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بانک سوالات دبیرستان و پیش دانشگاهی . مکالمه . مقالات . آپدیت روزانه Nod 32

Language Learning Errors,Approaches and
نویسنده : غلامعلی عباسی - ساعت ٢:۱٢ ‎ب.ظ روز ۱۳٩٠/٩/۱٢
 

 

Language Learning Errors,Approaches and Significance:

 

Contributory Factors to Students' Errors, with Special Reference to

Errors in Written English

 

Maria Mirani (MA)

English Instructor, Tehran,Educational Organization

 

District16

 

ABSTRACT

The primary focus of this article is to review the current literature on factors that contribute to errors in written English as well as to make a contribution to the subject of error analysis by way of identifying and discussing additional contributory factors. This is followed by practical suggestions to minimize the occurrence of errors in formal English.

 

Key words: Error, Error Analysis,  Sources of Errors ,PositiveTransfer , Negative

Transfer , Loan words, Asystematic Errors , Medium Transfer

 

Definition of Error

The present researcher uses the term "error" to refer to a systematic deviation from a selected norm (after Burt et al. 1982) or set of norms. In the Iranian education system, for instance, the selected norms are standard British English and educated Iranian English, although using standard American English or other standard varieties of native English will not be considered deviant.

 

What is Error Analysis?

Error Analysis (hereafter EA) is the examination of those errors committed by students in both the spoken and written medium. Corder, who has contributed enormously to EA, writes thus:

"The study of error is part of the investigation of the process of language learning. In this respect it resembles methodologically the study of the acquisition of the mother tongue. It provides us with a picture of the linguistic development of a learner and may give us indications as to the learning process."

(Corder, 1974: 125)

 

Why Error Analysis?

Error Analysis is useful in second language learning because this will reveal to us - teachers, syllabus designers and textbook writers - the problem areas. We could design remedial exercises and focus more attention on the trouble spots.

 

What are the Sources and Causes of Errors?

The following factors have been identified by various error analysts including the present writer.

 

Mother tongue interference

Wilkins observes:

"When learning a foreign language an individual already knows his mother tongue, and it is this which he attempts to transfer. The transfer may prove to be justified because the structure of the two languages is similar - in that case we get 'positive transfer' or 'facilitation' - or it may prove unjustified because the structure of the two languages are different - in that case we get 'negative transfer' - or 'interference'.

Wilkins, 1972: 199)

There is mother tongue interference in the areas of syntax, grammar, lexis and pronunciation.

 

Teachers of English in Iran are very familiar with erroneous constructions such as using "although" and "but" in the same sentence. In Farsi Language (hereafter FL) it is perfectly alright to write:

 

In all the literature on EA reviewed by the writer, the possibility that erroThIndetermit the articles have beens "a systematic technique employed by a speaker to express his meaning when faced with some difficulty" because of his "inadequate command of the language used in the interaction". (Corder, 1981 : 103) Some familiar communication strategies employed by language learners are avoidance, prefabricated patterns, appeal to authority, approximation, word coinage, circumlocution and language switch. Let us look at each of these briefly.

 

Avoidance

Learners tend to shun lexical items whose meanings they are not sure of, sounds they have difficulty in producing, and grammatical items they are not familiar with. Their avoidance leads to replacement of erroneous items. A learner who did not know the expression I lost my way, said I lost my road instead. (Brown, 1987 : 84) This is an instance of lexical avoidance.

 

Prefabricated patterns

Set phrases and stock sentences for different occasions may sometimes be used inopportunely by learners. An example is *I don't understand how can you do that, formed from two separate sentences "I don't understand", and "How can you do that?" The two sentences have been

juxtaposed without deleting "can".

 

Appeal to authority

This strategy is aimed at referring to an authoritative source - the

native speaker, teacher, or dictionary. The third source may not always be effective. A Persian-English bilingual dictionary which has the meaning of randan as both "to drive", and "to ride" is a possible contributor of error. In Persian-English bilingual dictionary randan corresponds to the antonyms in English. Thus, if a student were to say

*"Can you drive a horse ?", it is a deviation from standard English.

 

Approximation

In this strategy, the learner employs a lexical item which is not specific enough, but shares certain common semantic features, for example "knife" for "breadknife", "stick" for "truncheon", and "The visiting minister met the king" for "The visiting minister had an audience with the king".

 

 
 

 


 

Language Learning Errors,Approaches and Significance:

 

Contributory Factors to Students' Errors, with Special Reference to

Errors in Written English

 

Maria Mirani (MA)

English Instructor, Tehran,Educational Organization

 

District16

 

ABSTRACT

The primary focus of this article is to review the current literature on factors that contribute to errors in written English as well as to make a contribution to the subject of error analysis by way of identifying and discussing additional contributory factors. This is followed by practical suggestions to minimize the occurrence of errors in formal English.

 

Key words: Error, Error Analysis,  Sources of Errors ,PositiveTransfer , Negative

Transfer , Loan words, Asystematic Errors , Medium Transfer

 

Definition of Error

The present researcher uses the term "error" to refer to a systematic deviation from a selected norm (after Burt et al. 1982) or set of norms. In the Iranian education system, for instance, the selected norms are standard British English and educated Iranian English, although using standard American English or other standard varieties of native English will not be considered deviant.

 

What is Error Analysis?

