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Errors Made By Polish Students In English English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5442 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Language is an instrument of communication among people. It is a well structured and special characteristic of human interaction. According to Sapir (1921,p.8)

Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions, and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols.

Learning a new language involves such components as grammar, vocabulary and phonology. It is necessary to make a distinction between two processes: acquiring and learning a language. The former can be defined as a subconscious process that is identical to the process children utilize in acquiring their first language. Krashen (1985, p.1) states that learning refers to the conscious process that results in knowing about language. Ellis (1994) adds that learning is not as successful and long lasting as language acquisition.

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In order to be able to communicate, people should master the four skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing. The last skill which the researcher focussed on is a very complex process. As Allen and Corder (1974, p.177) say, it is the most difficult of the language abilities to acquire. When learners want to produce a piece of writing in second language (L2), they try to translate some First language (L1) words or phrases by applying rules from their L1. It is presumed that most of the problems facing L2 learners are caused by their mother tongue. If the contrast between L1 and L2 appears, the learners’ native language knowledge interferes with the target language and problems are difficult to avoid. However, a similarity of two languages in some situations may help L2 learning. The process that is responsible for this is called language transfer which is also known as cross-linguistic influence (Arabski, 1997). Many linguists have been interested in the nature of the learners’ language and the major mistakes which arise in it. One of those was Corder (1981) who recognised the significance of interference and fossilisation in the process of second language learning, claiming that each L2 learner uses a special kind of “a legitimate dialect governed by its own set of rules, some of them being peculiar to the learner and his native language”(1981,p.25).

Selinker (1974, p.35) also believed in the existence of a “separate linguistic system based on the observable output which results from a learner’s attempted production of a TL norm”. Such a system, which he referred to as interlanguage, is always different from the target language until the native speaker’s competence has been achieved by the learner. The concept of such an interim language added a new dimension to the learner language study. Before that, with contrastive analysis, linguists made only a one direction comparison between the first and the target language. With reference to Selinker’s theory, “language structure” comprises the fundamental processes such as:

(1) First language transfer;

(2) Errors occurring as a result of this process are attributed to the learner’s native language influence;

(3) Transfer of training;

(4) Strategies of second language learning;

(5) Overgeneralization of the target language linguistic material (Selinker 1974, p.37)

Polish language belongs to the West Slavonic branch of the Indo-European languages; it is closely related to Czech, Slovak and Russian. In some parts of Europe such as : Russia, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine Polish is also used as a second language. In terms of the grammar, Polish is a very inflected language. There are numerous features, which distinguish the language from the other languages. A noun for example constitutes gender: masculine, feminine, neuter. Nouns, pronouns and adjectives have seven case forms, which have different endings. Another difficulty for Polish learners refers to phrasal verbs and articles that don’t exist in their native language. Moreover Polish language also has indefinite fractional and collective numerals, which depend on the thing that is counted. All these contrasts lead to errors.

In Poland people learn English as a foreign language. Polish learners are in a different situation than inhabitants of, for instance, India or Republic of South Africa as English is not their official language. Therefore, they have no need to develop assimilative or integrative motivation for learning English as they do not feel the drive to write and speak like native speakers and sustain high level of foreign language. In this way, Poles are far more interested in studying English for more instrumental purposes, such as: going abroad and finding a well-paid job, or getting a promotion in their native country. It also happens that they friendships acquired by means of the Internet has led to a desire to communicate with them, thus English seems to be most suitable as it is spoken all over the world. One of the benefits of knowing a foreign language skills is intercultural communication. English is becoming the most popular second language in the world. It is used as lingua franca, for politics, and business and education.

After changing the political system in Poland, English has become more popular and is considered an important part of a good education. It became a compulsory subject in primary and secondary schools in Poland (Swan and Smith, 2001).


