Proficiency Level On Turkish Students English Language Essay

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Error Analysis refers to the study and analysis of the errors made by second language learners Richard, Platt Platt, 1998, p.160 as cited in Li-qiu, W. From this point of view, we simply try to analyze L2 errors of Turkish students. Since Turkish and English have different characteristics from each other, the students are influenced by their native language and errors are observed in their writing assignments. The focus of the study is on error analysis to reveal the impact of proficiency level on writing papers of students from different levels. In the research conducted in a private university in Ä°stanbul, 3 classes each of which constitute 20 students were selected. So we examined written assignments of totally 60 students from three different levels which are elementary, intermediate and advanced. Their mean age is 19. Firstly, the findings of the study suggest that level of language proficiency may not be related to the types of errors that learners make. Secondly, the findings also show that transfer errors are higher than other types of errors such as word order, subject-verb agreement, fossilization and overgeneralization errors.


In Turkey, English is taught as a foreign language (EFL) at state, private schools and university levels. However, it is not commonly used. Thus, there is not much opportunity for learners to speak and communicate in the target language outside the classroom.

Students start learning English at the age of 10 when they are at 4th grade of the primary school and they cover 3 hours within the week. This is valid for state schools; however, private schools start second language education earlier than state schools during the kinder garden level. At the 4th and 5th grades, students of private schools take 4-5 hours of English classes for a week.

During the secondary school years, state school students have 4 hours but private school students have 8 hours of English lessons. When they are ready for high school, they are divided into different schools according to their success of the exam (SBS) which is held at the end of the secondary school. If they are enrolled in regular or vocational high school, they take English classes 3 hours a week. On the other hand, if they have successful outcomes from the SBS exam and enroll in an Anatolian high school, they take 6-hour English classes in a week for the first year and it goes down to 4 hours for the other years. When we compare these two kinds of student groups, it can be claimed that Anatolian high school students acquire better proficiency in English than the regular high school students as they are exposed to English much more than the others.

When the students attain the university level, they were given a placement test in order to determine their English level in most of the universities.

The participants are 60 students from a private University for this study. 20 of them are Elementary level, 20 of them are Intermediate and the last 20 are the Advanced level. They take the standardized placement test as a compulsory part of their language education. According to this standardized proficiency test, they are grouped as A1, A2 levels based on Common European Framework (CEF). Furthermore, students in all levels have 34 hours of English lesson within the week; 11 hours for main course, 9 hours for reading and writing, 5 hours for listening, 5 hours for speaking and 4 hours for speaking club. Vocabulary learning is the common focus of all these skills because students are tested from the vocabulary part of each course in their exams whether it is quiz, midterm or final. Their L1 is Turkish and they have to learn English as it is the language of education at their departments. They are coming from different cultural backgrounds and their past education experience varies from private schools to vocational schools.

In this study, we mostly focus on whether learners of different levels commit the same type of errors in their writing assignments. Our assumption is that Turkish students who are from different levels are likely to make the same kind of errors. Since they are non-native speakers of English and due to the differences between these two languages, they are affected by their native language. Thus, L1 transfer may occur in their use of English especially in their writing assignments. Ideally, the present study aims to provide answer to the following research question:

Is there a relationship between proficiency level and type of writing errors of students?


As we are experienced teachers, we are aware of the fact that writing is one of the

prominent skills because fundamental problem that most of the Turkish students face is the difficulty of generating ideas. Even required L1 compositions or essays may turn out to be frustration for learners as they can't come up with ideas on the subject matter. However, writing is a long process including brainstorming, discussing opinions, outlining, drafting, etc. By working out carefully along with the process step by step, this demanding and productive skill become easy and enjoyable for the learners of different levels. Thus during this process of learning in our classes, we have noticed that whatever their proficiency level is, Turkish students the commit same type of errors due to the fact that they tend to transform L1 sentences or words into L2 and they easily switch to their native language. Therefore, we came to the conclusion that they mostly make transfer errors. As a result, these reasons led us to find out whether Turkish students from different levels tend to commit transfer errors namely plural -'s and word order due to their influence of their mother tongue.

1.2 Limitation

Although our study was carefully designed, limitation of the study is that we planned to give the test within the same week to all of the classes; yet, due to the snow holiday, we got one day off which was Thursday and I didn't had reading and writing lesson for my advanced class on Friday. So the researcher had to hold it the following week on Monday.


Due to the fact that our focus is on L1 transfer, the natives were excluded from the study. The researchers limited this study to non-natives only. Their written productions were examined in order to find out the effect of Turkish on their L2.