Error Analysis (hereafter EA) is the examination of those errors committed by students in both the spoken and written medium. Corder, who has contributed enormously to EA, writes thus:

"The study of error is part of the investigation of the process of language learning. In this respect it resembles methodologically the study of the acquisition of the mother tongue. It provides us with a picture of the linguistic development of a learner and may give us indications as to the learning process."

(Corder, 1974: 125)

 

Why Error Analysis?

Error Analysis is useful in second language learning because this will reveal to us - teachers, syllabus designers and textbook writers - the problem areas. We could design remedial exercises and focus more attention on the trouble spots.

 

What are the Sources and Causes of Errors?

The following factors have been identified by various error analysts including the present writer.

 

Mother tongue interference

Wilkins observes:

"When learning a foreign language an individual already knows his mother tongue, and it is this which he attempts to transfer. The transfer may prove to be justified because the structure of the two languages is similar - in that case we get 'positive transfer' or 'facilitation' - or it may prove unjustified because the structure of the two languages are different - in that case we get 'negative transfer' - or 'interference'.

Wilkins, 1972: 199)

There is mother tongue interference in the areas of syntax, grammar, lexis and pronunciation.

 

Teachers of English in Iran are very familiar with erroneous constructions such as using "although" and "but" in the same sentence. In Farsi Language (hereafter FL) it is perfectly alright to write:

 

Agar che Ali tanbal ast , ama ba hoosh ast.

When a weak student attempts to transfer this construction to English he may write it as

* Although Ali is lazy, but he is clever.

The above sentence is an instance of negative transfer in grammar. When someone says:

* I'll talk with you

there could be mother tongue interference in the area of lexis.

Ba to sohbat khaham kard.

 

An example of how mother tongue interference could affect the pronunciation of certain words in English is the way some Iranian students pronounce "stop". They pronounce it as "estop" - the FL equivalent. Some students speak English with a strong vernacular accent, for example, as in India, Hong Kong, Ghana, etc.

 

* An asterisk indicates an erroneous item.

 

Loan Words

Some people or even media in the country are indiscriminately adopting English words into the vocabulary of the national language. Since the spelling follows the pronunciation, students would find it easier to remember the spelling of the loan

words rather than the spelling of the original English words from which the former are derived. Such loan words do appear in the written work of students because of orthographic resemblance, for example,

* Everyone who's taking part are sent a maseig. (message)

* Why he was murdered is still a sekret . (secret)

 

Inherent Difficulties of the Target Language

English is a rich, complex language. Consequently, certain features of the language which are there are inherently difficult for the learner. To mention just a few, in grammar, for example, we have "preached" and "reached" as the simple past tense form of "preach" and "reach" respectively. But we cannot say "teached" although the word "teach" rhymes with "preach" and "reach" and is orthographically very close.

We can form the adverb "quickly" from "quick" but we do not form "hardly" from

"hard". The latter two words are different in meaning.

 

The plural of "tooth" is teeth, but for "booth" it is not "beeth".

 In lexis, for example, the language has many words which have more than one meaning and are of different parts of speech.

 Let us take for example the word "fast". It has the following meanings with different parts of speech. (Hornby, 1974)

 

 

Used as an adjective

a.   Firmly fixed

The post is fast in the ground. b.   Steadfast; loyal; steady; close

 

fast friend/friendship)

c.   (of colours) unfading d.   quick, rapid

a fast train

e.   (of a person, his way of living)

spending too much time and energy on pleasure and excitement lead a fast life

f.            (of a watch or clock) showing time later than the true time

My watch is five minutes fast.

 

Used as an adverb

g.   quickly

Don't speak so fast

 

Used as a verb

h.   go without food

Muslims fast in the month of Ramadhan

  

Used as a noun

i.            (period of) going without food

Hamid broke his fast when he heard the azan for evening prayers. In pronunciation, for example, we have:-

chemist pronounced as /kemist/

chief pronounced as /t?i: f/

chef pronounced as / ? e f/

 

The 'ch' in all the three words are pronounced differently.

 

The Model

The teacher may not be a good model of the language with regard to the way he speaks, writes or teaches the language. So, some of the errors are ironically teacher induced. For example:

 

The student must work more harder.

When a student sees the abovementioned comment by a form teacher who also

 

teaches English, (in his report book), he would promise his parents *"to work more harder."

 

When an English language teacher uses a preposition when it is not needed, as in:

 

* "Now let us discuss about the unemployment problem among graduates for writing your essay" it would not be surprising if the students write * "I am going to discuss about the causes and effects of unemployment in my essay".

Teachers of English who have no training in phonetics may pronounce English words according to their spelling, for example, quay may be pronounced as */kweI/ instead of /ki:/, and etiquette may be pronounced as /etIkwItI/ instead of /etiket/.

 

In all the literature on EA reviewed by the writer, the possibility that errors could result from the inevitable exposure to non-native speakers of English teaching subjects such as history, geography and science in schools and colleges where the medium of instruction is English has not been mentioned. With due respect to these subject teachers, the researcher is hesitatingly compelled to state that while some are highly proficient in the language, some of them are also a source of error, especially in spoken English.

 

The Method

The teaching method may be at fault by overemphasizing one aspect of the language and neglecting the other. For example, if teachers are fond of only emphasizing the oral component of a course, a learner's general speaking ability would improve. But he may lag behind in reading and writing.

