structure is fossilized, it may not become open to destabilization through consciousness raising strategies when multiple effects apply.

Based on this theory, it is very important to help the learner understand the sources of language transfer errors and develop an awareness of such errors in the early stages of language learning, so that the stabilized linguistic forms in his or her interlanguage can be destabilized before they become fossilized.

 

4. Lexical and syntactic transfer errors among Persian learners of English

In this section, some common lexical and syntactic transfer errors among Persian learners of English (especially those at high schools and pre-university centers) are discussed. This discussion will facilitate the design of exercises to be included in the ICALL component that handles language transfer errors. The types of transfer errors covered here are not exhaustive. It is also important to keep in mind that this is not a discussion of all types of common errors, but only common transfer errors of Persian learners of English in high schools and pre-university centers.

 

4.1 Lexical transfer errors

Ro (1994) used lexical transfer to refer to the projection of the idiosyncratic properties of L1 lexical items onto the corresponding, i.e., translationally related target language lexical items. He argued that if the syntactic and semantic properties of an interlanguage lexical item diverge from the standard of the target language, but are strikingly similar to properties of the corresponding L1 lexical item, lexical transfer is a likely explanation. He considered two types of lexical transfer, i.e., transfer of L1 subcategorization frames and translational transfer of idiomatic expressions. These two types of lexical transfer are also prevalent among Persian learners of English. These are illustrated with some examples below.

 

4.1.1 Transfer of L1 subcategorization frames

Transfer of L1 subcategorization happens when a verb in Persian and the corresponding verb in English have the same meaning but different subcategorization requirements, and the learner transfers the  subcategorization requirement of the verb in Persian to his or her interlanguage. This is illustrated in the following examples:

 

(1)  English expression intended:              She will marry an engineer.

       English expression used:                    She will marry with an engineer.

       Corresponding Persian translation:    ou ba yek mohandes ezdevaj khahad kard.

 

(2)  English expression intended:            You should be able to find it.

      English expression used:                   You should can find it.

      Corresponding Persian expression:    shoma bayad betavanid anra peyda konid.

 

In (1), the Persian verb ezdevaj kardan ‘marry’ subcategorizes for a preposed prepositional phrase. In (2), the Persian verb bayad ‘should’ subcategorizes for a verb phrase headed by another modal verb, tavanestan ‘can’.

It seems reasonable to infer that in these cases the learner has transferred or partially transferred the subcategorization frames of these verbs in Persian to his or her interlanguage, as the resemblance between the subcategorizations frames of these verbs in the interlanguage and those in Persian are striking.

 

4.1.2 Translational transfer of idiomatic expressions

Examples of translational transfer of idiomatic expressions abound. Some examples are presented below concerning verbs, adjectives, and nouns in turn.

 

4.1.2.1 Verbs

In Persian, shir ‘milk’ collocates with the verb khordan ‘eat’. The following example represents strong cases of translational transfer of these collocations in Persian to the interlanguage.

 

(3)     English expression intended:           Drink some milk.

         English expression used:                   Eat some milk.

         Corresponding Persian expression:   meghdari shir bokhorid.

 

4.1.2.2 Adjectives

The following example illustrates translational transfer of Persian adjective-noun collocations to the interlanguage. In Persian, the latest news is referred to as tazehtarin akhbar, which literally means the newest news.

 

(4)     English expression intended:                    Latest news

         English expression used:                           Newest news

         Corresponding Persian expression:           jadidtarin akhbar

 

4.1.2.3 Nouns

The following example illustrates translational transfer of Persian nouns to the interlanguage. In Persian, sandali means both “chair” and “seat”.

 

(5)     English expression intended:               The plane has many seats.

         English expression used:                      The plane has many chairs.

         Corresponding Persian expression:       havapeyma sandalihaye ziadi darad.

 

 

4.2 Syntactic transfer errors

Three types of syntactic transfer errors are discussed here, i.e., word order, subordination structure and relative pronoun transfer.

 

4.2.1 Word order

In many cases, the learner may transfer the Persian word order to the interlanguage, as illustrated in the following examples:

 

(6)      English expression intended:             I don’t think he is smart.

          English expression used:                    I think he is not smart.

          Corresponding Persian expression:    man fekr mikonam ou zirak nist.

 

 (7)    English expression intended:              Tehran is really a busy city.

         English expression used:                     Tehran really is a busy city.

         Corresponding Persian expression:     tehran vaghean shahre sholoughi ast.

 

4.2.2 Subordination

Persian learners have trouble with subordination structures such as because... so and although... but, as illustrated in the examples below. A good explanation for this could be that they tend to follow the coordination structure in Persian, where ‘because’ and ‘so’ and ‘although’ and ‘but’ need to occur together within one sentence.

 

(8)    English expression intended:

                   Although he was sick, he came to school.

         English expression used:

                   Although he was sick, but he came to school.

         Corresponding Persian expression:

                  Agarche ou bimar bud, ama be madrese amad.

 

4.2.3 Relative pronouns

While using relative pronouns such as who, which, whom,… to combine two sentences, most Persian students bring the anaphoric pronoun in the complement. As an example, they tend to use ‘it’ in the following sentence:

 

(9)  English expression intended:           This is the book which I read before.                   

       English expression used:                 This is the book which I read it before.               

      Corresponding Persian expression:  in an ketabist ke ghablan an ra khandam.

 

5. Exercises and feedbacks

In this section, several types of exercises that can be implemented in an ICALL component are discussed that handle language transfer errors. These include multiple choice, translation, and reading/listening comprehension exercises, with other types to be explored. For each type of exercises, we will also discuss what kinds of answers are required from the user, what kinds of errors are expected, and what kinds of feedbacks the system could give to the user. For the ease of the reader, we will use the examples (perhaps repetitively) above for the discussion here. Whereas recent ICALL systems emphasize the capability to process and give feedback to freely input sentences, it seems that controlled exercises that are likely to elicit transfer errors, when grouped together, may help raise the learner’s awareness of such errors in a more effective way.

 

5.1 Multiple choice

Multiple choice is a common type of exercise that has been used extensively in traditional CALL systems, because it is relatively easy to implement. Two subtypes of multiple choice exercises will be presented that could be useful for the ICALL component that handles transfer errors here.

The first subtype of multiple choice exercises is something like “Pick the Right Word”. Like in other multiple choice exercises, the user is presented a sentence with a blank, and is asked to choose the best word to fill in the blank. The difference, however, lies in the focus of the exercises and the type of feedbacks to be provided based on the user’s answers. The focus of this subtype of exercises will be on lexical transfer errors. The user is expected to pick the idiomatic word used in English, and the list of possible answers will contain, among others, one or two words that are directly transferred from Persian. If the user picks a transferred word, the system will remind the user that this is a direct translation of the corresponding Persian word. One example of this subtype of multiple choice exercises is given below:

 

 (10)   Would you like to _______ some milk?

           A. take

           B. drink

           C. eat

           D. put

If the user picks C for (10), the system could return feedbacks similar to the following:

(11)  “I guess you probably translated the Persian word directly into English, but this is not idiomatic English.”

 

If the user consistently makes similar lexical transfer errors, the system could return feedbacks similar to the following at the end of a section of exercises:

 

(12)  “I sensed a heavy influence of Persian in your English, as you are translating many Persian words directly into English. You should be more careful with idiomatic English collocations.”

 

The second subtype of multiple choice exercises is something like “Pick the Best English Sentence”. This type of exercises will focus on word order transfer errors. The user will be presented a set of sentences with different word orders and will be asked to pick the most idiomatic one, as illustrated in the example below:

 

 (13)   Pick the best English sentence:

         A. Isfahan really is a beautiful city.

         B. Isfahan is really a beautiful city.

         C. Isfahan is a really beautiful city.

         D. Isfahan is a beautiful really city.

 

If the user picks A, the system could return the following feedback:

 

(14)  “This is not the best way to say it in English. You are probably influenced by the Persian word order.”