English is a worldwide language. That's why learners have an opportunity to access the target language both in ESL and EFL settings. As the focus of this study is on EFL setting, our learners just have chance to exposure of L2 via watching TV, listening to music or reading books. So, by getting use of these chances learners could improve their language competence. This idea is also supported in Meriläinen (2010) study that the more exposure to and the more usage of L2 along with the communicative language teaching methods help the learners improve their language.

When it comes to writing skill, As Zare-ee (2011) states that linguistic proficiency does not reveal success in writing in the second language. Ideally, just high EFL proficiency does not lead to successful writing in English. It is probably because of the fact that, as Fatemi (2008) mentions in his article, it is the most complex and difficult skill of the four in English to master. Apart from language proficiency, there are some other aspects for the learners to write successfully in L2 (Zare-ee, 2011); among knowledge of genre, situation ,contexts, and content which one is supposed to write should also be needed in addition to linguistic proficiency in L2 writing. He also emphasizes that EFL proficiency is answerable for some parts of the variations in students' writing products not all of them. In addition to Zare-ee's article (2011), Bereiter and Scardamalia (1986) , as cited in Pham's article (2009, p:8), claim that writing skills, either in native language or in L2 learning progress in three stages: in the first stage, children develop their awareness in phonemic, alphabetic and sentence level , identify the initial sound consonant in writing and they use basic writing mechanics such as simple punctuation. In the second stage, they start to develop more irregular spellings, affixes and multi-syllabic words. They start to use how to write on a specific purpose in this stage. Finally in the third stage, they start to expand their vocabulary knowledge. As cited in Pham's article (2009, p: 17), Cummins (1986), Thomasand Collier (2003) suggest that as the stage development is similar in both native language and L2 learning process, there is a positive transfer from L1 to L2 and as cited in Pham's article (2009), Kaplan (1966, p: 17) claims that transfer influences textual patterns in writing because L2 is affected by L1 writing abilities. However, L2 writing skills development stages may differ from L1 writing development stages because second language learners constitute a heterogeneous group unlike L1 speakers as they acquire their basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) . This makes writing more difficult for L2 learners.

Similarly, Fatemi mentions another dimension of complexity about writing skill in his thesis, too. As cited in Fatemi's thesis (2008), Richards and Renandya (2002: 303) put forward that the complexity of writing skill occurs not only in generating and organizing ideas but also in transforming these ideas into readable texts. In addition to this, Meriläinen (2010) mentions that to see why it is difficult to acquire the target language, it is also important to pay attention to the genetic and typological distance between L1 and L2. According to the results that Meriläinen (2010) has found even fifteen years after English instruction, learners may make mistakes the reason of which is the L1 syntactic influence still retain, no matter at which level they are.

Furthermore, there are a lot of reasons that lie behind errors. According to Copper (1977: 12) as cited in Fatemi's (2008) study, language disorders are not something that is done randomly. They reflect the implications about the language that is learned. As stated by Yuksel (2007) language teachers cannot expect the essays of their students without errors since they are non-native speakers because errors are inevitable in written production. Also Richards (1979:18) asserts in Fatemi's study that the main source of these errors is the interference from the mother. As cited in Fatemi's research, Ellis (2004) defines the error analysis as "the systematically collecting, analyzing and categorizing errors".

Apart from the error analysis stated above, Fatemi (2008) has investigated the relationship between writing competence, language proficiency and grammatical errors in the writing of the Iranian TEFL sophomores, as well. He has found important relationships between writing competence of students and their language proficiency. Among his findings, omission errors such as "plural -s" in the writings of the Iranian students is in line with our research assumption of transfer errors (plural '-s and word order). He also asserts that "the language proficiency level of learners directly related to incidence of grammatical errors, inter-lingual errors and communicative failure, too.

On the contrary, Gustilo and Magno (2012) have investigated the three proficiency levels of students' essays written by freshman college students, and they have found that beginner and intermediate levels of students commit many errors than the students who are at proficiency level.

Another study made among Arabic EFL students by Hussein and Muhammed (2010) shows that the L1 influence still retains because learners generally compose their sentences in their first language and then they translate them into English. This results in writing errors, even for the proficient students' writings. This finding is supported by Pham's research (2009) which results in the fact that writing performance does not correlate to proficiency.

