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Errors Of Iranian Efl Learner Education Essay

This paper tends to have a review of concepts and theories concerning error analysis and presents types of errors. It focuses on error analysis and studies syntactic errors through subcategorization frame in Iranian EFL learners in elementary and intermediate levels. The aim of this study is to find out whether lack of L2 subcategorizational information will cause errors production of L2 and if increasing proficiency level eliminates the errors. Findings of this study confirmed that lack of L2 subcategorizational information is a major cause of syntactic errors which are highly affected by proficiency level.

Introduction

One of the joys of EFL teachers is to see their students produce flawless English. Unfortunately it is inevitable to avoid errors of different types. Familiarity with the types of errors students actually make is a valuable guide for determining the sequence and emphasis of instruction in the EFL classroom. In recent years the acceptance of this notion has led to a great deal of empirical research on adult foreign language errors (Burt, 1975).

Error analysis was conceptualized and applied based on the behaviorist theory of language learning which implied that errors were signs that a language learner had simply not learnt the rules of the target language effectively (Brown, as cited in Khodabandeh, 2007). In the early 1950's, the notion of language as a system, and more importantly, the notion of second language acquisition as the meeting of two language systems gained more acceptance and linguists began to regard errors as evidence of language transfer, or what referred to as intersystemic interference. With this conceptualization, errors were regarded as the manifestation of ineffective language learning and were focused upon by linguists and teachers intent on their elimination (Khodabandeh, 2007).

It wasn't until the late 1960's that researchers like Slamecka and Ceraso (1960) used evidence gained through error analysis to discredit the existence of negative transfer as the dominant factor in acquiring a second language, since many errors could not be attributed to intersystemic interference. What they and other researchers were demonstrating was that learners didn't just memorize target language rules and use them to form their own utterances: they were constructing their own rules based on the input they had received. Hence, there was a rebirth of error analysis and a movement from an undifferentiated world to a world organized by mind, from a world of instances to a world related by generalities and abstractions requiring the whole concept to be redefined and approached from a more cognitive or mentalist perspective (Khodabandeh, 2007).

Psychology became a much more influential field for linguists interested in using error analysis as a diagnostic tool, to help identify the causes of errors. The term error itself was redefined in recognition that many mistakes in spontaneous speaking or writing could be attributed to a simple pause, metanalysis, or a "slip of the brain." (Crystal,as cited in Khodabandeh, 2007). Errors began to help describe and explain the way in which learners learned a language rather than their progress towards conforming to a set of real or imagined standards of expression and thus, had a more positive role.

Today, error analysis is used with a variety of techniques for identifying, classifying and systematically interpreting the mistakes made by language learners and has helped support hypotheses such as the natural route of development, as well as identify the weaknesses and/or disprove theories of language learning like contrastive analysis, throughout the last few decades (Khodabandeh, 2007). “The weaknesses of contrastive analysis are that it overemphasized the interference of the outer environment of language study, but the language learners themselves are totally neglected. While interlanguage intended to explore learning strategies based on the learners’ errors, and it has ecome the basis of error analysis” (Fang & Xue-mei, 2007, p. 11).

Error analysis emphasizes “the significance of errors in learners’ interlanguage system” (Brown, as cited in Khodabandeh, 2007). The term interlanguage, introduced by Selinker (1972), refers to the systematic knowledge of an L2 which is independent of both the learner’s L1 and the target language. Nemser (1971) referred to it as the Approximate System, and Corder (1967) as the Idiosyncratic Dialect or Transitional Competence (as cited in Khodabandeh, 2007). “Error analysis is a type of linguistic analysis that focuses on the errors learners make. It consists of a comparison between the errors made in the Target Language (TL) and that TL itself” (Khodabandeh, 2007, p. 8). Burt, (1975) stated that “this ‘error analysis approach’ differs from that of ‘contrastive analysis’ in that error analysis does not assume that first language interference is the major predictor of adult errors. Rather, no assumptions are made about the causes of error types” (Burt, 1975, p. 54). Errors in the actual speech of foreign language learners were simply collected, then classified into categories. The results of investigations indicate that although interference from a students’ first language is the major predictor of phonological errors (as most experienced EFL teachers already know), interference errors are only one of the types of errors found in the syntax, morphology and lexicon of student speech and writing in the target language (Richards 1971, Politzer 1974, Ervin-Tripp 1970, George 1972, and Grauberg 1971, as cited in Burt, 1975). For example, Grauberg (1971), found that “mother tongue interference could account for only 25% of the lexical errors, 10% of the syntactic errors, and none of the morphological errors in his students’ essays” (Burt, 1975, p. 54).