 

Again, if the user consistently makes word order transfer errors, the system could return the following feedback at the end of the exercise:

 

(15) “I sensed a heavy influence of Persian in your English, as you are transferring the Persian word order to English in many cases. You should be aware that Persian and English have different word orders and watch for such differences.”

For both of these two subtypes of multiple choice exercises, if the user makes a non-transfer error, then the system could return feedbacks based on the error analysis approach.

 

5.2 Translation exercises

With a carefully selected set of sentences, translation exercises can also be very useful in eliciting both lexical and syntactic transfer errors. The user will be presented a Persian sentence, and will be asked to translate the sentence into English. An example of this is given as follow:

 

(16)   Translate the following sentence into English:

          mayelid meghdari ab bokhorid?    (Would you like to drink some water?)

 

For (16), the user’s answer might be “would you like to eat some water?”. If this happens, the system should return an alert of the transfer errors detected.

 

5.3 Reading or listening comprehension

It is also possible to include some reading and listening comprehension exercises. In this case, the user will first read or listen to a short conversation or paragraph, and will then be asked to answer some questions based on the conversation or paragraph. Like the translation exercises, these short answer exercises allow the user to freely input some sentences, but with the content of the sentences restricted. For example, the user may hear a short conversation in which Tom says to Mary that he doesn’t think Peter is smart. The user can then be asked the following question:

 

(17) What does Tom think about Peter?

 

The user’s answer might be “Tom thinks Peter is not smart”. If this happens, the system could return the following feedback:

 

(18) “It seems you are saying this in the Persian word order. Listen to the conversation (or read the paragraph) again, and this time, pay special attention to how Tom says it.”

 

6. Techniques to be used to give such feedback

In this section, the natural language techniques involved in order to enable the ICALL system to detect language transfer errors and provide useful feedbacks, are discussed. These include both techniques that are useful for error analysis in general and those that are specifically useful for transfer analysis.

 

6.1 A database of translational transfer errors

A database of common translational transfer errors would prove useful for the ICALL component that handles language transfer errors. For one thing, this database can inform the design of exercises that focus on translational transfer errors. For another thing, the database could also facilitate the detection of translational transfer errors in freely input sentences, as will be discussed below. Entries of this database could be organized in the following format:

 

(19)   latest   :    newest   :   news

          drink    :    eat         :   milk

           seat     :    chair      :   plane

 

In each entry, the first word is the intended English word in English, and the second word is the most likely word that is translationally transferred from Persian. The third word is optional: if it is provided, it means the second word is translationally transferred from Persian when it collocates with this word; if not, then the entry simply shows that the second word may be translationally transferred from Persian for the first word in general. The compilation of such a database could benefit from three sources: study of learner corpora, experience of ESL teachers, and research in contrastive analysis.

 

6.2 Techniques useful for general error analysis

The following natural language processing tools are useful for error detection in a freely input sentence: a spell checker that corrects or asks the user to correct any misspelled words, a part-of-speech tagger that assigns a part-of-speech tag to each individual word, a chunker that groups words into phrases, and a parser that assigns a syntactic structure to the sentence. The parser could be based on a set of grammatical rules and constraints and determines whether a sentence is acceptable or unacceptable. The technique of constraint relaxation has been used in many ICALL systems to allow the parse to assign a syntactic structure to a sentence that violates one or more grammatical constraints, while keeping track of which constraints are being relaxed (see, e.g., L’haire and Faltin, 2003).

 

 6.3 Additional subcategorization frames and syntactic rules

In order to detect transfer errors involving subcategorization frames, such as the ones in (1) and (2), the subcategorization frames of certain Persian verbs can be added to the corresponding English verbs. To detect transfer errors involving word order and subordination structure, a set of syntactic rules can be added to the rules in the English grammar. These syntactic rules will be derived from rules of the Persian grammar and will allow the parser to parse ungrammatical sentences such as the one in (8). If the added subcategorization frames of a verb or one of the added syntactic rules is applied in order to parse a sentence, the system will return a corresponding message about the transfer error found.

 

6.4 Detecting translational transfer errors in freely input sentences

The detection of translational transfer errors is a much harder task. One possible and easy way to do this is to ask the exercise designer to code in the answer the key word that is involved in the translational transfer error the exercise is targeting. After parsing the sentence (and therefore detecting non-transfer errors, subcategorization frame transfer errors and syntactic transfer errors), the system could simply search the sentence to see if the key word occurs in it. The translational transfer error database can serve as a useful reference for coding the key word. For example, in addition to the expected answer to (16), which would be “would you like to drink some water?”, the designer could code ‘eat’ as the key word involved in the targeted translational transfer error. If the word ‘eat’ appears in the answer, then it is likely that a translational transfer error is detected, and the system can give a corresponding error message about the transfer error.

 

7. Summary

On the theoretical side, the three most influential theories in dealing with language errors along with the importance of including a component that handles language transfer errors in ICALL systems were established. On the practical side, some common lexical and syntactic transfer errors found among Persian learners of English were discussed, and three types of exercises that could be used to elicit language transfer errors were proposed. In addition, the natural language processing techniques involved in order to allow the system to detect lexical transfer errors and give awareness-raising feedbacks were mentioned.

 

8. Conclusion

Although native language influence is one of the most important factors in the occurrence of errors among Iranian EFL students, it is not the single case. Many other reasons do intervene: learner’s attitude towards target and native language, educational background, motivation, feedback and anxiety and many other variables whose impact may be even more important than the effect of the linguistic structure of the native language( here, Farsi).

Moreover, the native language influence is not negative all the time. There are many linguistic characteristics in Farsi similar to those in English which can enhance learning process. It is the teacher's duty to be aware of these phenomena and know how to confront them while dealing with students' linguistic errors in high schools and pre-university centers.

 

خطاهای زبانی فراگیران

نگرشها و اهمیت

نگارش: احمدرضا پیرزاد

کارشناس ارشد آموزش زبان انگلیسی

و

دبیر زبان انگلیسی منطقه سیلاخور

استان لرستان

کدپرسنلی:  38008115

تلفن تماس:  09163997843

پست الکترونیک:  pirzad75@gmail.com

بهمن 1387

  

چکیده

این مقاله بطورکلی شامل دو بخش می باشد: در بخش اول-بخش تئوری- نگرشهای مختلف در مورد خطاهای زبانی، تصحیح خطاها، وسه فرضیه بسیار تأثیرگذار درمورد خطاها، شامل زبانشناسی مقابله ای، تجزیه وتحلیل خطا، و فرضیه زبان بینابینی مورد بحث قرار گرفته اند. در بخش دوم- بخش کاربردی- دو گونه از خطاهای زبانی بسیار رایج، شامل خطاهای واژگانی و دستوری، در بین دانش آموزان دبیرستانی و مراکز پیش دانشگاهی به همراه نمونه هایی از این خطاها مورد اشاره قرار گرفته اند.و در ادامه تدابیری جهت بهبود آگاهی فراگیران نسبت به این خطاها بیان شده است.

 

کلید واژه ها:  خطاهای انتقال، زبانشناسی مقابله ای، تجزیه وتحلیل خطا، زبان بینابینی

 

 

 Language learners Errors,

 Approaches and Significance

 By:

Ahmad Reza Pirzad

 MA in TEFL

 English teacher -Silakhor, Lorestan Province

 Bahman 1387/ February 2009

Mail: pirzad75@gmail.com

Tel: 09163997843

 

 

Language learners Errors- Approaches and Significance

Ahmad Reza Pirzad

 English teacher at Silakhor, Lorestan Province, 2009

Abstract

This paper mainly consists of two sections: In the first section, the theoretical section, different approaches to language errors, error correction, and the three most influential theories on errors- contrastive analysis, error analysis, and interlanguage theory- have been discussed. In the second section, the practical one, two types of most widely spread language transfer errors- lexical and syntactic- among high school and pre-university center students have been mentioned along with some prevalent examples. The rest includes some strategies to improve learners’ awareness of language transfer errors.