 

The audiolingual method emphasizes the acquisition of basic grammatical patterns of the language first and vocabulary development comes later.

 

The Materials

Materials which have teaching items sequenced in a certain way or which lack organization could lead to errors.

Norrish (1983) gives an example of material - induced errors. Although it is the

simple present tense which is normally used to describe a sequence of events that take place at the present moment, some teaching materials use the present progressive aspect. This results in the use of English which is neither normal nor natural.

 

Inadequate Exposure to the Target Language

Students who live in a country where English is taught as a foreign language obviously do not have adequate exposure to the target language. Opportunities to use English in both the productive and receptive areas of the language are limited. Insufficient exposure to the target language could give rise to errors such as those below in the areas of grammar, lexis, spelling and punctuation.

 

When a student has a limited exposure to the language learnt, it is possible for him to make errors in all aspects of the language.

 

 

Overgeneralization

Richards cites overgeneralization as one of the contributory factors. He explains thus: "Overgeneralization covers instances where the learner creates a

deviant structure on the basis of his experience of other structures in

the target language."

(Richards, 1974: 174)

After having read or heard sentences such as He reached the house at 10.00 p.m. a student may produce He leaved the house at 6.00 a.m.

 

A learner may write She walked fastly to catch the bus because he already knows He walked quickly to catch the train.

One who has read often about drug trafficking may think that there is *drug addicting. Overgeneralization is also applied in the pronunciation of certain words on the basis

of what they already know, eg. words like Beauchamp and Arkansas.

 

Indeterminacy

This is the term used by Jain to refer to an inconsistency or uncertainty in handling a linguistic item. He calls errors arising from such a situation asystematic errors (Jain,

1974). Below is an example given by him to show asystematic errors with respect to article use:

 

I started from hostel to go to see a movie. When we were still waiting at bust stop ........I could only get some space to keep my one leg on foot-board ........I had to request conductor ........At last bus moved. The bus stopped at a bus stop with a jerk. All the time I was trying to balance myself on the footboard. I was more worried about movie.

(Jain, 1974: 213) The underlined words show that the articles have been used asystematically.

 

Medium Transfer

This is the term used by Tench (1983) for the learner's undue reliance on either the spoken or the written form of a word when the other medium is being used. If a pupil pronounces a word according to its spelling, then medium transfer has taken place. If

a student spells a word according to its pronunciation, that too is medium transfer, e.g.

*teribel, *prestigous, and *surprised.

 

Communication Strategies

A communication strategy is defined as "a systematic technique employed by a speaker to express his meaning when faced with some difficulty" because of his "inadequate command of the language used in the interaction". (Corder, 1981 : 103) Some familiar communication strategies employed by language learners are avoidance, prefabricated patterns, appeal to authority, approximation, word coinage, circumlocution and language switch. Let us look at each of these briefly.

 

Avoidance

Learners tend to shun lexical items whose meanings they are not sure of, sounds they have difficulty in producing, and grammatical items they are not familiar with. Their avoidance leads to replacement of erroneous items. A learner who did not know the expression I lost my way, said I lost my road instead. (Brown, 1987 : 84) This is an instance of lexical avoidance.

 

Prefabricated patterns

Set phrases and stock sentences for different occasions may sometimes be used inopportunely by learners. An example is *I don't understand how can you do that, formed from two separate sentences "I don't understand", and "How can you do that?" The two sentences have been

juxtaposed without deleting "can".

 

Appeal to authority

This strategy is aimed at referring to an authoritative source - the

native speaker, teacher, or dictionary. The third source may not always be effective. A Persian-English bilingual dictionary which has the meaning of randan as both "to drive", and "to ride" is a possible contributor of error. In Persian-English bilingual dictionary randan corresponds to the antonyms in English. Thus, if a student were to say

*"Can you drive a horse ?", it is a deviation from standard English.

 

Approximation

In this strategy, the learner employs a lexical item which is not specific enough, but shares certain common semantic features, for example "knife" for "breadknife", "stick" for "truncheon", and "The visiting minister met the king" for "The visiting minister had an audience with the king".

 

Word coinage

A learner creates a new word or phrase which is usually non-existent to convey the intended meaning. For example, a learner who is not aware

of the vocabulary items "bucket" and "kettle" may come up with

*"water-holder" and *"water-boiler" respectively.

 

Circumlocution

The learner who is not familiar with the appropriate lexical item, goes on to describe the characteristic of the target object or action. For example, a learner who does not know the word "clothes line" may say "the thing to hang clothes on". Similarly if one cannot recall the word "optician", one might say "the person who tests our eyes". Although

the circumlocution strategy may not lead to errors, it shows the

learners' inadequate lexical competence.

 

Language switch

This is the strategy of weak learners. They simply fall back on their first language without attempting anything in the target language, for example: Every Sunday and Wednesday, the "Post Bergerak" will come to my village. The equivalent of the mobile post office in BM is pos bergerak.

 

Thus far I have identified the major contributory factors to students' errors in their written English and I have also included spoken English where appropriate.

 

Suggestions

I shall now go on to make some pedagogical suggestions in order to reduce the number of errors committed by our students in their written English, in particular, and spoken English as well.

 

1.   Teachers must frequently remind their students that when they speak or write in English they must think in the target language so that they do not bring in any feature of their mother tongue.

The teacher should explain why certain constructions are ungrammatical. It would be ideal if the teacher has a very good command of the target language as well as a working knowledge of the first language or the national language of his students.