Most of the current work in error analysis focuses on either the linguistic classification of errors or on the causes of errors made by adults learning English and other foreign languages. The primary causes of errors reviewed by Khodabandeh, (2007, p.8) are:

Interlingual/Transfer errors: those attributed to the native language (NL). There are interlingual errors when the learner’s L1 habits (patterns, systems or rules) interfere or prevent him/her, to some extent, from acquiring the patterns and rules of the second language (Corder, 1971). Interference (negative transfer) is the negative influence of the mother language (L1) on the performance of the target language learner (L2) (Lado, 1964).

Intralingual/Developmental errors: those due to the language being learned (TL), independent of the native language. According to Richards (1970) they are items produced by the learner which reflect not the structure of the mother tongue, but generalizations based on partial exposure to the target language. The learner, in this case, tries to “derive the rules behind the data to which he/she has been exposed, and may develop hypotheses that correspond neither to the mother tongue nor to the target language” (Richards, 1974, p. 6).

A division of learners’ errors according to whether they appear to originate from an L1 structure or L2-dependent rule construction has formed the mainstay of studies of L2 learner-language for over a decade. The computation of the relative frequencies of errors ascribed to these categories (occasionally in relation to differing levels of proficiency) has served a variety of research questions and theoretical issues. Perhaps the most important issue was whether or not L2 acquisition draws on those cognitive mechanisms and language processing strategies that have been identified for L1 acquisition. The significant number of target language-specific developmental errors found in the L2 speech of learners of different Lls and age groups played a major role in the reemphasis of Contrastive Analysis in L2 research and cleared the way for a research paradigm which focused on the commonalities at the product and process level (Zobl, 1980).

Zobl, (1980) demonstrated that both types of errors have their origins in the processing of properties of L2 input, and that errors which seem to show influence from the L1 presumably begin as L2-dependent developmental errors which are subsequently reinforced by an L1 structure compatible with the developmental error. Dulay and Burt (1972) have demonstrated the traditional distinction of developmental vs. transfer errors in table 1.

There is also another wildly known division of errors, global vs. local errors. Burt, (1975) discusses four aspects of English grammar that often cause global errors: basic word order, sentence connectors, psychological predicate constructions and selectional restrictions on certain types of verbs in sentential complements. The two last aspects share an important characteristic: they are exceptions to pervasive principles of English. In natural conversations, speakers constantly generate new sentences by applying the rules of the language they are speaking. Thus, even if a student has never heard a particular sentence, he can generate it if he has internalized (learned) the relevant grammar. However, in certain instances, English requires its own basic rules to be violated, and an unsuspecting student of English will apply a rule he has learned and consequently make an error. These kinds of errors, which are made by students from diverse language backgrounds, make it clear that the mother tongue is not the source of these errors. Rather, English itself is the ‘culprit’(Burt, 1975). “Research has shown that accuracy of language use may be significantly improved with the mastery of the correct usage of the vocabulary item. It is in this sense that Gairns [and] Redman (1986) speak of the ‘grammar of