                                                                   

Key words: ICALL transfer errors, contrastive analysis, error analysis, interlanguage

 

1. Introduction

Errors are an integral part of language acquisition. The phenomenon of error has long interested second/foreign language learning researchers. In a traditional second language teaching situation, they are regarded as the linguistic phenomena deviant from the language rules and standard usages, reflecting learners’ deficiency in language competence and acquisition device. Many teachers simply correct individual errors as they occur, with little attempt to see patterns of errors or to seek causes in anything other than learner ignorance. Presently, however, with the development of linguistics, applied linguistics, psychology and other relevant subjects, people’s attitude toward errors changed greatly. Instead of being problems to be overcome or evils to be eradicated, errors are believed to be evidence of the learners’ stages in their target language (TL) development. It is through analyzing learner errors that errors are elevated from the status of “undesirability to that of a guide to the inner working of the language learning process” (Ellis, 1985, p. 53).

Corder (1967) introduced the distinction between systematic and non-systematic errors. Unsystematic errors occur in one’s native language; Corder calls these "mistakes" and states that they are not significant to the process of language learning. He keeps the term "errors" for the systematic ones, which occur in a second language.

 According to Karra, errors are significant in three ways:
- to the teacher: they show a student’s progress
- to the researcher: they show how a language is acquired, what strategies the learner uses.
- to the learner: he can learn from these errors (Karra, 2006).

 

2. Approaches to error correction

Over the years, there have been a range of approaches to error correction in language teaching and learning. According to the behaviourists, untreated errors would lead to fossilisation and therefore required rigid and immediate correction if bad habits were to be avoided (Skinner, 1957). Chomsky (1959) however, approached error from a cognitive point of view, according to which errors are the result of the learner thinking through the process of rule formation. According to Corder (1967), errors provide evidence of progress, while Selinker (1972) argued that errors are a natural part of the learner’s developing interlanguage. Krashen and Terrell (1983) proscribed error correction, since they believed it had no place in a Natural Approach to learning language which should be developed in the same way as children learn their first language. As the Communicative Approach came into vogue, a common position was that errors were not important as long as they did not affect communication (Littlewood, 1981). On a pragmatic level, Long (1977) suggested that much corrective feedback is erratic, ambiguous, ill-timed and ineffective, while Truscott (1998) maintained that error correction is ineffective and even harmful.

Students naturally want the English they produce to be understood, and they usually expect to be corrected (Ur, 2000). Grammar and vocabulary errors, as well as consistently mispronounced sounds may affect their ability to be understood. Students are often aware of the importance of feeling confident that they will be understood, and believe it is the teachers’ job to provide for their communicative needs. Students often don’t know they are making errors, and require feedback from teachers to raise their awareness. According to this view, focus on errors is a good use of some class time as those errors may hinder the successful completion of a classroom task.

According to a communicative philosophy, errors that detract from successful completion of a task or which could lead to misunderstanding should probably be dealt with. Repeated or shared errors are also ones that teachers should consider correcting (Kelly, 2006).

 

3. Error theories

There are three different approaches to the analysis of “learner English” (Swan and Smith, 1987), namely, contrastive analysis, transfer analysis (interlanguage theory), and error analysis. As Okuma (2000) noted, these approaches differ in their standpoints. Contrastive analysis compares the structures of two language systems and predicts errors. Transfer analysis, on the other hand, compares “learner English” with L1 and attempts to explain the structure of those errors that can be traced to language transfer. Error analysis compares “learner English” with English (L2) itself and judges how learners are “ignorant” (James, 1998).

 

3.1 Contrastive analysis

Contrastive Analysis (CA) stresses the influence of the mother tongue (MT) in learning a second language in phonological, morphological, lexical and syntactic levels. It holds that L2 would be affected by L1. Here, language is taken as a set of habits and learning as the establishment of new habits, a view sprung from behaviorism, under which language is essentially a system of habits.

Two versions of CA were proposed, a strong version and a weak version, and on the former those who write contrastive analyses usually claim to base their work. Purists of contrastive analysis advocate a “strong” approach—predictions about learner difficulties and development of teaching methods based on a comparison of phonological, grammatical, and syntactic features of the native language (NL) and target language (TL). A second or “weaker” version looks for learners’ recurring errors and attempts to account for those errors by ascribing their NL/TL differences (Jie, 2008).

 

3.2 Error analysis

Error  Analysis (EA) received considerable attention and finally became a recognized part of applied linguistics in the 1970’s since the strong version of CA turned out not to be a productive pedagogical tool. James defined the notion of EA as “the study of linguistic ignorance, the investigation of what people do not know and how they attempt to cope with their ignorance” (James, 2001, p. 62).

In order to analyze learners’ errors in a proper perspective, EA enthusiasts considered it crucial to make a distinction between mistake and error, which are “technically two very different phenomena” (Brown, 1994, p.205). Corder (1967) made use of Chomsky’s the “competence versus performance” distinction by associating errors with failures in competence and mistakes with failures in performance. In his view, a mistake occurs as the result of processing limitations rather than lack of competence. That is, it signifies L2 learners’ failure of utilizing their knowledge of a TL rule. All people make mistakes, in both native and second language situations. As a matter of fact, falling back on some alternative, non-standard language uses like false starts, hesitations, random guesses, confusions of structure or slips of the tongue is a regular feature of native speaker speech. Native speakers are normally capable of recognizing and correcting such mistakes. Nevertheless, an error, in this technical sense, is the breaches of rules of code; it is the noticeable deviation in grammaticality resulting from a lack of requisite knowledge. It arises because of the lack of competence. Native speakers may also make errors but they are able to correct their own errors; nevertheless, L2 learners cannot, by any means, always do so.

 

3.3 Interlanguage theory

The concept of interlanguage (IL) was suggested by Selinker (1972) in order to draw attention to the possibility that the learner’s language can be regarded as a distinct language variety or system with its own particular characteristics and rules. IL is a structured and interlocking system which the learner constructs at a given stage in his development. An L2 leaner, at any particular moment in his learning sequence, is using a language system which is independent of both the TL and the learner’s mother tongue (MT). It is a third language, with its own grammar, its own lexicon and so on. The rules used by the learner are to be found in neither his own MT, nor in the TL.

Various alternative terms have been used by different researchers to refer to the same phenomenon as IL. Corder (1971) proposed the notions of “idiosyncratic dialects” to identify the idea that the learner’s language is peculiar and “transitional competence” to pinpoint the dynamic nature of the learners’ developing system. In another similar model, a paper by Nemser (1971) referred to this learner language as “approximative system”, one of a series of approximative stages through which the leaner moves in his acquisition of the TL.

 

3.3.1 Interlanguage and language transfer

According to the Interlanguage Hypothesis( Selinker, 1972; Selinker et al., 1975), learners create an interlanguage when they try to express meaning in a second language. Language transfer is the central element in the process of creating the interlanguage, because learners need to make use of available linguistic resources in creating the interlanguage, and these resources often come from their native language. Therefore, language transfer plays a very important role in second language acquisition.

However, language transfer is not restricted to L1 transfer. Odlin (1989) defined transfer as “the influence resulting from similarities and differences between the target language and any other language that has been previously (and perhaps imperfect) acquired.” Bull (1995) discussed the importance to recognize the role played by other foreign languages in addition to the learner’s native language. Our discussion will be restricted to L1 transfer here, because in the case of Persian learners of English, L1 transfer is primary: the majority of Persian learners of English either do not know any other foreign language, or do not know one well enough for L3 transfer to be of significant interest.