2.   Loan words, as we have seen, contribute to spelling errors. Teachers could give dictation practice as regards words in English which have Persian equivalents e.g. message, strategy and top, which are spelt in Persian as maseij, strategi and toop respectively.

3.   English is not an easy language to master. The spelling is irregular. The pronunciation is puzzling and it often differs from the written form of a word. The vocabulary is elaborate. There are polysemous words with many meanings which can be used as different parts of speech. The complexity of the vocabulary and grammar would strain the learning capacity of many a student. So what can be done?

Teachers of English should advise their students to persevere in studying English. There are no short cuts to learning the language. When they are sufficiently exposed to the language through the various language skills of reading and listening, the possibility or making errors is minimized.

Teachers should encourage their students to write by providing helpful criticisms and not damaging ones. They should make constructive criticisms of their students' work. Over-insistence on 'correctness' hinders the learning process. The right attitude of the teacher is important for students who are grappling with the complexities of English grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. The language is difficult enough; let us not make it more difficult for them. Please refer to Mohideen (1993) for a discussion on effective error correction techniques.

4.   The majority of teachers of English are non-native speakers. It is not our first language. Consequently, there is a likelihood of us going wrong in some aspects of the English language. In order to upgrade ourselves professionally

as good models of the language we teach, we have to try to approximate native speaker competence. Students should want to emulate the way we speak or write in the language.

Not only do students need more exposure to the language, we teachers too need to be well exposed. We need to keep ourselves abreast of current issues

by reading books and journals related to our profession. Unless we take a more professional interest in our work, we may lag behind our more professional counterparts in the domain of English language teaching.

5.   Teachers should make sure that there is all round language development. They should not spend too much time on one area of language to the detriment of others.

6.   Students should be advised to listen to good English from whatever available source - radio, television, native speakers and good local speakers of the language. They should listen for correct pronunciation and understanding.

7.   Teachers should encourage students to speak in English with their fellow

8.   Teachers need to impress upon the students the importance of inculcating the

reading habit. Francis Bacon said, "Reading makes a full man." Reading helps students to learn the correct spelling, enrich their vocabulary and internalize acceptable and appropriate sentence constructions.

9.   Teachers must inform students of exceptions to the rule as regards grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.

- When teaching verbs, we should pay special attention to irregular verbs. This is an area where students are likely to go wrong.

- When teaching adverbs, it must be emphasized that not all adverbs end in - ly, for example :

* She studies hardly for her examination.

* An asterisk indicates an erroneous item.

- When teaching the degrees of comparison, students have to be told of superlatives which do not end in - er and - est.

- When teaching the suffix - less, students have to be told that although it has the meaning 'not' this cannot be literally extended to all words with - less.

10. The teacher ought to provide an explanation with regard to the possible source or cause of error to bring about an awareness of what could be the potential contributory factor.

 

Conclusion

We ought to discuss with our students how to identify their errors and what the possible causes are. This would bring about a greater understanding of the pedagogical and psychological factors that contribute to linguistic errors.

 

References

- Brown, H.D. 1987. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. Englewood Cliffs. N.J. Prentice Hall.

- Burt, M, Dulay, H. and Krashen, S. 1982. Language Two. New York.

Oxford University Press.

- Corder, S.P. 1974. Error Analysis in Allen, J.L.P. and Corder, S.P. (eds) Techniques in Applied Linguistics. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

- Corder, S.P. 1981. Error Analysis and Interlanguage. Oxford. Oxford

University Press.

- Hornby, A.S. 1974. Oxford Advanced Dictionary of Current English. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

- Jain, M.P. 1974. Error Analysis : Source, Cause and Significance in

Richards, J.C. (ed) Error Analysis. London. Longman.

- Mohideen, H. 1991. An Error Analysis in the Written English of Malay Students at Pre-University Level with Special Reference to Students at the Matriculation Centre, International Islamic University, Malaysia. Unpublished Ph.D Thesis. University of Wales.

- Mohideen, H. 1993. Towards Effective Error Correction of Written Grammatical Errors. H. Gaudart and M.K. David, (eds). Towards More Effective Learning and Teaching of English. Petaling Jaya. Malaysian English Language Teaching Association.

- Norrish, J. 1983. Language Learners and their Errors. London. Macmillan.

- Richards, J.C. 1971. A Non-contrastive Approach to Error Analysis. Richards, J.C. (ed). Error Analysis. London. Longman.

- Tench, P. 1983. The External and Internal Factors that Contribute to

Linguistic Errors. West African Journal of Education, Vol. 24, No. 3.

- Wilkins, D.A. 1978. Linguistics in Language Teaching. London. Edward Arnold.

 

 
 

 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF LANGUAGE LEARNERS’ ERRORS

 

language Learners’ Errors:

Significance and Approaches

 

Farah Gowd asiaei*

6th Educational District, Mashhad

gowdasiaei@yahoo.com

 

Abstract

Since errors are inevitable parts of any language learning process, the study of language learners’ errors seems justifiable. This study seeks to illustrate the significance of learners’ errors in the process of learning, and to give the teacher some insight as to how to deal with them. The study focuses on the frequency of 12 grammatical types and two sources of errors in writing. To elicit students’ errors, they were asked to write an English composition. Their errors were identified and categorized. The result showed a significant difference between the frequencies of grammatical error types, but no significant difference between interlingual and intralingual error sources in their relative frequencies. There was also found a strong relationship between the frequencies of sources and grammatical types of errors. The findings of this study will be of interest not only to applied linguists, but to teachers, curriculum designers and test developers as well.

