Investigating language for TESOL

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My subject is a post-graduate student from the Igbo tribe and has always lived in the Lagos, Nigeria. Her first Languages include Igbo, Yoruba and Nigerian Pidgin English and SBE is her second language. I used Skype video call to record the audio interview and used voice walker to transcribe everything.


This review will deal with errors in relationship to interlanguage development in Second Language Acquisition (SLA). Focus will be on language acquisition theories, concepts, and processes but, these will be subsumed under the major focus of the paper.

Language Acquisition and Learning are used inter changeably by linguists but, (Krashen, 1982) makes a distinction between them. Acquisitionis the process by which children unconsciously acquire their native languages. While learningis a conscious effort to know a second language, with the aid of a teacher within the confines of a school. This is important for the purpose of clarity.

Linguists have tried to identify the process of language acquisition in children. Descriptive linguists present six layered and overlapping stages, Armon-Lotem, (2009). According to Robertson and Ford (2008) adults undergo similar stages when acquiring a second language. They include; Pre-production, Speech emergent, Beginning fluency, Intermediate fluency, here the learner is fluent in social and academic discourse, makes fewer errors and is capable of higher order thinking and analysis. The final stage is advanced fluency where the learner is comfortably fluent in all contexts but may still have an accent. The last two stages are relevant to my subject.

Mason (2009) citing Ellis (1994) identified nine areas of differences in FLA and SLA stages. These include overall success, general failure, variation, goals, fossilization, intuitions, instruction, negative evidence, and affective factors. E.g. success is guaranteed in FLA but, complete success in SLA is rare. Research however supports objections raised by Cook (2000) about these conclusions. For example, 'fossilization' in L2 is same as L1users' attrition.

The Concepts of Errors

Harmer (2007) citing Edge (1989) classifies mistakes into three categories; 'slips' (mistake which learners can correct themselves once pointed to them), 'errors' (these are mistakes learners cannot correct themselves and therefore need explanation), and 'attempts' (occur when learners try to say something and they do not know the correct way of saying it)

In addition, Ubahakwe (1979) cited in Kalu (2007:30), describes error as "a systematic deviation from the target language by a non-native speaker" I observe that Ubahakwe did not recognize that native speakers make mistakes in the process of learning and affect factors coining this definition. Thus, error in this paper is in the sense of Harmer (Ibidem)

Patterns of Errors

Corder (1972) cited in Kalu (2006) gives three categories of errors: Pre-Systematic, Systematic, and Post-Systematic Errors. I observe that, Corder's classification does not explain the processes involved, the errors are just categorized according to period-causative agents.

Errors have also been classified in a different way by Kalu (2006) citing Chastain (1976). This classification is based on breaches of the known codes of the language. They include the following;

Referential Errors: where the speakers use conventionally in appropriate terms for example in the context of the solar system calls the moon the sun.

Register Errors: This is where, for example, in a school context and refers to a Lecture theater as a classroom.

Social Errors:

These occur when the speaker selects forms which are inappropriate to his social relations with his hearer. This is also called 'Solecism' as when a pupil greets his teacher 'how are we today, old man?'

Dan Yu (2007) broadly classified errors as global and local and this subsumes all other classifications. Global errors affect comprehension while local errors do not.

Errors can be caused by several factors for the second language learner. Bough and Cable (1978) cited in Kalu (2006) observed that the discrepancy between English orthography and pronunciation from experience and research in Nigeria is a major source of errors for learners.(Fatusin 1986 and Folorunsho,2001)

Apart from that, the differences between L1 and L2 sound system can be another source of errors in L2. Tiffen (1980) says that English vowel sounds tend to be problematic because most African languages contain a smaller number of vowel contrasts than English. For example, the short and long vowel contrasts as in 'ship' and 'sheep' are rarely made.

Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH) compares languages (Gass & Selinker,2008) and believes that the major source of errors in L2 is the native language. Even though criticized for equating difficulty with error (Gass & Selinker, 2008), I still find it useful in this paper as means of identifying learner errors in L2.

