EFL Learners' Types of Oral Errors


In His Exalted Name

EFL Learners' Types of Oral Errors


 Teachers' Preferences For Correction



Morteza Ahmady Gohari

Winter 1387



Error correction has so far been dealt with in teaching English as a foreign language. Generally the role of this issue been restricted to teachers; however, a new wave of research has started to seek learner's opinions towards error correction. The process of error occurrence is inevitable in learning a language and knowing how to deal with it and how to provide appropriate feedback has always been the subject of investigation. The present study seeks to find out the role of error correction in EFL classroom and how much teachers care for error correction in oral context and what types of errors they consider to be corrected and what methods of correction they use. It also aims at finding about the learner's attitude towards error correction. It tries to investigate how best errors can be treated. It deals primarily with pedagogical applications for error analysis and error correction and is addressed to foreign and second language teachers.


Key words: error, mistake, error, correction, error analysis.



Since many Iranians attempt to learn English as a foreign language nowadays and attend different English classes, the researcher attempts to investigate some English classes and investigates the common errors which are made by such students and also the methods which are used by the teachers to correct their errors and to find out which errors are mostly corrected. Many language teachers complain about their students' inability to use the linguistic forms that they are taught. This situation is due to the teachers' false impression that output should be an authentic representation of input. This ignores the function of intake that knowledge of language the students internalize. Intake may be independent of the teachers` syllabus being subject to an internal system analogous to Chomsky's language acquisition device.   

     Study learners errors is part of the systematic study of the learners` language which is itself necessary to an understanding of the process of second language acquisition. We need to have such knowledge if we are to make any well-formed proposal for the development and improvement of the materials and techniques of language teaching.

       Teachers, linguists and psycholinguists have always been interested in errors produced by foreign and second language learners either in their speech or writing or both.  In fact learners` errors have been the subject of extensive investigation and heated controversy for quite a long time.               This study is essentially pedagogical and aims at predicating and solving learners` errors and difficulties. It seems necessary to discuss different aspects of this discipline in this thesis.

     Keshavarz (1999) pointed out, "with regard to first language acquisition, as (cited in Menyuk, 1971) claimed that the study of the child native language learners` error throws light on the types of cognitive and linguistic processes that appear to be part of the language learning process."(P. 42)                               

        In second and foreign language learning a  more positive attitude developed towards learners` errors compared  to what was  prevalent in Contrastive Analysis. Errors were  no longer considered as evil signs of failure.             

     Teaching and/or learning, to be eradicated at any cost; rather, they were seen as a necessary part of language learning process.

     It is now widely maintained that language learning, like acquiring virtually any other human learning involves making of errors. The learner profits from his errors by using them to obtain feedback from the environment and in turn to use that feedback to test and modify his hypotheses about the target language. Thus, from the study of learners` errors we are able to get some information about the native language and the knowledge of the target language at a given point in learning career and discover what he still has to learn.

      By describing and classifying errors in linguistic terms, we build up a picture of features of the language which are causing  learning problems. 


Definitions of Error

Referring to Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics the following definitions are found for error: (P. 127)

     Error (in the speech or writing of a second or foreign language learner) is the use of a linguistic item (e.g. a grammatical item, a speech act, etc.) in a way which a fluent or native speaker of the language regards as showing faulty or incomplete learning. A distinction is sometimes made between an error, which results from incomplete knowledge, and a mistake made by a learner when writing or speaking and which is caused by lack of attention, fatigue, carelessness, or some other aspect of performance. Errors are sometimes classified according to vocabulary (lexical error), pronunciation (phonological error), grammar, (syntactic error), misunderstanding of a speaker's intention or meaning (interpretive error), production of the wrong communicative effect e.g. through the faulty use of speech act or one of the rules of speaking (pragmatic error).

     Brown (2000) defined error as, "An error, a noticeable deviation from the adult grammar of a native speaker, reflect the competence of the learner.