 

Language Learners’ Errors: Significance and Approaches

     When people learn a foreign language, they do not suddenly become near- native speakers of it. For a long period, their speech and writing exhibit characteristics which are not present in the performance of the native speakers of that language and are unacceptable to such native speakers. As learning progresses, the nature of these non-native characteristics changes, and eventually their number decreases as the learners

performance approximates more and more to that of the native speaker (Nemser, 1974) These non-native characteristics have been variously referred to as ''mistakes'', ''errors'', ''deviations'', ''areas of difficulty'', or ''lapses'' (Corder, 1981).

     The long lists of errors compiled by experienced teachers of foreign languages indicate that they have long been aware of such anomalies and have generally given thought to eradicating them. Moreover, the literature of second language acquisition is replete with researches aimed at describing, predicting, analyzing and accounting for them in different foreign languages to construct a working theory of second language acquisition that would also be compatible with classroom realities and would serve as a foundation for materials preparation and teaching strategies.

 

LearnersLanguage System Characteristics

     Learnerserrors seem to be rule-governed. Many researchersbelieve that the learner applies his language system while learning the target language. Corder (1974) described the learnerslanguage system as follows:

    It is regular, systematic, meaningful, i.e. it has a grammar, in principle, describable

    in terms of a set of rules, some sub-set of which is a sub-set of the rules of the  

    target social dialect (p. 161).           

     Different terms are used for the linguistic system of  the language learner, such  as  ''interlanguage'' (Selinker,1972) and ''approximative system''(Nemser,1974).These apparently different terms employed by researchers all indicate that a creative system is applied by the language learner in order to reach a native-like mastery of a second

language.

     One of the studies which illuminated some of the characteristics of learnerserrors is that of Nemser(1974). Nemser explained the learnerslanguage system as follows:

    Approximative systems vary in character in accordance with proficiency level....      

    An Approximative system at successive stages of learning forms an evolving

    series;…the earliest occurring when a learner first  attempts to use target language,

    the most advanced  at  the closest approach of Approximative system to target  

    language. (pp. 55-56)

 

The Significance of Errors

     Studying learnerserrors serves two major purposes: (1) It provides data from which inferences about the nature of the language learning process can be made. (2) It indicates to teachers and curriculum developers in which part of the target language students have most difficulty and which error types detract most from a learners ability to communicate effectively (Dulay and Burt, 1972). A learners errors provide evidence of the system of the language that he is using at a particular point in the course of his learning. It shows what problems the students are having now, and helps the teachers to plan remedial work. It is useful to discover how many students made a particular error and how many used that language item correctly. If a careful and systematic study of the errors that EFL learners manifest in their writing is done, we will find that the frequency of some errors is more than that of others. This can reveal that there are certain types of errors which are most problematic to the students.  Consequently, such findings save the teachers time in dealing with errors. Analyzing the errors of one group may assist the teacher to predict them. Of course, one has to remember that each group is different and that plans may have to be modified accordingly. An error analysis may indicate learning items which will require special attention and extra practice. It may also suggest modifications in teaching techniques or order of presentation.

     Therefore, it is essential for teachers and curriculum designers to know about the significance of errors.

 

Error Analysis

     The fact that learners do make errors and that these errors can be observed, analyzed, and  classified to reveal something of the system operating  within the learner lead to a surge of study of learners errors, called error analysis (Brown,1987, p. 171). Corder (1981) declared the purpose of error analysis as, ''discovering the degree to which the learner expresses his ‘messages’ by means of the categories and rules which the native speaker of the target language uses. '' (p.30)  

     Error analysis easily superseded contrastive analysis, as it was discovered that only some of the errors a learner makes are attributable to the mother tongue, that learners do not actually make all the errors that contrastive analysis predicted they should, and that learners from disparate language backgrounds tend to make similar errors in learning one target language. Errors - overt manifestations of learners’ system - arise from several possible general sources: interlingual errors of interference from the native language, intralingual errors within the target language, the sociolinguistic context of communication, psycholinguistic or cognitive strategies, and no doubt countless affective variables (Brown, 1987, p. 171).

     Error analysis is supposed to be potentially the operationalized version of teachers experiences as the pupils’ learning experiences. Moreover, it covers contrastive analysis or better to say functions as the base for contrastive analysis by displaying dissimilarities brought up in their interlanguage. The term interlanguage was introduced by Selinker in 1969 and elaborated in 1972 to refer to a separate linguistic system whose existence we are compelled to hypothesize, based upon the observed output which results from the learner's production of a target language norm (Corder, 1981).

 

The Methodology of Error Analysis

     Corder (1967, p. 222) states that the methodology of error analysis consists of the following steps:

1. Collection of data (either from a free composition by students or from examination answers).

2. Identification of errors.

3. Classification into error types (e.g. error of agreement, article, verb forms, etc.

4. Statement of relative frequency of error types.

5. Identification of the areas of difficulty in the target language.

6. Analysis of the source of errors (e.g. mother tongue language, interference, over-generalization, etc.).

7. Therapy (remedial drills, lessons, etc.).

 

Sources of Errors

     Error analysis shows that errors could have different sources. Four major causes of errors are identified through error analysis. First, ''language transfer'' (Selinker, 1969) or interlingual, in which learners’ errors are accounted for by interference from the mother tongue.