Krashen's monitor theory is relevant here in two ways. The first is it's view of errors as essential for learning and the role prescribed for the teacher (providing contextualized input for the learner) and the affective filter (the learner's attitude and feelings towards the L2). These for me represent recognition of a problem 'errors in L2 learning' and providing a solution. I also recognise that Krashen's hypothesis has been criticized for not reflecting the process of acquisition (Mason, 2007)

This brings me to the "Critical period hypothesis (CPH)" propounded by Lenneberg (1967) cited in Patkowski (2006).The relevant area for this paper is the 'Sensitive period' in SLA. The notion here is that there is no age limitation in SLA but, it is not possible in SLA to achieve native-like competence. This in my view indicates the InterLanguage (Henceforth IL) development of the learner.


Selinker (1972) cited in Davies (1989) describes IL as a learner's language that is characterised by permeability, dynamism, and systematicity. Ellis (1986) cited in Davies (Ibidem) breaks it into two components. The first presents IL as the structural system which the learner constructs at any given stage of language development. The second consists of 'built-in' syllabus formed by a series of interlocking systems.

Studies in IL have shown that second language learners tend to shift styles when faced with multiple tasks (Tarone 1985). This variation has been found to be form and function specific (Tarone & Liu, 1995). The learner here creates language forms that are outside the IL system in order to communicate in different contexts. Such language forms include: word coinage, IL vocabulary, and approximation. (Tarone & Liu, 1995).

IL is also seen as a set of speech styles (Tarone, 2008). These include; the 'vernacular style and the careful style'. The former is characterised by the learner's focus on meaning and unconscious processing, while the later focuses on form and conscious processing by the learner.

Joos (1976) says that people used the casual style with people they are familiar and the formal style with those they do not know. While Joos based his classification on the relationship between the discussants, Tarone is looking at speaker intention.

These analyses are relevant because my subject is engaged in three tasks with shifts in style, variations in the effect of conscious and unconscious processing and 'paradox' (Tarone, 2008 citing Labov,1972) on the quality of data gathered.

In the course of development Selinker (1972) cited in Lightbown and Spada (2006) 'fossilization' occurs when certain aspects of the learner's language stop developing. But Jowitt (1991) observes that with increasing complexities the learner restructures his language in a recreative process in order to learn the target language.

As a Nigerian, I am aware that there is a controversy over terminology 'Educated Nigerian English (ENE)' (Odumuh, 1987) or Jowitt's Popular Nigerian English (PNE). For the purposes of this paper, Jowitt's PNE is used.


In this analysis, Canale's (1983) framework of communicative competence cited in Barron, (2002) provides a useful background and adequately covers the areas to be analysed i.e. Phonology, grammar, vocabulary, and pragmatics

Phonological Competence

This according to Canale (Ibidem) is an aspect of grammatical competence. The subject displayed a very high level of phonological competence. According to Robertson and Ford (2008), my subject is at the level of Intermediate fluency.

The errors observed can be broadly classified as global and local, Dan-yu (2007) e.g. 1: 47 (academaity?) an unintelligible utterance is a global error.

The rest are local errors with the first being negative language transfer from Nigerian Pidgin English. By omitting the final /t/ in 1: 20,30 least /li:s/ instead of /li:st/; just /j?s/ instead of /j?st/. The learner maybe 'overgeneralising' (Mason, 2009) by transferring what is accepted practice for pidgin into standard British English (SBE).

There is another case of influence from Nigerian English (NE) Jowitt (1991). The word 'opportunity' (1:87) is given as /?p.?'tju?.n?.ti/ in SBE but realized in NE as /?p.?' t?ju?.n?.ti/.This is an 'acceptable phonological variant' in PNE because, it is widely used and acceptable to a significant number of educated Nigerians, (Walsh cited in Jowitt,1991:62) The subject renders the word as / ?p.?'?ju?.n?.ti / which shows influence of Yoruba language in the articulation of the phoneme /t?/ as /?/. This does not exist in Yoruba language so, for majority of Yoruba would be realized as /?/ or even /s / and this is further compounded by the realization of the RP /?:/ as /??/ (see Jowitt, 1991:71). This is also the case of the monothong /?/ is realized as /?/ in 1:18 'coupled';/k?p?ld/ instead of /k?pl/ (SBE) 2:9 'just'/ d??st / ( SBE) realized as/ d??s /.