"(p. 217)

      Keshavarz (1999) reminded, "with regard to syntactic errors, Burt and Kiparsky (1975) classified second language learners` errors into two distinct categories: (a) global, and (b) local. 'Global' errors are those that cause a listener or reader to misunderstand a message or to consider a sentence incomprehensible, and 'local, errors are those that do not significantly hinder communication of a sentence's message. He found that errors within a constituent or a clause affect the comprehension of a sentence far less than errors which are made in major constituent order or across clause boundaries. In other words, errors in pluralization, article usage, tense usage, etc. are less important in terms of sentence comprehensibility than are errors in word order, or the choice and placement of appropriate connectors thus, it is implied from the above that priority in error correction should be given to 'global' in order to give the student the greatest possible mileage in terms of acquiring the ability to communicate in the second language."(P. 131)

     Keshavarz (1999) gave a definition for errors versus mistakes, "a distinction has been made between 'errors' and 'mistakes'. Errors are rule-governed and systematic in nature and as such indicative of learner's linguistic system at a given stage of language learning. Systematic errors reveal something about the learner's underlying knowledge of the target language to date, i.e. his transitional competence." (p. 49) 

      Developmental error: an error in the language use of a first or second language learner which is the result of a normal pattern of development, and which is common language learners.

     Interlingual error is an error which results from LANGUAGE TRANSFER, that is, which is caused by the learner's native language.

      Intralingual error is one which results from faulty or partial learning of the TARGET LANGUAGE, rather than from language transfer. Interalingual errors may be caused by the influence of one target language item upon another.

     Fossilization (in second or foreign language learning) a process which sometimes occurs in which incorrect linguistic features become a permanent part of the way a person speaks or writes a language. Aspects of pronunciation, vocabulary usage, and grammar may become fixed or fossilized in second or foreign language learning. Fossilized features of pronunciation contribute to a person's foreign accent. 

         Brown (2000) defined fossilization as, "It is quite common to encounter in a learner's language various erroneous features that persist despite what is otherwise a reasonably fluent command of the language. This phenomenon is most saliently manifested phonologically in "foreign accents" in the speech of many of those who have learned a second language after puberty. We also frequently observe syntactic and lexical errors persisting in the speech of those who have learned a language quite well. The relatively permanent incorporation of incorrect linguistic forms into a person's second language competence has been referred to as fossilization."(P. 231)

Objective of the study

The purpose of the present study is to investigate how language teachers care for error correction in oral context and prediction power for teachers.  What types of error they consider to be corrected and what correction techniques they use and the time they find to be appropriate for error correction (immediate, delayed, and postponed) and the ones (teacher, peer, self) who should correct errors.

      It also aims at finding about the learners` attitude toward error correction and what aspects of language (grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary, content) they prefer to be corrected, when and with whom they prefer to be corrected. Regarding these findings, this study aims at finding an answer to the question whether error correction helps learners to develop their interlingual ability? In particular, the present study aims at seeking answers to the following research questions:

1- What types of errors are committed by EFL learners (pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and content) at different proficiency levels?            

2- Who corrects the errors (teacher, self, peer) at different proficiency levels?

3- What types of errors are preferred to be corrected by teachers  pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and content) at different proficiency levels?   

4- What language is used to correct errors (L1, L2 or mixed) at different proficiency levels?

 5- When are the errors corrected (immediately, delayed, postponed or ignored) at different proficiency levels?

6- Which method of correction (immediately, delayed, postponed, peer correction and self-correction) is mostly used at different proficiency levels?

7- What is the relationship between learners` proficiency (intermediate or advanced) and types of errors (grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary and content) which are committed by EFL learners?

8- What is the relationship between learners` proficiency (intermediate or advanced) and the person (teacher, self, peer) who corrects the errors?

9- What is the relationship between learners` proficiency (intermediate or advanced) and teacher preferences for correction (grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary or content)?

10- What is the relationship between learners` proficiency (intermediate or advanced) and the language is used for correction (L1, L2 or mixed)?

11- What is the relationship between learners` proficiency (intermediate or advanced) and the timing ((immediately, delayed, postponed or ignored) of correcting errors?

12- What is the relationship between learners` proficiency (intermediate or advanced) and method of correction (immediately, delayed, postponed, peer correction and self-correction)?


Significance of the study

The aim of this study is to investigate the EFL learners' types of oral errors and teachers' preferences for correction Language learners often commit different errors in their learning process. Errors play an important role in teaching, which provides teachers with information about how much the learner has learned and the problem the learner is facing in his study of a language with the information, teachers can adjust their teaching plan to make their teaching work more effective. In this paper, the researcher has  gathered errors of EFL students may make in their learning process, with the analysis on these errors, he has found out the common errors which are committed by EFL learners (grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, content), types of errors which are preferred to be corrected by the teachers (grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary or content) at different proficiency levels also the language which is used to correct errors (L1, L2 or Mixed), and the person who corrects errors (teacher, peer, self) and more the timing of correction (immediate, delayed, postponed, ignored), and the method of correction (immediately, delayed, postponed, peer correction or self-correction) which is used to correct errors at different level of proficiency.     

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