     The second class of errors has been called ''intralingual'' (Richards, 1974). It seems that EFL learners attempt to overgeneralize the rules by analogy.

     The third source of errors was called ''transfer of training'' (Selinker, 1972). Corder (1974) attributed this source of errors to ''faulty teaching techniques or materials''. Richards called this process ''hypothesizing false concepts''.

     The fourth source of learner error was called ''communication strategy'' (Ellis, 1985). It is employed by the learner to get a message to a hearer. The learner uses communication strategy when he is faced with a problem in communicating a meaning. In other words, the learner uses communication strategy when precise linguistic forms are for some reason not readily available to him.

     To sum up, in recent years, researchers’ main interests have been the way learners develop their interlanguage, on the one hand, and use it for communication purposes, on the other. Since establishing the presence and nature of a ''natural sequence of development'' as the principle objective of second language acquisition research, the field has broadened out its scope to include other topics. There has been a shift of emphasis in language teaching from a preoccupation with the learning of the language as a system towards the functional use of that system for communication.

 

Error Treatment

     Errors produced by second or foreign language learners in writing should not be underestimated by the classroom teachers and course designers. Errors help the teacher understand how well the learners have grasped the knowledge which they should have acquired during a period of instruction. By identifying the learners’ errors, the teacher will know how effective his teaching has been, and which parts of the language the learners have most problems with. Such information helps the teacher modify his methods of teaching and testing, and makes him help the learners overcome their errors.

     Learning a new language is such a complex process that it is hardly surprising that students cannot cope with all the learning items they have been taught. However careful the students perform in a given task, errors are bound to occur: Rules may be forgotten or half-remembered or similar forms and structures may be confused.

     Ideally, a great deal of remedial work should be done as soon as the need for it is apparent. This can be done in the early stages of a course, when problem areas are few. Unfortunately, some teachers think that whatever they teach is learned by all students, and forget the fact that some students need more help and practice than the others. Besides, they sometimes neglect some of the grammatical structures which are more problematic to the learners. The main point is that some modification in teaching and remedial work is necessary and inevitable. In dealing with errors, however, teachers must not make learners worried about making errors because they may lose confidence. Teachers should not pounce on every mistake as they are produced, particularly the errors in writing.

     The elimination of many errors requires teaching that is regularly revised (Dulay, Burt & Krashen, 1982). It is, for example, of little value to merely correct fifteen different errors in a piece of written work or write the correct versions of twenty or thirty different errors made by a group of learners, and then to assume that we have dealt with remedial work and that the students will not repeat the errors. Of course, such activities partly fulfill one of the requirements of remedial work - that learners should be aware of their errors. Nevertheless, it is more efficient to carefully select a few errors and really concentrate on them, because the frequencies and the relative seriousness of some errors are more than those of the other errors. The important thing is to be selective, to deal with a few problems thoroughly rather than to deal with all errors at once. All this information can be obtained through collecting errors, studying them and classifying them in various ways to determine their possible causes. Composition is used as one of the tools for eliciting the learners’ errors.

     As mentioned before, some of the learners’ errors are more important than others, since they hinder comprehension or communication, such as errors on word order or tense. Such sorts of errors should be taken into account more than the other errors. This is a fact which should be the focus of attention in designing a course and providing instructional materials.

 

The Practical Implication of Error Analysis

     Identification of learners’ errors has been beneficial to language teachers and curriculum developers.

     Through contrastive analysis, language teachers can gain some insights into the syllabus by comparing and contrasting the systems of the two languages in question. However, through error analysis, the course syllabus can be designed by taking the learners’ errors into consideration. To clarify this point, Corder (1974) states:

    The simple fact of presenting a certain linguistic form to a learner in the classroom

    does not necessarily qualify it for the status of input, for the reason that input is, 

    what goes in, not what is available for going in, and we may reasonably suppose

    that it is the learner who controls his input (p.23).

     The error analysis (EA) hypothesis has some other practical implications for language teachers. Through EA, teachers can become aware of proficiency levels of their students.

     Studying the learners’ errors also indicates with which part of the target language students have most difficulty; that is, which error types cause most difficulty to communicate effectively or make grammatical sentences (Dulay, Burt & Krashen, 1982). Moreover, curriculum developers can make use of error analysis to determine the difficult sequence of books (Brown, 1987). In short, Corder (1973) summarized the practical implication of EA:

     The most practical use of the analysis of errors is to the teacher. Errors provide 

    feedback; they tell the teacher something about the effectiveness of his teaching

    techniques, and show him what parts of the syllabus he has been following have

    been inadequately learned or taught and need further attention. (p.265)

 

Implications for TEFL

All teachers, both professional and non-professional, from a language teaching point of view, can safely and effectively utilize the errors committed by their pupils. The students’ erroneous sentences help language teachers:

    1. Receive feedback and thus assess the effectiveness of their teaching materials and their teaching techniques.

    2. Pin-point what parts of the syllabus they have been following have been inadequately learned or taught and need further attention.

    3. Decide whether they can cover the next topic on the syllabus or whether they must devote more time and energy to the topic they have been working on.