Every foreign language learner commits errors. As Brown (1980,p.164) claims second language learning in contrary to the first language learning is a process “in trial-and-error nature”. Teachers and researchers realized that L2 learners’ errors created a new system of language which had to be analyzed carefully. It is very important to make a distinction between various types of language behavior by giving the definition of error and mistake which are frequently misused. According to Ellis (1997,p.17) errors reflect gaps in a learner’s knowledge; they occur because the learner does not know what is correct As for the mistake Brown (1980,p.165) states that it refers to a performance error that is either random guess or a slip, in that it is a failure to utilize a known system . From the researcher’s experience as a Polish native it is necessary to state that Poles commit many errors, such as: syntactic, or semantic ones, and they are the ones in which either L1 and L2 (or both) play the most important role. This is partially caused by the fact that learners often experiment with prepositions and articles they know they cannot rely on the interference/transfer from Polish. Hence, they build their own hypotheses and try to insert the correct functional word. Moreover, some syntax errors are difficult to classify. Most of the deviances result from applying Polish syntactic rules to English phrases. The main difficulty is that the wrong choice of word results in the emergence of a semantic error, and if a larger phrase is written on the basis of L1 rules, it renders the whole phrase or sentence incomprehensible for a non- Polish speaker. Then, malformed sentences make English difficult to decode even for a proficient speaker. It has also been one of the main concerns of the branch of linguistics, which is, researching similarities and dissimilarities between first and foreign language acquisition, as well as determining the strategies which learners employ in the course of these processes.

Teaching adolescent foreign language learners is a challenge for second language teachers and there are many reasons behind it. Firstly it is essential to emphasize the fact that in the case of children, acquiring L2 comes together with general cognitive and affective development of a child, which means that even though children have no meta-awareness, they are capable of automatic acquisition that is not hindered by personality, motivation, attitude or other factors (Brown, 2000). Older learners, such as adolescents or adults undergo the process of language acquisition in a different way. It looks more like a formal sort of learning (which is the result deliberate teaching) in the course of which explicit rules and language content are presented since the cognitive development is already completed in this age group. In other words, adolescents are able to think in abstract terms, they can learn far complex grammatical issues as the already developed meta-cognition and inductive learning ability allow them for that (Ellis,1995).There are various factors which influence second language learning. They include individual learner differences such as age, cognitive style, intelligence, motivation/needs, learner’s grammatical system and learner’s native language. According to Komorowska (2002) adults and adolescent learning is unnatural; it is much easier if they learn a second language or particular goals or reasons which results in a greater motivation. Littlewood (1984,p.53) confirms the importance of motivation for learning a second language:

In second language learning as in every other field of human learning, motivation is the crucial force which determines whether a learner embarks on a task at all, how much energy he devotes to it, and how long he perseveres.

According to Hopp (2004), two kinds of motivation can be distinguished: intrinsic and extrinsic. The former one is more prevalent among adults. The learners see language as an instrument to raise their self-esteem and achieve special goals such as getting a better job. The second kind of motivation is characteristic of a child’s way of learning. Both these types of motivation are useful in the language learning process.

Reason for choosing the topic

Writing is a very important skill, however it causes much more problems than speaking or reading especially for L2 learners who think in their own language. In Poland the majority of secondary school pupils have not mastered this skill due to the lack of emphasis on teaching writing. During studies in Poland and working as a teacher of English, the researcher observed a number of errors made by Polish learners. A considerable number of these errors were similar to the ones she used to make as a beginner or even intermediate learner of English. Most of them reflected her lack of competence, knowledge of rules, whereas other errors were very much related to the writer’s mother tongue. Linguistically speaking, there were transfer errors, or, in other words, errors which involved interference e.g. Polish grammatical rules were applied to English. There are various reasons why the researcher has chosen this topic. One of these is differences between the two languages and also difficulties facing the learners from Poland. Although Polish students learn English language in primary and secondary schools, they are not able to produce correct sentences. They still try to translate sentences from their native language into English. All of the rules that need to be applied in L2 are different in L1. Thus, Polish learners and other non-native speakers (NNS) are prone to make more errors.