M. Hamad Al-Khresheh (2010) in his study has investigated the interference of Arabic syntactic structures into English by Jordanian EFL learners with respect to word order (within simple sentence structure SVO). Word order differences in Arabic and English represent one of the causes of the problems encountered by Jordanian EFL learners. The participants are 115 students comprising 69 male and 46 female selected from five schools of the 30 schools in the area. As a testing instrument, he used a multiple-choice test which includes 20 closed ended questions as it has advantages such as saving time and ideal, easy way to evaluate students' grammar knowledge. The results of the study concluded that due to the differences between two languages, the EFL students' L1 seems to have an impact on their L2. Because English and Arabic are different in terms of sentence structure word order. As an example, Arabic has VSO as its basic structure and allows for other structures including OVS and VOS; while English has the structure SVO as its basic structure. According to Mohammed (2000), as stated in Al-Khresheh's article (2010), it is very crucial to point out that Arab EFL learners transfer certain forms from their own language to English because of the partial similarities between the two languages.

As a conclusion; in the light of literature review presented above, this study is different from the other studies on the point of dealing with many grammatical categories. Unlike Yuksel's (2007) thesis; we just focused on the syntactic word order and misuse of plural "s" in students' papers. This study also differs from Zare-ee's (2011) research as he found a significant relationship between proficiency of the students and the quality of their writings. As it is stated before the Turkish students from different levels of language proficiency are likely to commit the same kinds of errors on their written production.


Participants and Setting

Total number of 60 participants (three classes consist of 20 students) attended to the study. Their levels are Elementary (20 students), Intermediate (20 students) and Advanced (20 students). The subjects were chosen from 11 prep classes of a Foundation program of a private university in Istanbul so it's a cluster selection. At the beginning of the term, a standardized proficiency test was administered and they were labelled as Alpha, Beta, Gama levels based on Common European Framework (CEF). Then they were randomly divided into almost homogeneous classes regarding their test scores. Gender of the students is mostly male and their ages are around 18-20. Their cultural background ranges from diversity districts of Turkey and students from private to vocational schools constitute variety of educational background, too.


In this research, 60 participants whose L1 is Turkish attended to the study. Their level is Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced. Writing isn't a separated skill, 9 hours of Reading and writing lesson is covered for all levels within a week according to the syllabus. The Q Skills for success 1, Reading and Writing for Elementary, Q Skills 3 for Intermediate and Q Skill 4 for Advanced level students are taught. As our lowest level is Elementary, the topic of unit 8 (Is it OK to lie?) was selected on purpose as a portfolio writing unit because we assume that lying is an easy topic that all learners have an idea and it can catch their attention. Moreover, as it is the course book's unit, they have already read two reading texts and had discussion about lying. So brainstorming section has already done throughout the same week for Elementary level. On the other hand, as intermediate and advanced level students didn't cover that level of book (Q skill 1). Thus, they didn't do the reading parts to be exposed to the topic; however, apart from reading text rest of the procedure is implemented. So for all classes, outlining, drafting and feedback which are the part of process writing has applied. The procedure is as follow; after outlining and brainstorming is done, duration of 40' lesson time was allocated to make them write their first drafts. The requirements for learners were ; 100-150 words of short paragraph for elementary level l , 200-250 words of paragraph for intermediate and 250-300 words of essay for advanced levels. Students from elementary and intermediate levels were asked to write topic sentence, at least two supporting sentences with details and a conclusion. For Advanced level students, it was asked to write an appropriate thesis statement, three supporting sentences with details and a conclusion.

Data was collected and feedback was given by the teacher, after that, learners wrote their second drafts at home and brought the papers to teacher so again feedback for second drafts was given by the teacher. Finally, teacher grade their product based on the rubric (See Appendix) but third draft was also asked to write to learners whose paper was still problematic. By the way, all learners had been trained to do portfolio writing so they had already got used to that drafting section (portfolio writing) because that was their second portfolio topic so the researchers wanted to eliminate the troubles that might result from the unawareness of that portfolio writing process. The focus was not only on final product but also on the transfer errors especially "plural '- s and word order" that occur during the process. Based on the observation during writing time the reason for these kinds of transfer errors were due to switching to mother tongue and L1 translation.

Data Collection and Analysis

Question for the writing assignments (short paragraph, paragraph and essay) was the same for all levels in order to check whether students from all three levels can generate interesting and meaningful ideas. And researchers aim to clarify, firstly, whether they make the same errors of transfer which are plural '-s and word order, secondly, to focus on only two aspects of errors. Furthermore, the assignments' question "Is it ok to lie?" was taken from the process writing topic of the course book which Q Skills for Success 1, Reading and Writing, unit 8. As it was original question of the book, it was already piloted previous year by the same teacher so it was valid and reliable. The length of the assignment was short paragraph of 100-150 words for Elementary level, paragraph of 200-250 words for Intermediate level and an essay of 250-300 words for Advanced level students. Data was collected directly by the teacher. Then getting use of a standard rubric (See Appendix), outcomes of the students' assignments were analyzed. Rubric was designed by the testing office of the university and it has being used for two years; therefore, it was piloted as well. Number of plural '-s and word order errors were counted by getting benefit from the Tally sheet in order to analyze the results.