    4. Design a remedial syllabus or a program of reviewing the problem area.

     It seems crucial, therefore, to detect and study carefully the errors that our students make and to concentrate on them. What has been done in this study is an error analysis conducted on English compositions of some Iranian students.

 

Statement of the Problem

    The present study seeks to examine (1) whether the relative frequencies of the grammatical types of errors are almost the same or significantly different, (2) whether the frequencies of interlingual and intralingual error sources significantly differ, and (3) whether there is a relationship between sources and types of errors in their frequency distribution. If the relative frequencies of some error types were found to be more than those of others, then more attention should be paid to those types, and so would be the case with frequencies of error sources, and if the relationship between frequencies of sources and types of errors were found to be significant, then the teacher should consider that some error types might be more interlingual than intralingual and vice versa.

 

Research Questions

    1. Is there any significant difference between the relative frequencies of grammatical types of errors?

    2. Is there any significant difference between the relative frequencies of interlingual and intralingual error sources?

    3. Is there any relationship between sources and grammatical types of errors in their frequency distribution?

Null Hypotheses

    HO1. There is no significant difference between the relative frequencies of grammatical types of errors.

    HO2. There is no significant difference between the relative frequencies of interlingual and intralingual error sources.

    HO3. There is no relationship between sources and grammatical types of errors in their frequency distribution.

 

Method

Participants

    Thirty freshman Iranian students majoring in TEFL in Shahid Hasheminejad Teacher Training Center in Mashhad were asked to write an English composition. All the students were females, aged between 18 to 20, and had learned English within the classroom boundaries.

 

Instrumentation

    The students were asked to write a free composition within 30 minutes of class time. The purpose of the composition was to elicit students’ errors in writing.

 

Procedure

    The methodology used for error analysis in this study was that of Corder (1967). First, the ungrammatical sentences were collected from the performance of the students. Second, errors were identified and categorized into two major sources: (1) interlingual, (2) intralingual; and 12 grammatical types: (1) concord, (2) article, (3) plural, (4) voice, (5) tense, (6) verb form, (7) word order, (8) infinitive and gerund, (9) part of speech, (10) relative clause, (11) negative, and (12) preposition. Third, the frequencies of sources and grammatical types of errors were tabulated and their percentages were calculated. Finally, the Chi-square analysis was carried out to show whether the difference between the frequencies of grammatical types and sources of errors is significant, and whether there is a relationship between sources and types of errors.

 

Results

    The Chi-square analysis showed a significant difference in the frequencies of grammatical types of errors. Table 1 presents the frequencies, percentages, and the Chi- square of these error types.

 

Table 1

Frequencies and Percentages of 12 Grammatical Types of Errors

Error category

Error type

Frequency

Percentage

1

Concord

10

5.6%

2

Article

22

12.2%

3

Plural

12

6.7%

4

Voice

8

4.4%

5

Tense

19

10.6%

6

Verb form

27

15%

7

Word order

35

19.7%

8

Infinitive & Gerund

11

6.1%

9

Part of speech

16

8.9%

10

Relative clause

6

3.3%

11

Negative

4

2.2%

12

Preposition

10

5.6%

c2 = 62.4          d.f. = 1      c2 critical = 19.67           p < .05       CHITEST = 3.31109E-09  

 

    To compute the value of c2, the following formula was used (Hatch & Farhady, 1982, p. 166):

c2 = ∑ (O – E)2 / E

where c2 represents the Chi-square, O is the observed frequency, and E is the

 expected frequency.

    CHITEST returns the probability that a value of the c2 statistic at least as high as the value calculated by the above formula could have happened by chance. Since the value of our CHITEST is less than our probability level, and the c2 is larger than the c2 critical, we can say that HO1, which states that there is no significant difference between the frequencies of grammatical types of errors, is rejected.

    The result indicates that there is a significant difference between different grammatical types of errors. Therefore, more attention should be paid to the error types which have more frequencies. As is shown in Table 1, errors of (1) word order, (2) verb form, (3) article, (4) tense, (5) part of speech, (6) plural, (7) infinitive & Gerund, (8) concord and preposition, (9) voice, (10) relative clause and (11) negative are the most frequent error types, respectively. The frequency distribution of different error types is depicted in Figure 1.

 

Figure 1.  Frequency distribution of different error types 

(1 = Concord   2 = Article   3 = Plural   4 = Voice   5 = Tense   6 = Verb form              7 = Word order   8 = Infinitive & Gerund    9 = Part of speech  10 = Relative clause 11 = Negative     12 = Preposition)

 

The Chi-square analysis showed no significant difference between the frequencies of interlingual and intralingual sources of errors. Table 2 presents the frequencies, percentages, and the Chi- square of these error sources.

 

Table 2

Frequencies and Percentages of interlingual and intralingual error sources

Error source

Frequency

Percentage

interlingual

81

45%

intralingual

99

55%

c2 =  1.8          d.f. = 1       c2 critical = 3.84         p < .05         CHITEST = 0.179713
    The c2 value is less than the c2 critical, and the CHITEST value is larger than the probability level. So HO2, which states that there is no significant difference between the relative frequencies of interlingual and intralingual error sources, is supported.

    The result indicates that there is not a significant difference between interlingual and intralingual error sources in their relative frequencies. Therefore, both error sources are equally important and should receive attention. Figure 2 shows the frequency distribution of interlingual and intralingual error sources.