 

3.3.2 Language transfer and fossilization

Fossilization refers to the phenomenon where a linguistic form, feature, rule, etc. becomes permanently established in the interlanguage of a second-language learner in a form that is deviant from the target language norm and that continues to appear in performance regardless of further exposure to the target language (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1987). A linguistic form may also be temporarily stabilized in the interlanguage instead of permanently fossilized, and stabilization needs to be distinguished from fossilization (Han and Selinker, 1999). Needless to say, however, both fossilization and stabilization of any false linguistic form, feature or rule are not desirable for second language learners.

Selinker and Lakshmanan (1992), among others, proposed the multiple effects principle, which links language transfer and fossilization. Their basic idea is that when two or more source language factors work in tandem, there is a greater chance of stabilization of interlanguage forms leading to possible fossilization, and language transfer is a necessary co-factor in setting multiple effects. Once a structure is fossilized, it may not become open to destabilization through consciousness raising strategies when multiple effects apply.

Based on this theory, it is very important to help the learner understand the sources of language transfer errors and develop an awareness of such errors in the early stages of language learning, so that the stabilized linguistic forms in his or her interlanguage can be destabilized before they become fossilized.

 

4. Lexical and syntactic transfer errors among Persian learners of English

In this section, some common lexical and syntactic transfer errors among Persian learners of English (especially those at high schools and pre-university centers) are discussed. This discussion will facilitate the design of exercises to be included in the ICALL component that handles language transfer errors. The types of transfer errors covered here are not exhaustive. It is also important to keep in mind that this is not a discussion of all types of common errors, but only common transfer errors of Persian learners of English in high schools and pre-university centers.

 

4.1 Lexical transfer errors

Ro (1994) used lexical transfer to refer to the projection of the idiosyncratic properties of L1 lexical items onto the corresponding, i.e., translationally related target language lexical items. He argued that if the syntactic and semantic properties of an interlanguage lexical item diverge from the standard of the target language, but are strikingly similar to properties of the corresponding L1 lexical item, lexical transfer is a likely explanation. He considered two types of lexical transfer, i.e., transfer of L1 subcategorization frames and translational transfer of idiomatic expressions. These two types of lexical transfer are also prevalent among Persian learners of English. These are illustrated with some examples below.

 

4.1.1 Transfer of L1 subcategorization frames

Transfer of L1 subcategorization happens when a verb in Persian and the corresponding verb in English have the same meaning but different subcategorization requirements, and the learner transfers the  subcategorization requirement of the verb in Persian to his or her interlanguage. This is illustrated in the following examples:

 

(1)  English expression intended:              She will marry an engineer.

       English expression used:                    She will marry with an engineer.

       Corresponding Persian translation:    ou ba yek mohandes ezdevaj khahad kard.

 

(2)  English expression intended:            You should be able to find it.

      English expression used:                   You should can find it.

      Corresponding Persian expression:    shoma bayad betavanid anra peyda konid.

 

In (1), the Persian verb ezdevaj kardan ‘marry’ subcategorizes for a preposed prepositional phrase. In (2), the Persian verb bayad ‘should’ subcategorizes for a verb phrase headed by another modal verb, tavanestan ‘can’.

It seems reasonable to infer that in these cases the learner has transferred or partially transferred the subcategorization frames of these verbs in Persian to his or her interlanguage, as the resemblance between the subcategorizations frames of these verbs in the interlanguage and those in Persian are striking.

 

4.1.2 Translational transfer of idiomatic expressions

Examples of translational transfer of idiomatic expressions abound. Some examples are presented below concerning verbs, adjectives, and nouns in turn.

 

4.1.2.1 Verbs

In Persian, shir ‘milk’ collocates with the verb khordan ‘eat’. The following example represents strong cases of translational transfer of these collocations in Persian to the interlanguage.

 

(3)     English expression intended:           Drink some milk.

         English expression used:                   Eat some milk.

         Corresponding Persian expression:   meghdari shir bokhorid.

 

4.1.2.2 Adjectives

The following example illustrates translational transfer of Persian adjective-noun collocations to the interlanguage. In Persian, the latest news is referred to as tazehtarin akhbar, which literally means the newest news.

 

(4)     English expression intended:                    Latest news

         English expression used:                           Newest news

         Corresponding Persian expression:           jadidtarin akhbar

 

4.1.2.3 Nouns

The following example illustrates translational transfer of Persian nouns to the interlanguage. In Persian, sandali means both “chair” and “seat”.

 

(5)     English expression intended:               The plane has many seats.

         English expression used:                      The plane has many chairs.

         Corresponding Persian expression:       havapeyma sandalihaye ziadi darad.

 

 

4.2 Syntactic transfer errors

Three types of syntactic transfer errors are discussed here, i.e., word order, subordination structure and relative pronoun transfer.

 

4.2.1 Word order

In many cases, the learner may transfer the Persian word order to the interlanguage, as illustrated in the following examples:

 

(6)      English expression intended:             I don’t think he is smart.

          English expression used:                    I think he is not smart.

          Corresponding Persian expression:    man fekr mikonam ou zirak nist.

 

 (7)    English expression intended:              Tehran is really a busy city.

         English expression used:                     Tehran really is a busy city.

         Corresponding Persian expression:     tehran vaghean shahre sholoughi ast.

 

4.2.2 Subordination

Persian learners have trouble with subordination structures such as because... so and although... but, as illustrated in the examples below. A good explanation for this could be that they tend to follow the coordination structure in Persian, where ‘because’ and ‘so’ and ‘although’ and ‘but’ need to occur together within one sentence.

 

(8)    English expression intended:

                   Although he was sick, he came to school.

         English expression used:

                   Although he was sick, but he came to school.

         Corresponding Persian expression:

                  Agarche ou bimar bud, ama be madrese amad.

 

4.2.3 Relative pronouns

While using relative pronouns such as who, which, whom,… to combine two sentences, most Persian students bring the anaphoric pronoun in the complement. As an example, they tend to use ‘it’ in the following sentence:

 

(9)  English expression intended:           This is the book which I read before.                   

       English expression used:                 This is the book which I read it before.               

      Corresponding Persian expression:  in an ketabist ke ghablan an ra khandam.

 

5. Exercises and feedbacks

In this section, several types of exercises that can be implemented in an ICALL component are discussed that handle language transfer errors. These include multiple choice, translation, and reading/listening comprehension exercises, with other types to be explored. For each type of exercises, we will also discuss what kinds of answers are required from the user, what kinds of errors are expected, and what kinds of feedbacks the system could give to the user. For the ease of the reader, we will use the examples (perhaps repetitively) above for the discussion here. Whereas recent ICALL systems emphasize the capability to process and give feedback to freely input sentences, it seems that controlled exercises that are likely to elicit transfer errors, when grouped together, may help raise the learner’s awareness of such errors in a more effective way.

 

5.1 Multiple choice

Multiple choice is a common type of exercise that has been used extensively in traditional CALL systems, because it is relatively easy to implement. Two subtypes of multiple choice exercises will be presented that could be useful for the ICALL component that handles transfer errors here.

The first subtype of multiple choice exercises is something like “Pick the Right Word”. Like in other multiple choice exercises, the user is presented a sentence with a blank, and is asked to choose the best word to fill in the blank. The difference, however, lies in the focus of the exercises and the type of feedbacks to be provided based on the user’s answers. The focus of this subtype of exercises will be on lexical transfer errors. The user is expected to pick the idiomatic word used in English, and the list of possible answers will contain, among others, one or two words that are directly transferred from Persian. If the user picks a transferred word, the system will remind the user that this is a direct translation of the corresponding Persian word. One example of this subtype of multiple choice exercises is given below:

 

 (10)   Would you like to _______ some milk?