1.2. Aim and Objectives of the study

The research has been conducted with reference to secondary school pupils from Poland. The overall aim of the study is to examine what type of errors are most common in the written discourse of the students. The associated research objectives are:

What sorts of errors are most common in the written discourse of Polish learners of English as a foreign language?

What is the percentage of various errors in learners’ written discourse?

What are then the possible sources of those errors?

How might the frequency of these errors be reduced?

Why these errors occur? What could be done to improve written discourse?

1.3.Outline of the study

The dissertation is divided into five chapters. It begins with the introduction describing the general background of the study.

The second chapter provides a literature overview of theories related to errors and their sources. This part also shows classification and explanation of language behaviors. The definition of Contrastive Analysis and Error Analysis can also be found it this chapter.

A description of methodology can be found in the third chapter. The author discusses the instrument for collecting and analyzing the data.

Chapter four deals with results from analysis of students’ errors in written compositions. Students’ samples and questionnaires are examined and interpreted in detail.

The last chapter draws some conclusions on the research and considers recommendations for students and teachers. It also discusses implications for future teaching and research

Chapter II

Theoretical background

2.1 Nature of error

It is obvious that every language learner is bound to make errors which are typically human characteristic. Errors have been of interest to many researchers as they are seen as a very important element in language acquisition. According to Norrish (1983) they can occur for many reasons; they may arise from the choice of the material, from the learners’ processing of the material or even from learner’s lack of attention. However the most serious kind of language deviances is caused by lack of learner’s knowledge.

It is very important to introduce the distinction between errors, mistakes, lapses and slips. These terms are frequently misused by teachers. Although they have a similar meaning, the differences are significant. As for an error, numerous definitions have been given by different linguists with various attitudes towards errors.

In most cases errors are regarded as negative language behavior. Norrish (1983,p.7) believed they are undesirable a sign of failure and systematic deviation, when a learner has not learnt something and consistently gets it wrong. Corder (1967) and Richards (1974) also consider errors as deviations from a standard linguistic system. To support this assumption Corder (1967,p.166) says:

Errors are systematic, consistent deviances characteristic of the learner’s linguistic system at a given stage of learning. The key point is that the learner is using a definite system of language at every point in his development…The learner errors are evidence of this system and are themselves systematic

A similar attitude was presented by Dulay and Burt (1982,p.138) who considered errors as the “flawed side” of learner’s speech or writing.

On the other hand errors can also be seen as an important and positive part of learning a language. :As Norrish (1983,p.6) states: the error itself may be a necessary part of learning a language. People are not able to detect errors because they have not learned the particular part of the material.

Another linguist who was interested in this area was Ellis (1986,p.9), who also believed in the good side of error, stating:

Errors are an important source of information about SLA, because they demonstrate conclusively that learners do not simply memorize target language rules and then reproduce them in their own utterances. They indicate that learners construct their own rules on the basis of input data, and that in some instances at least these rules differ from those of the target language.

Lightbown and Spada (1999) agreed with the positive sides of errors, claiming that they can be the result of seeking the correct structure of the language.

A different, less serious type of language behavior is called a mistake. According to Corder (1967) mistakes are deviances due to performance factors which include limitation of memory or emotional strain. Ellis (1997,p.17) claims that mistakes are simply the result of slips of the tongue and should not be seen as the result of a wrong interpretation of some rules of the target language. Moreover, the learner who has made this kind of random inaccuracies can correct them when his attention is drawn to them. Norrish (1983) identifies two more terms related to errors such as: lapse and slips. The former one is defined as a type of wrong usage, which may occur due to lack of concentration or shortness of memory. He adds that this kind of wrong usage is not very serious and can be also made by native speakers at any time. The last type of language deviation described by Norrish (1983,p.8) is a careless slip, that is caused by the learner’s inattentiveness in class.