 

 

Figure 2.  Frequency distribution of interlingual and intralingual error sources

 

    Chi-square statistics was also conducted to find out if there is any relationship between the frequencies of sources and grammatical types of errors. Table 3 presents the frequencies of grammatical types of errors with regard to their sources.

 

Table 3

Frequencies of 12 Grammatical Types of Errors with Regard to Their Sources

Error category

Error type

Interlingual

Intralingual

1

Concord

8

2

2

Article

19

3

3

Plural

8

4

4

Voice

0

8

5

Tense

4

15

6

Verb form

0

27

7

Word order

24

11

8

Infinitive & Gerund

0

11

9

Parts of speech

0

16

10

Relative clause

6

0

11

Negative

4

0

12

Preposition

8

2

c2 = 108.0925     d.f. = 11     c2 critical = 19.67      p < .05     CHITEST=4.40142E-18   

 

        The c2 value is more than the c2 critical, and the CHITEST value is less than the probability level. So HO3, which states that there is no relationship between sources and grammatical types of errors in their frequency distribution, is rejected.

    The result indicates that there is a strong relationship between the frequencies of sources and grammatical types of errors. Therefore, the frequency distribution of different error types is significantly different for interlingual and intralingual error sources. For instance, errors of word order were found to be more interlingual, whereas errors of verb form were mainly intralingual. So we may conclude that the teacher may pay attention to different grammatical types of errors with respect to their sources, and consider that for some error types, the interference of the mother tongue might be greater than for the others. Figure 3 depicts the frequency distribution of different error types with regard to their sources.

 

Figure 3. Frequency distribution of different error types by their sources

(1 = Concord   2 = Article   3 = Plural   4 = Voice   5 = Tense   6 = Verb form              7 = Word order      8 = Infinitive & Gerund    9 = Part of speech   10 = Relative clause  11 = Negative     12 = Prepositions)

 

Discussion

    The results of this study indicate that some error types occur more frequently than others. Errors of (1) word order, (2) verb form, (3) article, (4) tense, (5) part of speech, (6) plural, (7) infinitive & Gerund, (8) concord and preposition, (9) voice, (10) relative clause, and (11) negative are the most frequent error types, respectively.

Therefore, more attention should be paid to the error types which have more frequencies. This also indicates with which part of the target language students have most difficulty; that is, which error types cause most difficulty to communicate effectively or make grammatical sentences (Dulay, Burt & Krashen, 1982). However, it might be said that since some of the error types, such as errors on word order or tense, hinder comprehension or communication, they are more important than some others, such as errors on article or concord. Such types of errors should be taken into account more than the other errors. This is a fact which should be the focus of attention in designing a course and providing instructional materials.

The findings are also in line with the view that not all the errors a learner makes are attributable to the mother tongue, that learners do not actually make all the errors that contrastive analysis predicted they should, and that intralingual errors are equally important.  This contradicts the strong version of the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH), which claims that the principal barrier to second language acquisition is the interference of the first language system with the second language system (Brown, 1987, p. 153).       

 

Limitations and Delimitations

     The results of the study are advanced in the light of the following limitations and delimitations:

1.                  The participants were all Iranian students, majoring in TEFL. It is probably not safe to generalize the results to speakers of other languages or to students majoring in other fields.

2.                  This study was unable to take into account the students’ avoidance strategy in writing. Some structures, for example question forms, were not used much by the students, either because they might have avoided them or need not have used them in their compositions.

3.                  The study concentrated on the frequencies of errors. It failed to take into account the error gravity or seriousness of each error.

4.                  In some cases, it was quite difficult to determine only one error source or type to which a particular error belonged. In such cases, it was decided to place the error at the more probable category to which it belonged.

5.                  As errors arise from several possible sources (Brown, 1987, p. 171), it was quite difficult to include all the variables in such a limited study. Only two of the most important and recognizable sources in grammatical errors, interlingual and intralingual error sources, were considered and compared.

 

Implications

    It is not sufficient only to correct students’ errors in writing, as is often the case. It is necessary to classify and analyze their errors, and try to plan remedial work. It is essential, therefore, for teachers and curriculum designers to know which part of the syllabus they are following are more problematic to the students. As errors of word order, verb form, article and tense were found to be the most frequent types of errors, they should receive special attention. However, it should be noticed that some error types, like errors of article, may not hinder comprehension or communication as much as some other types, like errors of word order or tense. Therefore, their relative seriousness may be less than that of the other errors.

     Finally, test developers and syllabus designers may benefit from the findings of this study to determine the difficulty level of tests or materials.    

 Suggestions for further research

1.                This study focused on eliciting students’ grammatical errors in writing. Another study may concentrate on eliciting students’ lexical or spelling errors, or their errors in other areas, such as phonology or speaking.

2.                This study was an investigation on the frequency of the structures the students have most problems with. Another study may concentrate on the seriousness or gravity of error types or sources.        

3.                This study may lead to further investigation on students’ errors as distracters in Multiple Choice Tests.

4.                Hopefully, in the future, we can draw certain conclusions about the psycholinguistic processes and the learner strategies in the process of language learning through error analysis.

 

THE AUTHOR

* Farah Gowdasiaei received her BA in teaching English language and literature at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad and her MA in TEFL at Tehran University in Iran. She is currently teaching English at Tahghighi High  School in Mashhad, Iran.

 

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