           A. take

           B. drink

           C. eat

           D. put

If the user picks C for (10), the system could return feedbacks similar to the following:

(11)  “I guess you probably translated the Persian word directly into English, but this is not idiomatic English.”

 

If the user consistently makes similar lexical transfer errors, the system could return feedbacks similar to the following at the end of a section of exercises:

 

(12)  “I sensed a heavy influence of Persian in your English, as you are translating many Persian words directly into English. You should be more careful with idiomatic English collocations.”

 

The second subtype of multiple choice exercises is something like “Pick the Best English Sentence”. This type of exercises will focus on word order transfer errors. The user will be presented a set of sentences with different word orders and will be asked to pick the most idiomatic one, as illustrated in the example below:

 

 (13)   Pick the best English sentence:

         A. Isfahan really is a beautiful city.

         B. Isfahan is really a beautiful city.

         C. Isfahan is a really beautiful city.

         D. Isfahan is a beautiful really city.

 

If the user picks A, the system could return the following feedback:

 

(14)  “This is not the best way to say it in English. You are probably influenced by the Persian word order.”

 

Again, if the user consistently makes word order transfer errors, the system could return the following feedback at the end of the exercise:

 

(15) “I sensed a heavy influence of Persian in your English, as you are transferring the Persian word order to English in many cases. You should be aware that Persian and English have different word orders and watch for such differences.”

For both of these two subtypes of multiple choice exercises, if the user makes a non-transfer error, then the system could return feedbacks based on the error analysis approach.

 

5.2 Translation exercises

With a carefully selected set of sentences, translation exercises can also be very useful in eliciting both lexical and syntactic transfer errors. The user will be presented a Persian sentence, and will be asked to translate the sentence into English. An example of this is given as follow:

 

(16)   Translate the following sentence into English:

          mayelid meghdari ab bokhorid?    (Would you like to drink some water?)

 

For (16), the user’s answer might be “would you like to eat some water?”. If this happens, the system should return an alert of the transfer errors detected.

 

5.3 Reading or listening comprehension

It is also possible to include some reading and listening comprehension exercises. In this case, the user will first read or listen to a short conversation or paragraph, and will then be asked to answer some questions based on the conversation or paragraph. Like the translation exercises, these short answer exercises allow the user to freely input some sentences, but with the content of the sentences restricted. For example, the user may hear a short conversation in which Tom says to Mary that he doesn’t think Peter is smart. The user can then be asked the following question:

 

(17) What does Tom think about Peter?

 

The user’s answer might be “Tom thinks Peter is not smart”. If this happens, the system could return the following feedback:

 

(18) “It seems you are saying this in the Persian word order. Listen to the conversation (or read the paragraph) again, and this time, pay special attention to how Tom says it.”

 

6. Techniques to be used to give such feedback

In this section, the natural language techniques involved in order to enable the ICALL system to detect language transfer errors and provide useful feedbacks, are discussed. These include both techniques that are useful for error analysis in general and those that are specifically useful for transfer analysis.

 

6.1 A database of translational transfer errors

A database of common translational transfer errors would prove useful for the ICALL component that handles language transfer errors. For one thing, this database can inform the design of exercises that focus on translational transfer errors. For another thing, the database could also facilitate the detection of translational transfer errors in freely input sentences, as will be discussed below. Entries of this database could be organized in the following format:

 

(19)   latest   :    newest   :   news

          drink    :    eat         :   milk

           seat     :    chair      :   plane

 

In each entry, the first word is the intended English word in English, and the second word is the most likely word that is translationally transferred from Persian. The third word is optional: if it is provided, it means the second word is translationally transferred from Persian when it collocates with this word; if not, then the entry simply shows that the second word may be translationally transferred from Persian for the first word in general. The compilation of such a database could benefit from three sources: study of learner corpora, experience of ESL teachers, and research in contrastive analysis.

 

6.2 Techniques useful for general error analysis

The following natural language processing tools are useful for error detection in a freely input sentence: a spell checker that corrects or asks the user to correct any misspelled words, a part-of-speech tagger that assigns a part-of-speech tag to each individual word, a chunker that groups words into phrases, and a parser that assigns a syntactic structure to the sentence. The parser could be based on a set of grammatical rules and constraints and determines whether a sentence is acceptable or unacceptable. The technique of constraint relaxation has been used in many ICALL systems to allow the parse to assign a syntactic structure to a sentence that violates one or more grammatical constraints, while keeping track of which constraints are being relaxed (see, e.g., L’haire and Faltin, 2003).

 

 6.3 Additional subcategorization frames and syntactic rules

In order to detect transfer errors involving subcategorization frames, such as the ones in (1) and (2), the subcategorization frames of certain Persian verbs can be added to the corresponding English verbs. To detect transfer errors involving word order and subordination structure, a set of syntactic rules can be added to the rules in the English grammar. These syntactic rules will be derived from rules of the Persian grammar and will allow the parser to parse ungrammatical sentences such as the one in (8). If the added subcategorization frames of a verb or one of the added syntactic rules is applied in order to parse a sentence, the system will return a corresponding message about the transfer error found.

 

6.4 Detecting translational transfer errors in freely input sentences

The detection of translational transfer errors is a much harder task. One possible and easy way to do this is to ask the exercise designer to code in the answer the key word that is involved in the translational transfer error the exercise is targeting. After parsing the sentence (and therefore detecting non-transfer errors, subcategorization frame transfer errors and syntactic transfer errors), the system could simply search the sentence to see if the key word occurs in it. The translational transfer error database can serve as a useful reference for coding the key word. For example, in addition to the expected answer to (16), which would be “would you like to drink some water?”, the designer could code ‘eat’ as the key word involved in the targeted translational transfer error. If the word ‘eat’ appears in the answer, then it is likely that a translational transfer error is detected, and the system can give a corresponding error message about the transfer error.

 

7. Summary

On the theoretical side, the three most influential theories in dealing with language errors along with the importance of including a component that handles language transfer errors in ICALL systems were established. On the practical side, some common lexical and syntactic transfer errors found among Persian learners of English were discussed, and three types of exercises that could be used to elicit language transfer errors were proposed. In addition, the natural language processing techniques involved in order to allow the system to detect lexical transfer errors and give awareness-raising feedbacks were mentioned.

 

8. Conclusion

Although native language influence is one of the most important factors in the occurrence of errors among Iranian EFL students, it is not the single case. Many other reasons do intervene: learner’s attitude towards target and native language, educational background, motivation, feedback and anxiety and many other variables whose impact may be even more important than the effect of the linguistic structure of the native language( here, Farsi).

Moreover, the native language influence is not negative all the time. There are many linguistic characteristics in Farsi similar to those in English which can enhance learning process. It is the teacher's duty to be aware of these phenomena and know how to confront them while dealing with students' linguistic errors in high schools and pre-university centers.

 

خطاهای زبانی فراگیران

نگرشها و اهمیت

نگارش: احمدرضا پیرزاد

کارشناس ارشد آموزش زبان انگلیسی

و

دبیر زبان انگلیسی منطقه سیلاخور

استان لرستان

کدپرسنلی:  38008115

تلفن تماس:  09163997843

پست الکترونیک:  pirzad75@gmail.com

بهمن 1387

  

چکیده

این مقاله بطورکلی شامل دو بخش می باشد: در بخش اول-بخش تئوری- نگرشهای مختلف در مورد خطاهای زبانی، تصحیح خطاها، وسه فرضیه بسیار تأثیرگذار درمورد خطاها، شامل زبانشناسی مقابله ای، تجزیه وتحلیل خطا، و فرضیه زبان بینابینی مورد بحث قرار گرفته اند. در بخش دوم- بخش کاربردی- دو گونه از خطاهای زبانی بسیار رایج، شامل خطاهای واژگانی و دستوری، در بین دانش آموزان دبیرستانی و مراکز پیش دانشگاهی به همراه نمونه هایی از این خطاها مورد اشاره قرار گرفته اند.و در ادامه تدابیری جهت بهبود آگاهی فراگیران نسبت به این خطاها بیان شده است.