We classified the errors in accordance with the type of the errors. We analyzed "plural 's" and "word order". The data collected analyzed by using the tally marks. And we classified the errors as "transfer errors". It is because of the fact that we do not add "plural 's" to the objects when there is a plural quantifier before the object where as in English they do. For example;

Plural '-s use " I have read some books this month".

"Bu ay bir kaç kitap okudum.

No pl. 's

The word order in Turkish is different from that in English language In English, the sentence is formed as "S V O" while it is formed as "S O V" in Turkish such as

I_ watch TV


Ben televizyon seyrederim


Thus, when there is no correspondence between the two languages, the L2 learner starts to transfer from his / her native language. That is why we classified them as "transfer errors".


This study tried to investigate L1 impact on L2 through analysis of 60 participants' papers. Since our participants have Turkish as native language, its impact on English was examined. The analysis of these errors was narrowed down with word order in sentences and the usage of plural "s".

As we confronted in Al-Khresheh's article (2010), the participants in our research have also difficulty in syntactic structures in English since Turkish and English have different sentence word order. Another study conducted among Arabic learners by Hussein (2010) focuses on the first language impact on L2 even on the proficient learners' writings. As he stated in his research; the main problem here is the students' way of composing sentences based on their L1. They think in native language and then transform it into L2. This factor is also the main source of wrong order in the sentences of our participants' papers. Most of the word order errors are due to the impact of Turkish on English. At this point, it can be concluded that the participants (even some of the proficient levels) haven't reached the capability of thinking in L2, yet. Similarly, Marilainen (2010) study is in line with our research so she advocates in her research that these syntactic errors are committed at every level. Unlike our study, Yuksel (2007) made a similar study among Ataturk University 's English language departments' students and reached that the syntactic errors constitute as the second largest group in errors. Some word order errors are as follows:

Liars other people deceive. (S O V / wrong order)

Children don't understand what is lie. (question form in the noun clause)

I don't my parents tell lie. (S O V / wrong order)

Omission of plural usage "-s" is another category that was examined in this research. Turkish and English have different use of plural "-s" , so it is also problematic among our participants. According to Fatemi's research (2008) omission of plural "-s" is placed among the other grammatical errors, too. It is important to emphasize that he has focused on the relationship between the level and writing competence. Some of the examples about the use of plural "s" are as follows:

A lot of friend in my class lie. (omission of plural 's)

White lies are different from big lie. (omission of plural 's)

There is limits to say lie. (misuse of plural's and omission of plural 's)


6.1 Restatement of the Problem

It is difficult for Turkish students to think and express themselves in the foreign language because they first think in their mother tongue, then try to find out the L2 correspondence of that word in L2 ,so it is a long and discouraging process because that system results in transfer errors. Also in our study, Turkish students, at every level, have been observed to make the same types of errors, especially in pluralizing and word ordering. Having seen that problem, we decided to conduct the research to analyze the errors that Turkish students make in their written productions. Thus, it was specified with "plural '-s and morpho-syntactic errors. It was also investigated whether these kinds of errors decrease as their level increase.

6.2 Implication

The study can shed light on the teachers to be able to identify the errors that their students make in the written productions. This can enable the teachers to determine the strategies they will follow and to lead their students to use strategies for a better production. Error analysis may also be beneficial for the teachers so as to see the progress of their students.

6. 3 Application

As indicated in the implication part, error analysis may help the teachers. However, it is also a leading factor for syllabus designer. Syllabus designers should take a cyclical syllabus into consideration while designing a syllabus as new patterns to be learnt should be related to items that have been learned before.

Moreover, as mentioned in the review of literature, the students first can be given a chance to write through reading activities. They can also write essays relevant to their cultures. This can help them to develop their writing skill(Pham, 2009). The writing skill of the students may be developed even if their proficiency is limited and; if their fluency is poor, there may be some more instructions to develop their writing ability. In the light of these the teachers can help students develop writing strategies.

6. 4 Suggestion for Further Research

The study was conducted to analyze and to classify the Turkish students' morpho-syntactic and transfer errors, specifically plural's and word order. Further research can be made among a number of students including some students of another language ( in EFL setting) which has the different typology from Turkish. This can give opportunities to see whether the learners of two different languages make the same type of errors or not. This may be necessary in order for the researchers to see that the errors that we classified as "transfer errors" may not be actually because of the transfer of L1.

Another issue is that the present study was a small scale research consisting 60 participants.Therefore, if the number of participants is increased, it might be helpful for coming up with the widespread findings and deep explanations for the further study.


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