2.1.1. Significance of errors

An essential theory referring importance of errors was introduced by Corder (1967) in his article The significance of learner’s errors. The author made a distinction between systematic and non systematic error (mistake). He noted that incorrect utterances were a sign of the language development. Moreover he provided evidence that errors are significant in three ways. Firstly to the teachers, errors can tell how far the learner progressed and what knowledge he has to learn to reach the aim. Furthermore they are helpful to the researcher as they demonstrate evidence of the way the language is learned and also methods that are used by a learner to discover the language. Thirdly, making of errors are regarded as a device used by a learner in order to learn. Corder (1967) also claims that making of errors is a strategy employed both by children acquiring their mother tongue and by those learning a second languge.

2.2.Contrastive analysis

In 1960 some new theoretical concepts were brought in to foreign language teaching that is: Contrastive Analysis and Error Analysis. As Connor (1996) stated the theory of second language learning assumed that before that time most errors were attributed to interference. Contrastive analysis (CA), a major branch of applied linguistics was a very valuable tool in language teaching methodology for both teachers and learners. It provided comparative and contrastive description of the learner’s native language and the target language. It was assumed that if teachers knew the structure of the learner’s MT, they would be able to prepare better teaching materials. Lado (1957 cited in James 1980) explained that the contrastive study was established to “transfer some features of the L1 to the L2 .Practitioners of CA aimed at explaining particular aspects of L2 learning. They looked at correspondence between the two languages. Lightbown and Spada (1999,p.23) gave an explanation to that situation, stating:

Contrastive analysis hypothesis predicts that where there are similarities between the first and the second language, the learner will acquire second language structures with ease; where there are differences, the learner will have difficulty.

As James (1980) observed, there are three things that can be predicted by CA. They include areas which will cause problems, learners difficulties and learners’ errors.

The aims of the method are pedagogical. As Lado (1957) cited in Ellis. The main aim of CA is pedagogical. As Lado (1957 cited in Edmondson 1999,p.92) states:

The teacher who has made a comparison of the foreign language with the native language of the students will know better what the real problems are and can provide for teaching them.

According to Gass and Selinker (2001) CA was based on several of the following assumptions:

theory defining language as habit

language learning involves a new set of habits

the main cause of errors in the production of L2 is learner’s mother tongue.

CA considers differences between L1 and L2

learners should learn only dissimilarities between the two languages whereas similarities should be ignored

difficulties are established by differences and similarities between L1 and L2

Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis developed two positions that refers strong and weak version. In the strong version it was assumed that prediction could be made about learning and the success of teaching material after comparing the two languages. The weak version begins with an analysis of learner’s errors attempting to account for these errors on the basis of L1 and L2 differences.

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Besides the positive aspects of CA, researchers saw many problems deriving from comparison L1 and L2. According to Gass and Selinker (2001) CA could not predict all of the areas in learner’s difficulties. Moreover they claimed that it is inadequate to clarify the sources of certain types of errors. All of the disadvantages of CA led to development of another linguistic notion called Error Analysis.

2.3 Error Analysis

Error analysis (EA) is a type of linguistic investigation which deals with the differences between learning a language and using the language by native speakers.

According to Crystal (1980: 135) error analysis is described as:

As a technique for identifying, classifying and systematically interpreting the mistakes made by someone learning a foreign language, using any of principles and procedures provided by linguistics.

A similar definition of Error Analysis (EA) is given by Brown (1980). He described it as a process of observation, classification of errors and after that revealing the systems used by learners. It was expanded when validity of CA was questioned. According Gass and Selinker (2001) EA offered more possible explanations than CA .It uses possibility of accounting for learners’ errors while CA attributed errors to mother tongue only. Corder (1967) stresses that EA has two aims: diagnostic, which shows the state of learner’s interlanguage and prognostic which predicts future learners’ problems.