vocabulary’ (Li & Chan, 1999 , p. 85)”. Examples of this include misuse of verb

Table 1Distinguishing Features of Developmental and Transfer ErrorsProduct Level Developmental Transfer Errors are identical to those made by native learners (Mougeon and Hebrard 1975) Interference yields different types of errors than those that are de-velopmental (Dulay and Burt 1974a) Errors result from the creation of rules similar to those of native learners (Dulay and Burt 1974a)Errors reflect learner’s use of L1 as a crutch at low level of L2 proficiency (Taylor 1974)Errors reflect learner’s competence at a particular developmental stage (Richards 1971a)Errors reflect use of L1 as a source of hypotheses about L2 (e.g., Cancino, Rosansky and Schumann 1975 )Errors illustrate learner’s attempt to build up hypotheses about the L2 (Richards 1971a)Process Level Origins of errors are within the L2 ( Richards 1971a)Errors reflect inability to separate the two languages (Richards 1971a) Errors reflect general characteris-tics of rule learning and language acquisition (Richards 1971a)Errors result from L1 habits (out-dated Contrastive Analysis posi-tion) Main strategies are simplification, generalization and reduction of grammatical redundancy (Dulay and Burt 1972)Errors represent an interlingual generalization (TayIor 1974)

Adapted from Zobl, (1980) , p.724

transitivity (*to discuss about something), confusion between a noun and verb (*to emphasise on something), preposition (*to walk under the sun), and so forth.

This grammar of vocabulary is what we are investigating in this paper. In the present study we focus on verb selectional restriction within subcategorization frame. The following questions will be answered:

Do subcategorizational differences between Persian and English lead to inaccuracy in production of English as L2?

In case they lead errors, do they change to correct form as the proficiency level increases?

Method

Participants

A group of seventy learners, forty of whom studying in elementary level and thirty in intermediate level, participated in this study. They were selected from different language institutes in Mashhad in order to remove any probable effect of familiarity with a specific verb use due to instruction of a specific course book. They were given a list of 20 verbs, commonly used erroneously by Persian L1 learners of English, and were asked to use each of them in a sentence. In few cases translation of some verbs were given when participants seem not to know it.

Materials

The verbs selected for the study were based on hints in Common Mistakes in English and also based on teachers’ experience about verbs EFL learners often make mistake about. These verbs were listed alphabetically on a piece of paper with a blank in front of them for students to write their sentences. The sample paper is available in appendix1.

Procedure and Analysis

Pieces of paper were distributed by the researcher. Learners were given twenty minutes to write sentences. The same list of verbs was distributed among intermediate learners to find out if the same kind of errors in learners in higher level of proficiency. The major category of errors in this study is syntactic one. In order for students to produce the structures which would trap the desirable subcategorization, some other words were accompanied some of the verbs which the specific selection could be avoided otherwise. Sentences containing errors of subcategorization were selected and other kinds of errors as well as correct sentences were ignored. For example in the sentence *We should obey from teacher. only wrong usage of preposition in considered as error for the study and neglect of article for teacher was ignored.

Results

Errors were shown within subcategorization frame and the correct selectional restriction of each verb was contrasted with the wrong ones as shown in table 2:

Table 2

Subcategorizational information

Item

Correct selection

Wrong selection

Agree

verb, [ _ PP(with))]

verb, [tobe _ PP(with)]

Answer

verb, [ _ NP]

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

Approach

verb, [ _ NP]

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

Arrive

verb, [ _ PP(at)]

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

Ask

verb, [ _ NP]

verb, [ _ PP(from)/NP PP(from)]

Buy

verb, [ _NP(someone)NP(something)]

verb, [ _ PP(for someone) NP(something)]

Enjoy

verb, [ _ NP/Reflexive P]

verb, [ _ PP(from)/Reflexive P]

Go

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

verb, [ _ NP]

Hate

verb, [ _ NP]

verb, [ _ PP(from)]

Help

verb, [ _ NP]

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

Let

verb, [ _ NP V]

verb, [ _ NP infinitive]

Marry

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

verb, [ _ PP(with)]