However, the /t?/ sound was properly articulated by the subject when pronouncing 'actually' and this makes me to consider this as a slip rather than an error in the sense of Hammer (ibidem)

Apart from that, there are other errors of 'vowel epenthesis' e.g. 'coupled' has an extra vowel inserted between the consonants /p/ and /l/. This is due to the syllable structure of the subject's MT and there is consonant deletion as /t/ is omitted in 'just' and 1:20 'least' rendered as /li?s/. (Jowitt, 1991)

Another error noticed is that of 'metathesis' whereby in 1:45 'ask' is realized as /æks / instead of /æ:sk/. This maybe due to "...overgeneralizing the incidence of consonant + /s/ cluster" Jowitt (1991:82). Epenthesis, deletion and metathesis are simplification strategies in NE used by Nigerian learners

Moreover differences in the range of consonant clusters maybe the cause of some of these phonological errors for example, the double consonant cluster in 'actually' /kt?/ [cc] makes it difficult for the subject because such a structure does not exist in her MT. Thus, /k/ is omitted and realized as /æt???lI:/. I consider this to be an 'attempt' (Hammer, ibidem).

Some errors are not easy to classify. For example, in 1:14 'you' is realized as /i/ instead of /ju:/ in the statement "You (I) mean...". I am tempted to see it as a form of MT interference because 'You' is [Í] first person pronoun singular and pronounced /i/ in Igbo language (subject's MT1). This is shown in the sentence [ Í nà- àgbá Óso] (You are running). I believe this makes this error a negative transfer from Igbo language attributable to wrong mental processing from MT to L2. This is based on the definition of MT by UNESCO (1967) as the language a child thinks in. Thus, instead of speaking English she unconsciously spoke Igbo still having the same meaning in mind i.e. first person singular pronoun.

However, it can also be seen as a 'slip' (Harmer, Ibidem) because the same word is correctly articulated as /ju:/ in 1:82, 90.

I will conclude this section by stating that, from the data collected this learner's phonological development has 'fossilized' to an extent.

Grammatical Competence.

This in Canale's framework refers to mastery of sentence formation. The learner is able to place morphemes in their proper positions to make the sentences grammatically correct (Mason, 2009). For example, in 2:22 "He prepared some kind..." The regular past tense is properly formed and used 'prepare + d'.

Apart from that, the subject's questions cut across different stages of Pienemann's development sequence (Lightbown and Spada, 2006).Examples include 2:8 "Ah which story will I tell you of now?" (stage three Fronting); 2:12 "... Is that okay for you" (stage four Inversion in wh + copular and yes/no questions).

There are errosr of 'copying' described by Jowitt (1991:121) as "...the syntactically redundant use of words" e.g. 1:67 (" our other foreign student that...") Here there is double marking of the subject in the noun phrase by the use of 'our' and 'other' to describe 'students'. This is characteristic of PNE.

Secondly, this error is complicated by differences in the placement of emphasis. This is provided in Nigerian languages by syntactic means while SBE does this by phonological resources e.g. stress and intonation. This difference accounts for 1:67 which reflects MT usage and could be classified a 'pre-systematic error' (Kalu,2006).

Vocabulary Competence.

Canale (Ibidem) classifies this as an aspect of grammar. The subject code mixes words by using 'fufu' and 'eba' (in 2: 22,24 & 2:32) in her narration. These words are also referred to as registers loaned into PNE and SBE because they have no exact equivalents in English (Jowitt, 1991).

However, the subject uses these words interchangeably and this becomes a 'Register error' (Kalu, 2006). The subject also uses interjections and discourse particles as in 3:11 'Aho (shrugs)'. This is an expression of sarcasm meaning 'How do I know?' and 'What do I care?' (Jowitt,1991:141) in Nigerian languages and has been transferred into PNE. I consider this a social error in SBE because, it cannot be understood by a non-Nigerian SBE user.

Pragmatic Competence.

Barron's (2002) description of pragmatic competence as the knowledge and use of linguistic aspects of a language in appropriate and contextualized speech acts is apt

The subject showed a good mastery of some pragmatic skills based on Kasper and Kenneth (2002) developmental stages cited by Lightbown and Spada (Ibidem). She was able to employ formulaic structures without heavy reliance on them e.g. 2:16 'Let me tell you...' She could also use language productively with appropriate shift in conventional indirectness e.g. 2:47 'I don't know if I have told you something about...'.These could be attributed to the subject's linguistic knowledge of English language.

Apart from that, she was able to interpret requests correctly e.g. 1: 4 in response to 1:1-3; responded politely to compliments e.g. 1:90,; and was able to recognize implicit humour as in 3: 12-13. These could be due to positive pragmatic knowledge transfer from L1 to L2 comprehension (Barron, 2002).