 

کلید واژه ها:  خطاهای انتقال، زبانشناسی مقابله ای، تجزیه وتحلیل خطا، زبان بینابینی

 

 

 Language learners Errors,

 Approaches and Significance

 By:

Ahmad Reza Pirzad

 MA in TEFL

 English teacher -Silakhor, Lorestan Province

 Bahman 1387/ February 2009

Mail: pirzad75@gmail.com

Tel: 09163997843

 

 

Language learners Errors- Approaches and Significance

Ahmad Reza Pirzad

 English teacher at Silakhor, Lorestan Province, 2009

Abstract

This paper mainly consists of two sections: In the first section, the theoretical section, different approaches to language errors, error correction, and the three most influential theories on errors- contrastive analysis, error analysis, and interlanguage theory- have been discussed. In the second section, the practical one, two types of most widely spread language transfer errors- lexical and syntactic- among high school and pre-university center students have been mentioned along with some prevalent examples. The rest includes some strategies to improve learners’ awareness of language transfer errors.

                                                                   

Key words: ICALL transfer errors, contrastive analysis, error analysis, interlanguage

 

1. Introduction

Errors are an integral part of language acquisition. The phenomenon of error has long interested second/foreign language learning researchers. In a traditional second language teaching situation, they are regarded as the linguistic phenomena deviant from the language rules and standard usages, reflecting learners’ deficiency in language competence and acquisition device. Many teachers simply correct individual errors as they occur, with little attempt to see patterns of errors or to seek causes in anything other than learner ignorance. Presently, however, with the development of linguistics, applied linguistics, psychology and other relevant subjects, people’s attitude toward errors changed greatly. Instead of being problems to be overcome or evils to be eradicated, errors are believed to be evidence of the learners’ stages in their target language (TL) development. It is through analyzing learner errors that errors are elevated from the status of “undesirability to that of a guide to the inner working of the language learning process” (Ellis, 1985, p. 53).

Corder (1967) introduced the distinction between systematic and non-systematic errors. Unsystematic errors occur in one’s native language; Corder calls these "mistakes" and states that they are not significant to the process of language learning. He keeps the term "errors" for the systematic ones, which occur in a second language.

 According to Karra, errors are significant in three ways:
- to the teacher: they show a student’s progress
- to the researcher: they show how a language is acquired, what strategies the learner uses.
- to the learner: he can learn from these errors (Karra, 2006).

 

2. Approaches to error correction

Over the years, there have been a range of approaches to error correction in language teaching and learning. According to the behaviourists, untreated errors would lead to fossilisation and therefore required rigid and immediate correction if bad habits were to be avoided (Skinner, 1957). Chomsky (1959) however, approached error from a cognitive point of view, according to which errors are the result of the learner thinking through the process of rule formation. According to Corder (1967), errors provide evidence of progress, while Selinker (1972) argued that errors are a natural part of the learner’s developing interlanguage. Krashen and Terrell (1983) proscribed error correction, since they believed it had no place in a Natural Approach to learning language which should be developed in the same way as children learn their first language. As the Communicative Approach came into vogue, a common position was that errors were not important as long as they did not affect communication (Littlewood, 1981). On a pragmatic level, Long (1977) suggested that much corrective feedback is erratic, ambiguous, ill-timed and ineffective, while Truscott (1998) maintained that error correction is ineffective and even harmful.

Students naturally want the English they produce to be understood, and they usually expect to be corrected (Ur, 2000). Grammar and vocabulary errors, as well as consistently mispronounced sounds may affect their ability to be understood. Students are often aware of the importance of feeling confident that they will be understood, and believe it is the teachers’ job to provide for their communicative needs. Students often don’t know they are making errors, and require feedback from teachers to raise their awareness. According to this view, focus on errors is a good use of some class time as those errors may hinder the successful completion of a classroom task.

According to a communicative philosophy, errors that detract from successful completion of a task or which could lead to misunderstanding should probably be dealt with. Repeated or shared errors are also ones that teachers should consider correcting (Kelly, 2006).

 

3. Error theories

There are three different approaches to the analysis of “learner English” (Swan and Smith, 1987), namely, contrastive analysis, transfer analysis (interlanguage theory), and error analysis. As Okuma (2000) noted, these approaches differ in their standpoints. Contrastive analysis compares the structures of two language systems and predicts errors. Transfer analysis, on the other hand, compares “learner English” with L1 and attempts to explain the structure of those errors that can be traced to language transfer. Error analysis compares “learner English” with English (L2) itself and judges how learners are “ignorant” (James, 1998).

 

3.1 Contrastive analysis

Contrastive Analysis (CA) stresses the influence of the mother tongue (MT) in learning a second language in phonological, morphological, lexical and syntactic levels. It holds that L2 would be affected by L1. Here, language is taken as a set of habits and learning as the establishment of new habits, a view sprung from behaviorism, under which language is essentially a system of habits.

Two versions of CA were proposed, a strong version and a weak version, and on the former those who write contrastive analyses usually claim to base their work. Purists of contrastive analysis advocate a “strong” approach—predictions about learner difficulties and development of teaching methods based on a comparison of phonological, grammatical, and syntactic features of the native language (NL) and target language (TL). A second or “weaker” version looks for learners’ recurring errors and attempts to account for those errors by ascribing their NL/TL differences (Jie, 2008).

 

3.2 Error analysis

Error  Analysis (EA) received considerable attention and finally became a recognized part of applied linguistics in the 1970’s since the strong version of CA turned out not to be a productive pedagogical tool. James defined the notion of EA as “the study of linguistic ignorance, the investigation of what people do not know and how they attempt to cope with their ignorance” (James, 2001, p. 62).

In order to analyze learners’ errors in a proper perspective, EA enthusiasts considered it crucial to make a distinction between mistake and error, which are “technically two very different phenomena” (Brown, 1994, p.205). Corder (1967) made use of Chomsky’s the “competence versus performance” distinction by associating errors with failures in competence and mistakes with failures in performance. In his view, a mistake occurs as the result of processing limitations rather than lack of competence. That is, it signifies L2 learners’ failure of utilizing their knowledge of a TL rule. All people make mistakes, in both native and second language situations. As a matter of fact, falling back on some alternative, non-standard language uses like false starts, hesitations, random guesses, confusions of structure or slips of the tongue is a regular feature of native speaker speech. Native speakers are normally capable of recognizing and correcting such mistakes. Nevertheless, an error, in this technical sense, is the breaches of rules of code; it is the noticeable deviation in grammaticality resulting from a lack of requisite knowledge. It arises because of the lack of competence. Native speakers may also make errors but they are able to correct their own errors; nevertheless, L2 learners cannot, by any means, always do so.

 

3.3 Interlanguage theory

The concept of interlanguage (IL) was suggested by Selinker (1972) in order to draw attention to the possibility that the learner’s language can be regarded as a distinct language variety or system with its own particular characteristics and rules. IL is a structured and interlocking system which the learner constructs at a given stage in his development. An L2 leaner, at any particular moment in his learning sequence, is using a language system which is independent of both the TL and the learner’s mother tongue (MT). It is a third language, with its own grammar, its own lexicon and so on. The rules used by the learner are to be found in neither his own MT, nor in the TL.

Various alternative terms have been used by different researchers to refer to the same phenomenon as IL. Corder (1971) proposed the notions of “idiosyncratic dialects” to identify the idea that the learner’s language is peculiar and “transitional competence” to pinpoint the dynamic nature of the learners’ developing system. In another similar model, a paper by Nemser (1971) referred to this learner language as “approximative system”, one of a series of approximative stages through which the leaner moves in his acquisition of the TL.