Obey

verb, [ _ NP]

verb, [ _ PP(from)]

Reach

verb, [ _ NP]

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

Rob

verb,[ _NP(the person/place being robbed)]

verb,[ _PP(from a person or place)]

Say

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

verb, [ _ NP(someone)]

Steal

verb, [ _ NP(the object stolen)]

verb,[ _PP(from a person or place)]

Tell

verb, [ _ NP]

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

Translate

verb, [ _ PP(into)/NP PP(into)]

verb, [ _ PP(to)/NP PP(to)]

Want

verb, [ _ NP/ infinitive]

verb, [ _ that clause]

Proportion of errors in each level was calculated and demonstrated in table 3. Evidence produced here suggests that most of the participants were not familiar with verb selectional restriction in the second languages.

Table 3

proportion of wrong subcategorizational information

Item

Wrong selection

Elementary

Intermediate

NO

%

NO

%

Agree

verb, [tobe _ PP(with)]

40

100

22

.73

Answer

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

34

.80

7

.23

Approach

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

38

.95

4

.13

Arrive

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

40

100

6

.20

Ask

verb, [ _ PP(from)/NP PP(from)]

35

.875

6

.20

Buy

verb, [ _ PP(for someone) NP(something)]

31

.775

1

.033

Enjoy

verb, [ _ PP(from)/Reflexive P]

29

.725

2

.066

Go

verb, [ _ NP]

17

.425

0

.00

Hate

verb, [ _ PP(from)]

22

.55

2

.066

Help

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

37

.925

10

.33

Let

verb, [ _ NP infinitive]

30

.75

3

.10

Marry

verb, [ _ PP(with)]

40

100

12

.40

Obey

verb, [ _ PP(from)]

31

.925

14

.466

Reach

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

35

.875

8

.20

Rob

verb,[ _PP(from a person or place)]

40

100

5

.165

Say

verb, [ _ NP(someone)]

38

.95

2

.066

Steal

verb,[ _PP(from a person or place)]

40

100

11

.366

Tell

verb, [ _ PP(to)]

37

925

0

.00

Translate

verb, [ _ PP(to)/NP PP(to)]

40

100

29

.966

Want

verb, [ _ that clause]

26

.65

0

.00

Conclusion

Learner’s behavior described above seems to be the norm for many learners. A credible explanation for this phenomenon is that learners already have sophisticated syntactic frameworks built up for most of the words they encounter in the target language. This syntactic information results either from hypothesis they have made through the initial stages of L2 learning or transfer of L1, when they find similarities between the two languages. However, when this comparison happens, it is often the case that native language syntactic frames are dragged along, which creates a problem of inappropriate native like syntax and errors in L2. This is an area where second language acquisition is obviously different from first; with first language acquisition, there are no competing subcategorization frames and quite possibly there is a drive to create original frames. With second languages, however, learners must acquire new subcategorization frames and the goal then is to make them aware of differences between first and second language syntactic frames redefinition and an extension of the syntactic domain in which subcategorization requirements can be fulfilled.

A look at types of errors shows that some occurred as a result of L1 interference while some are due to incomplete instruction/mastery of L2. Also, most learners reframe the syntactic structure and start using the correct form as the proficiency level increases. However, the proportion of this change is not the same. Although the structural mechanisms in the genesis of both developmental and transfer errors appear to be the same, evidence exists suggesting that the effects of both error types on subsequent learning may be different; that is, restructuring of the rule on which the error is based may be more difficult when the developmental error is reinforced by a (near-) congruent L1 structure (Zobl, 1980). This is in line with what “Mougeon and Hébrard point out that, when plotted on a graph over time, transfer errors, unlike developmental errors, display a much more gradual cline of elimination from learner speech” (as cited in Zobl, 1980, p.477).

EFL teachers will, therefore, be wise to pay deliberate attention to the explicit teaching of such erroneous terms and to providing sufficient practice opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.

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