I used conversation analysis Nausa (2009) to measure the subject's IL development and she was able to recognize and respond to conversation starters e.g. 1:1-3 and 1:4 and when questions were asked in' two ways' i.e. when two opposite questions are asked in one sentence with one clarifying the other as in 1:2.She employed repetition when she needed clarifications as in 1:14 and the same is called a 'returning question' and exemplified in 1:36. These are also called 'fronting' (Ofemile, 2009 citing Frenecik, 2006) used by the subject to focus attention on important points raised by me and to keep the conversation going.

The subject also used 'co-construction' of grammatical units to complete clauses for me e.g.1:58 and language contractions in 1:33 'lemme' for 'Let me'. Furthermore, when required, she supplies 'extra information' (Nausa, ibidem) as in 1:16-18 [Yes some (son) how...']

However, there was 'conversation failure' in one instance, Nausa (Ibidem). This occurred when I could not decode or understand an unintelligible expression made by the subject in 1:47. Nausa (Ibidem) says that there is no listenership at this point.

Other indicators of IL development include the use of rhetorical questions in 2:8 indicating that she was thinking aloud, and the subject's repetition of questions without changing anaphora. Jowitt (ibidem) says these are characteristics of discourse in Nigerian languages and PNE.

Apart from that the subject was less adept in the use of mitigation as shown in her interpretation and response to my question in 2:13. The question was an indirect request to go ahead but, she interpreted it to mean a rejection and thus changed her mind on the choice of narrative. Hertz and Harford's (1993) conclusion cited in Lightbown and Spada (Ibidem) supports this view.

The narrative given by the subject showed that the subject has been able to transfer story telling skills learnt in the L1 context to L2 as a facilitator. My own experience from a similar background and literature like Labov (1972) cited in Ofemile (Ibidem) informs this conclusion. She was able to give proper 'Orientation' by indicating places, people, time, situations, and activities that we shared common knowledge of e.g. 'Ife, militants' in 3:13,22, 25.

She also employs a mixture and shift in tense 'complicating action' Ofemile (Ibidem) in the narration.3:1 is in the past tense, 3:13 present continuous,3:41 future tense. This shift puts the narration in its proper perspectives for the listener to comprehend. She concludes with a 'coda' Ofemile (Ibidem) which is statement about her own feelings on the issue as shown in 3:47-51.

From the analysis done a rough summary indicates that majority of the errors are developmental and unclassifiable while Interference accounts other errors. This shows that the learner's MT cannot wholly account for a learner's errors in IL development. (Dulley and Burt's study cited in Keith 2008)

Implications for my subject.

This study has the following implications for the subject's continuing language development. Firstly, this learner needs to gain control over processing of linguistic and communicative resources from L1.Barron (2002)suggests that L2 provides the opportunity to develop the procedural knowledge necessary to do this effectively.

Secondly, she needs more pragmatic knowledge of English Language to function properly and communicate effectively. This will help for example, her monitor and manage conversations to avoid failure (Nausa, Ibidem).

Finally, I recommend that she should attend advanced ESOL classes to raise her awareness and cater for her needs.

Implications for teaching.

The first implication is in the area of curriculum planning at all levels. This will act as a guide (Ellis, 1987) and should consider theories and principles of IL variation in SLA in the construction of knowledge, design of learning experiences, and activities. This will make learning more rounded.

Secondly, there is implication for classroom practice. Here the teacher needs to raise the awareness of the learners to SBE intuitions through the development of ESL settings, methods and materials, Jianda (2008).

Consequently, I agree with Ellis (1987) that the teacher should employ focused activities during language lessons. These activities include conversation strategies, contextualization exercises, and communicative activities that promote comprehension, manipulation, production, or interaction in the target language (Jianda,2008; Ellis,1997).

Moreover, I believe that since errors are evidences of IL development as shown in Nausa (2009), the classroom provides ample opportunities for further study and practical application of IL knowledge.

Furthermore, Jianda's (2008) work showed that high scores in IELTS tests did not tally with performance in pragmatic tests and this is the case of my subject. Thus, I strongly recommend that IL knowledge should be included in test design and administration at all levels.

As a teacher trainer, I have observed that IL pragmatics is not emphasized in the language teacher training curriculum in Nigeria and I recommend that it should be included to give the teacher better training and effectiveness in the primary and secondary schools.


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