 

3.3.1 Interlanguage and language transfer

According to the Interlanguage Hypothesis( Selinker, 1972; Selinker et al., 1975), learners create an interlanguage when they try to express meaning in a second language. Language transfer is the central element in the process of creating the interlanguage, because learners need to make use of available linguistic resources in creating the interlanguage, and these resources often come from their native language. Therefore, language transfer plays a very important role in second language acquisition.

However, language transfer is not restricted to L1 transfer. Odlin (1989) defined transfer as “the influence resulting from similarities and differences between the target language and any other language that has been previously (and perhaps imperfect) acquired.” Bull (1995) discussed the importance to recognize the role played by other foreign languages in addition to the learner’s native language. Our discussion will be restricted to L1 transfer here, because in the case of Persian learners of English, L1 transfer is primary: the majority of Persian learners of English either do not know any other foreign language, or do not know one well enough for L3 transfer to be of significant interest.

 

3.3.2 Language transfer and fossilization

Fossilization refers to the phenomenon where a linguistic form, feature, rule, etc. becomes permanently established in the interlanguage of a second-language learner in a form that is deviant from the target language norm and that continues to appear in performance regardless of further exposure to the target language (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1987). A linguistic form may also be temporarily stabilized in the interlanguage instead of permanently fossilized, and stabilization needs to be distinguished from fossilization (Han and Selinker, 1999). Needless to say, however, both fossilization and stabilization of any false linguistic form, feature or rule are not desirable for second language learners.

Selinker and Lakshmanan (1992), among others, proposed the multiple effects principle, which links language transfer and fossilization. Their basic idea is that when two or more source language factors work in tandem, there is a greater chance of stabilization of interlanguage forms leading to possible fossilization, and language transfer is a necessary co-factor in setting multiple effects. Once a structure is fossilized, it may not become open to destabilization through consciousness raising strategies when multiple effects apply.

Based on this theory, it is very important to help the learner understand the sources of language transfer errors and develop an awareness of such errors in the early stages of language learning, so that the stabilized linguistic forms in his or her interlanguage can be destabilized before they become fossilized.

 

4. Lexical and syntactic transfer errors among Persian learners of English

In this section, some common lexical and syntactic transfer errors among Persian learners of English (especially those at high schools and pre-university centers) are discussed. This discussion will facilitate the design of exercises to be included in the ICALL component that handles language transfer errors. The types of transfer errors covered here are not exhaustive. It is also important to keep in mind that this is not a discussion of all types of common errors, but only common transfer errors of Persian learners of English in high schools and pre-university centers.

 

4.1 Lexical transfer errors

Ro (1994) used lexical transfer to refer to the projection of the idiosyncratic properties of L1 lexical items onto the corresponding, i.e., translationally related target language lexical items. He argued that if the syntactic and semantic properties of an interlanguage lexical item diverge from the standard of the target language, but are strikingly similar to properties of the corresponding L1 lexical item, lexical transfer is a likely explanation. He considered two types of lexical transfer, i.e., transfer of L1 subcategorization frames and translational transfer of idiomatic expressions. These two types of lexical transfer are also prevalent among Persian learners of English. These are illustrated with some examples below.

 

4.1.1 Transfer of L1 subcategorization frames

Transfer of L1 subcategorization happens when a verb in Persian and the corresponding verb in English have the same meaning but different subcategorization requirements, and the learner transfers the  subcategorization requirement of the verb in Persian to his or her interlanguage. This is illustrated in the following examples:

 

(1)  English expression intended:              She will marry an engineer.

       English expression used:                    She will marry with an engineer.

       Corresponding Persian translation:    ou ba yek mohandes ezdevaj khahad kard.

 

(2)  English expression intended:            You should be able to find it.

      English expression used:                   You should can find it.

      Corresponding Persian expression:    shoma bayad betavanid anra peyda konid.

 

In (1), the Persian verb ezdevaj kardan ‘marry’ subcategorizes for a preposed prepositional phrase. In (2), the Persian verb bayad ‘should’ subcategorizes for a verb phrase headed by another modal verb, tavanestan ‘can’.

It seems reasonable to infer that in these cases the learner has transferred or partially transferred the subcategorization frames of these verbs in Persian to his or her interlanguage, as the resemblance between the subcategorizations frames of these verbs in the interlanguage and those in Persian are striking.

 

4.1.2 Translational transfer of idiomatic expressions

Examples of translational transfer of idiomatic expressions abound. Some examples are presented below concerning verbs, adjectives, and nouns in turn.

 

4.1.2.1 Verbs

In Persian, shir ‘milk’ collocates with the verb khordan ‘eat’. The following example represents strong cases of translational transfer of these collocations in Persian to the interlanguage.

 

(3)     English expression intended:           Drink some milk.

         English expression used:                   Eat some milk.

         Corresponding Persian expression:   meghdari shir bokhorid.

 

4.1.2.2 Adjectives

The following example illustrates translational transfer of Persian adjective-noun collocations to the interlanguage. In Persian, the latest news is referred to as tazehtarin akhbar, which literally means the newest news.

 

(4)     English expression intended:                    Latest news

         English expression used:                           Newest news

         Corresponding Persian expression:           jadidtarin akhbar

 

4.1.2.3 Nouns

The following example illustrates translational transfer of Persian nouns to the interlanguage. In Persian, sandali means both “chair” and “seat”.

 

(5)     English expression intended:               The plane has many seats.

         English expression used:                      The plane has many chairs.

         Corresponding Persian expression:       havapeyma sandalihaye ziadi darad.

 

 

4.2 Syntactic transfer errors

Three types of syntactic transfer errors are discussed here, i.e., word order, subordination structure and relative pronoun transfer.

 

4.2.1 Word order

In many cases, the learner may transfer the Persian word order to the interlanguage, as illustrated in the following examples:

 

(6)      English expression intended:             I don’t think he is smart.

          English expression used:                    I think he is not smart.

          Corresponding Persian expression:    man fekr mikonam ou zirak nist.

 

 (7)    English expression intended:              Tehran is really a busy city.

         English expression used:                     Tehran really is a busy city.

         Corresponding Persian expression:     tehran vaghean shahre sholoughi ast.

 

4.2.2 Subordination

Persian learners have trouble with subordination structures such as because... so and although... but, as illustrated in the examples below. A good explanation for this could be that they tend to follow the coordination structure in Persian, where ‘because’ and ‘so’ and ‘although’ and ‘but’ need to occur together within one sentence.

 

(8)    English expression intended:

                   Although he was sick, he came to school.

         English expression used:

                   Although he was sick, but he came to school.

         Corresponding Persian expression:

                  Agarche ou bimar bud, ama be madrese amad.

 

4.2.3 Relative pronouns

While using relative pronouns such as who, which, whom,… to combine two sentences, most Persian students bring the anaphoric pronoun in the complement. As an example, they tend to use ‘it’ in the following sentence:

 

(9)  English expression intended:           This is the book which I read before.                   

       English expression used:                 This is the book which I read it before.               

      Corresponding Persian expression:  in an ketabist ke ghablan an ra khandam.

 

5. Exercises and feedbacks

In this section, several types of exercises that can be implemented in an ICALL component are discussed that handle language transfer errors. These include multiple choice, translation, and reading/listening comprehension exercises, with other types to be explored. For each type of exercises, we will also discuss what kinds of answers are required from the user, what kinds of errors are expected, and what kinds of feedbacks the system could give to the user. For the ease of the reader, we will use the examples (perhaps repetitively) above for the discussion here. Whereas recent ICALL systems emphasize the capability to process and give feedback to freely input sentences, it seems that controlled exercises that are likely to elicit transfer errors, when grouped together, may help raise the learner’s awareness of such errors in a more effective way.