It focuses on the errors learners make in SLA, assuming that these errors can be easy to avoid if the learners’ mother tongue and the target language were compared (Richards, 1974). The analysis of the errors was carried out in order to detect difficulties in learning and to discover how a student learns a language. Moreover, EA is dealing with the exploring of the language of second language learners.

2.4. Procedures of Error Analysis

There were three steps introduced by Corder (1967) in EA reseach:

Data collection: recognition of idiosyncrasy

Decription: Accounting for idiosyncratic dialect

Explanation (the ultimate object of error analysis)

Furthermore, Gass and Selinker (2001,p.79) recognized six steps in conducting error analysis. They include: Data collection, Identifying errors, classifying errors, quantifying errors, analysis of sources and remediation.

Beside the advantages of EA, researchers found that it fell short in the analysis of SLA data. According to Gass and Selinker (2001,p.83) one of the problematic area was the “attempt to ascribe causes to errors”. EA assumed that errors belonged to one source or another. Dulay and Burt (1974b,p.115) identified the fact that EA cannot categorize errors. As a result they originate a category called ambiguous goofs which are defined as” those that can’t be categorized as either Interference-like goofs or L1 developmental goofs”

2.4.1. Identifying errors

In this step Corder (1974) prepared a model for recognizing erroneous or idiosyncratic utterances in L2. According to this pattern any sentences produced by learners can be investigated for idiosyncrasies. Based on that model, Corder made a distinction between overt and covert errors. As Ellis (1994) claims the first group of errors is very easy to identify due to the fact that a deviation in forms is very clear. Covertly erroneous sentences are superficially well formed but it can not be interpretable. This mean that the learner may create utterances that are produced on the basis of internalized rules. Overt errors involve utterances which are ungrammatical. As Allen and Corder (1974,p.126) added that “recognition of error is thus crucially dependent upon correct interpretation of the learner’s intentions.

2.4.2. Description of errors

The next step after recognizing the errors is describing them. There were a few attempts to describe errors using various taxonomies. Ellis (1997,p.18) among other linguists divided errors into categories. He presented a type of classification related to “general ways in which the learners’ utterances differ from the reconstructed target-language utterances”. A similar error taxonomy was produced by Dulay, Burt and Krashen (1982), who classified errors into four categories. They include omission, addition, misformation and misordering. The first kind occurs when some items are left out in well formed utterances. For example She writing. Addition involves producing structure that is not required for an utterance to be considered grammatical. As Ellis (1997) claims the most common group of errors is misformation, which considers using sentences with the wrong form of the structure. As an example Dulay, Burt and Krashen (1982 cited in Ellis 1994,p.56) offer some samples of wrong forms such as: He did not went there (Dulay, Burt and Krashen cited in Ellis (1994)). Evidence of misordering is found when some morphemes are in the wrong order. For instance What he is reading?.

It is noteworthy that this kind of error taxonomy only shows which errors are the most frequent. However , it was not possible to explain how L2 is learned. Therefore a better framework was introduced by Corder (1973) who presented three steps in learning according to error nature and degree of systematicity:

Presystematic stage

Systematic stage

Postsystematic stage

In the first stage according to Brown (1980) learners do not know the language structure well, they experiment what results in making many errors. Moreover, students are not aware of particular systems or rules in L2 and they produce random errors. The presystematic stage is seen as the time when students know some rules which they attempt to apply but unsuccessfully. The learner can explain his errors by providing linguistic messages in different structures. However, self correctness is still not possible in this phase. The next stage assumes that learners appear to have acquired a rule. Brown (1980) mentions a term “backsliding” to errors which can occur in this stage. Brown (1980,p.170) defines it as “a form of linguistic regression arising out of the natural spiraling characteristic of human learning” Appearance of postsystematic stage is found when learners make errors which can be corrected. As Brown (1980) claims at this stage errors seem to be infrequent. Moreover, learners are prone to produce correct utterances but it happens inconsistently. The rules were learned but the learners was unsuccessful due to a lapse or lack of attention.