 

5.1 Multiple choice

Multiple choice is a common type of exercise that has been used extensively in traditional CALL systems, because it is relatively easy to implement. Two subtypes of multiple choice exercises will be presented that could be useful for the ICALL component that handles transfer errors here.

The first subtype of multiple choice exercises is something like “Pick the Right Word”. Like in other multiple choice exercises, the user is presented a sentence with a blank, and is asked to choose the best word to fill in the blank. The difference, however, lies in the focus of the exercises and the type of feedbacks to be provided based on the user’s answers. The focus of this subtype of exercises will be on lexical transfer errors. The user is expected to pick the idiomatic word used in English, and the list of possible answers will contain, among others, one or two words that are directly transferred from Persian. If the user picks a transferred word, the system will remind the user that this is a direct translation of the corresponding Persian word. One example of this subtype of multiple choice exercises is given below:

 

 (10)   Would you like to _______ some milk?

           A. take

           B. drink

           C. eat

           D. put

If the user picks C for (10), the system could return feedbacks similar to the following:

(11)  “I guess you probably translated the Persian word directly into English, but this is not idiomatic English.”

 

If the user consistently makes similar lexical transfer errors, the system could return feedbacks similar to the following at the end of a section of exercises:

 

(12)  “I sensed a heavy influence of Persian in your English, as you are translating many Persian words directly into English. You should be more careful with idiomatic English collocations.”

 

The second subtype of multiple choice exercises is something like “Pick the Best English Sentence”. This type of exercises will focus on word order transfer errors. The user will be presented a set of sentences with different word orders and will be asked to pick the most idiomatic one, as illustrated in the example below:

 

 (13)   Pick the best English sentence:

         A. Isfahan really is a beautiful city.

         B. Isfahan is really a beautiful city.

         C. Isfahan is a really beautiful city.

         D. Isfahan is a beautiful really city.

 

If the user picks A, the system could return the following feedback:

 

(14)  “This is not the best way to say it in English. You are probably influenced by the Persian word order.”

 

Again, if the user consistently makes word order transfer errors, the system could return the following feedback at the end of the exercise:

 

(15) “I sensed a heavy influence of Persian in your English, as you are transferring the Persian word order to English in many cases. You should be aware that Persian and English have different word orders and watch for such differences.”

For both of these two subtypes of multiple choice exercises, if the user makes a non-transfer error, then the system could return feedbacks based on the error analysis approach.

 

5.2 Translation exercises

With a carefully selected set of sentences, translation exercises can also be very useful in eliciting both lexical and syntactic transfer errors. The user will be presented a Persian sentence, and will be asked to translate the sentence into English. An example of this is given as follow:

 

(16)   Translate the following sentence into English:

          mayelid meghdari ab bokhorid?    (Would you like to drink some water?)

 

For (16), the user’s answer might be “would you like to eat some water?”. If this happens, the system should return an alert of the transfer errors detected.

 

5.3 Reading or listening comprehension

It is also possible to include some reading and listening comprehension exercises. In this case, the user will first read or listen to a short conversation or paragraph, and will then be asked to answer some questions based on the conversation or paragraph. Like the translation exercises, these short answer exercises allow the user to freely input some sentences, but with the content of the sentences restricted. For example, the user may hear a short conversation in which Tom says to Mary that he doesn’t think Peter is smart. The user can then be asked the following question:

 

(17) What does Tom think about Peter?

 

The user’s answer might be “Tom thinks Peter is not smart”. If this happens, the system could return the following feedback:

 

(18) “It seems you are saying this in the Persian word order. Listen to the conversation (or read the paragraph) again, and this time, pay special attention to how Tom says it.”

 

6. Techniques to be used to give such feedback

In this section, the natural language techniques involved in order to enable the ICALL system to detect language transfer errors and provide useful feedbacks, are discussed. These include both techniques that are useful for error analysis in general and those that are specifically useful for transfer analysis.

 

6.1 A database of translational transfer errors

A database of common translational transfer errors would prove useful for the ICALL component that handles language transfer errors. For one thing, this database can inform the design of exercises that focus on translational transfer errors. For another thing, the database could also facilitate the detection of translational transfer errors in freely input sentences, as will be discussed below. Entries of this database could be organized in the following format:

 

(19)   latest   :    newest   :   news

          drink    :    eat         :   milk

           seat     :    chair      :   plane

 

In each entry, the first word is the intended English word in English, and the second word is the most likely word that is translationally transferred from Persian. The third word is optional: if it is provided, it means the second word is translationally transferred from Persian when it collocates with this word; if not, then the entry simply shows that the second word may be translationally transferred from Persian for the first word in general. The compilation of such a database could benefit from three sources: study of learner corpora, experience of ESL teachers, and research in contrastive analysis.

 

6.2 Techniques useful for general error analysis

The following natural language processing tools are useful for error detection in a freely input sentence: a spell checker that corrects or asks the user to correct any misspelled words, a part-of-speech tagger that assigns a part-of-speech tag to each individual word, a chunker that groups words into phrases, and a parser that assigns a syntactic structure to the sentence. The parser could be based on a set of grammatical rules and constraints and determines whether a sentence is acceptable or unacceptable. The technique of constraint relaxation has been used in many ICALL systems to allow the parse to assign a syntactic structure to a sentence that violates one or more grammatical constraints, while keeping track of which constraints are being relaxed (see, e.g., L’haire and Faltin, 2003).

 

 6.3 Additional subcategorization frames and syntactic rules

In order to detect transfer errors involving subcategorization frames, such as the ones in (1) and (2), the subcategorization frames of certain Persian verbs can be added to the corresponding English verbs. To detect transfer errors involving word order and subordination structure, a set of syntactic rules can be added to the rules in the English grammar. These syntactic rules will be derived from rules of the Persian grammar and will allow the parser to parse ungrammatical sentences such as the one in (8). If the added subcategorization frames of a verb or one of the added syntactic rules is applied in order to parse a sentence, the system will return a corresponding message about the transfer error found.

 

6.4 Detecting translational transfer errors in freely input sentences

The detection of translational transfer errors is a much harder task. One possible and easy way to do this is to ask the exercise designer to code in the answer the key word that is involved in the translational transfer error the exercise is targeting. After parsing the sentence (and therefore detecting non-transfer errors, subcategorization frame transfer errors and syntactic transfer errors), the system could simply search the sentence to see if the key word occurs in it. The translational transfer error database can serve as a useful reference for coding the key word. For example, in addition to the expected answer to (16), which would be “would you like to drink some water?”, the designer could code ‘eat’ as the key word involved in the targeted translational transfer error. If the word ‘eat’ appears in the answer, then it is likely that a translational transfer error is detected, and the system can give a corresponding error message about the transfer error.

 

7. Summary

On the theoretical side, the three most influential theories in dealing with language errors along with the importance of including a component that handles language transfer errors in ICALL systems were established. On the practical side, some common lexical and syntactic transfer errors found among Persian learners of English were discussed, and three types of exercises that could be used to elicit language transfer errors were proposed. In addition, the natural language processing techniques involved in order to allow the system to detect lexical transfer errors and give awareness-raising feedbacks were mentioned.

 

8. Conclusion

Although native language influence is one of the most important factors in the occurrence of errors among Iranian EFL students, it is not the single case. Many other reasons do intervene: learner’s attitude towards target and native language, educational background, motivation, feedback and anxiety and many other variables whose impact may be even more important than the effect of the linguistic structure of the native language( here, Farsi).

Moreover, the native language influence is not negative all the time. There are many linguistic characteristics in Farsi similar to those in English which can enhance learning process. It is the teacher's duty to be aware of these phenomena and know how to confront them while dealing with students' linguistic errors in high schools and pre-university centers.