2.4.3. Explanation of errors

After identifying and describing the errors in SLA the researchers tried to find the explanation why these language behaviours occurred. There are numerous interpretations underlying error appearance. According to Taylor (1986) the sources of errors can be psycholinguistic, sociolinguistic and epistemic. The first group of sources regards the nature of L2 system and the problems learners have in using it. Sociolinguistic sources concern learner’s abilities to adjust his language in terms of the social context. The last category involves the learner’s lack of world knowledge. Psycho-linguistic sources of errors, were created by Richards (1974) who proposed a special figure accounting for them and enumerating certain mental phenomenon being in charge or certain accuracy failures, that is

Performance errors including transfer, interlingual (overgeneralization, transitional competence, induced errors

Performance related to processing problems and communication strategies.

Apart from the psycho-linguist sources Richard aimed at giving more origins which resulted in a list of three more sources that include

Interference related errors

2.Intralingual errors are divided into four following subcategories:

Over -generalization involves creating deviant structures in place of two target language structures (Ellis,1994,p.59). It can also be related to redundancy reduction. It may occur with forms which do not carry important contrasts for the learner. This means that ending -ed- in Past Simple can be omitted. As a result learners produce sentences like: I go to University yesterday.

ignorance of rule restrictions involves application of rules which should not appear in contexts. This is a type of transfer when the learner uses structures that have been previously acquired. It can occur even when the target language is close to the mother tongue. Some rule restriction errors may derive from analogy which is a major factor in the wrong use of prepositions. Learners may attempt to use the same prepositions by analogy what leads to producing sentences: He explained me the book from the sentence He showed me the book. Another example of the analogy can be seen in article usage.

incomplete rule application, that reflects errors related to analogy. The structures in learners’ production is not fully developed. This may result in producing declarative word order in questions like: You like to swim? instead of Do you like to swim?

false concepts hypothesized can originate from faulty comprehension in the target language. This type of error appears when learners use structures was or were as a marker of Past Simple Tense in example: One day it was happened.

Developmental errors, which reflect learners’ competence and show general features of language acquisition. These errors are caused due to learners’ limited experience. In contrary Richards (1974, p.174) claims that they illustrate the learner attempting to build up hypotheses about the language.

Another linguist who attempted to outline origins of errors was Brown (1980,p.173).whose classification was similar to Richard’s view. However he added a few more sources of errors that are ” significant in a teacher’s understanding of learners interlanguage systems” The author recognised such sources as: communication strategies, prefabricated patterns and language switch.

George (1972) presented a few arguments related to error derivation. He assumed that some sources of errors are universal. Furthermore, Richard and Sampson (1974) distinguished causes of errors which fall into seven categories:


Intralingual interference

Sociolinguistic situation

Modality of exposure to TL


Successions of approximative systems

Universal hierarchy of difficulty

Apart from interlingual and intralingual sources James (1998) attempted to distinguished another type of sources such as induced errors. Another term described this kind of error was introduced by Brown, who called it context of learning. As Stenson (1974) explains these errors derive from the classroom situation. They occur when learners receive faulty explanation of grammatical rules. Such errors can show teachers the level of the student’s language competence. Transfer

The problem of language transfer has been explained by many researchers. It is believed that it plays a very important role in second language acquisition. According to Ellis (1997) transfer refers to an attempt to use the knowledge of languages that have been learned previously. Learners use their mother tongue experience in order to organize the second language data. They try to create their own rules, construct their “grammars”.

Dulay, Burt and Krashen ( 1982: 101) describe it as

the automatic, uncontrolled and subconscious use of past learned behaviors in the attempt to produce new responses

According to Arabski (1997) there are numerous factors playing role in transfer occurring. They include learner’s age, type of language structure and interlanguage development.

Littlewood (1984) and many other linguists distinguish two types o


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