Syntactic Errors in Writing

2852 words (11 pages) Essay in English Language

10/07/17 English Language Reference this

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Introduction

When the British colonised the then Malaya, English was used in the colonial administration. English was the national language in Malaya and it was used as medium of instruction in English schools. When Malaya gained independence in 1957, the role of English as the official language dropped and Bahasa Melayu replaced English as the national language and medium of instruction in schools. In schools, English is considered as the second language. The official status of English in Peninsular Malaysia ceased after 31st August 1967, in Sabah was after September 1973 and in Sarawak was after September 1985. (Asmah Haji Omar, 2003)

Even though English is the second language in Malaysia and it is still used in mostly urban areas, however, many people feel that the younger generations of Malaysians are not proficient in the language. There is a great difference in English proficiency among urban and rural school students even though they share the same syllabus. This might be because mother tongue and Bahasa Malaysia are widely used in the rural community compared to English.

Problem Statement

Many teachers and researchers found that many students in Malaysia have problems in writing syntactically correct English sentence. This might be because of their exposure to the language is lesser than the exposure to the national language, Bahasa Malaysia or is due to the influence of the mother tongue and Bahasa Malaysia.

Saadiyah Darus and Khor (2009) investigated written English essays of Form 1 Chinese students in a school in Perak and they found that their subjects made numerous syntactic errors in their essays. Errors on tense made up of 121 of errors and subject verb agreement consists of 87 errors. Thus, they believed that the errors made by their subjects are due to the influence of their first language and also due to confusion on the English grammar rules because some rules in English do not exist in their mother tongue or first language.

Saadiyah Darus and Kaladevi Subramaniam (2009) examined written English essays of Form 4 students in a school in Semenyih, Selangor and they found that the majority of their subjects made mistakes in singular/plural form followed by verb tense and others. They concluded that their subjects have problems acquiring normal grammatical rules in English.

There are two objectives for this study. The first objective is to identify the common syntactic errors in compositions written by upper secondary- specifically Form four students. The second objective is to identify the reasons the subjects committed the errors.

Analysis

Twenty two essays on ‘Sports injuries and its prevention’ were collected from 22 form four students from a secondary school in Petaling Jaya. There are 12 Malays, 3 Chinese and 7 Indian students in this class. These students are considered as of high or high intermediate proficiency. The students are all males and they are from the first class of the fourth form and they all came from national type school that uses Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium of instruction. The essays were then marked and analysed for the common errors the subjects committed.

Type of Errors

Number of Person

Subject Verb Agreement

14

Tenses

13

Auxiliary

10

Singular/Plurals

10

Preposition

8

Table 1: Type of Errors

Error

Correct Form

Here some general rules for injury prevention.

Here are some general rules for injury prevention.

There is a lot of sports in the world.

There are a lot of sports in the world.

Rules, aside from keeping the games fair, is also to help make the sports safer for everyone.

Rules, aside from keeping the games fair, are also to help make the sports safer for everyone.

These steps is important in preventing injuries.

These steps are important in preventing injuries.

There are a few ways to prevent this injuries.

There are few ways to prevent these injuries.

Table 2: Examples of errors in subject verb agreement

According to the findings, the most common error made by the students is the subject verb agreement. Fourteen out of 22 students have problems in subject verb agreements. Most of the students do not know when to use is/are and was/were. For example, “These steps is important in preventing injuries”. This student used ‘is’ instead of ‘are’ might be because he does not know the differences between ‘is’ and ‘are’ and when to use the appropriate verb. Students have problems in differentiating the verbs because in Chinese and Mandarin, there is an absence of agreement between subjects and verbs in the languages and this may cause the students to commit errors on subject verb agreement. (Saadiyah Darus & Khor, 2009)

Maros et al (2007) examined the interference in learning English among form 1 students in Malaysia and they found that most of their subject committed grammatical errors due to the interference of Bahasa Malaysia. In Bahasa Malaysia, there is no such subject verb agreement rule that requires inflections based on the number of subjects. For example when “He plays basketball” is translated into Bahasa Malaysia, it will be “Dia main bola keranjang”. Even though ‘dia’ is a third person singular, in Bahasa Malaysia, there is no need to add the suffix -s after the word ‘main’. Hence, the subjects were confused on when to add the suffix -s and this resulted in numerous subject verb agreement errors in their essays.

Subject verb agreement errors are very common among second language learners. Even academics make mistakes in subject verb agreement in their academic papers. Flowerdew (2001) mentioned that subject verb agreement as one of the common errors in papers submitted by non-native writers of English. (Ting, Mahanita Mahadhir & Chang, 2010) Hence, it is not surprising to find that the most common error made by the students in this study is subject verb agreement.

Error

Correct Form

According to sports injuries statistics of 2009, the highest number of sport injuries reported was soccer which is then followed by rugby and basketball.

According to sports injuries statistics of 2009, the highest number of sport injuries reported was soccer which was then followed by rugby and basketball.

We can also have serious injuries where we get knocked out like in rugby and end up in the hospital.

We can also have serious injuries where we got knocked out like in rugby and ended up in the hospital.

Warm muscles are less susceptible to injuries.

Warmed muscles are less susceptible to injuries.

The table shown the number of sport injuries in soccer is higher than the other sports.

The table shows that the number of sport injuries in soccer is higher than the other sports.

It follows by rugby that has the second highest percentage.

It is followed by rugby that has the second highest percentage.

Table 3: Examples of errors on tenses

Next is the error on tenses, whereby 13 out of 22 students made errors on tenses. Saadiyah Darus and Khor (2009) examined the four most common errors in writings of form 1 Chinese students and they found that errors on tense are the second highest total number of errors in the study after mechanics of writing. They found that the result is not surprising because the English notion of tense is something confusing to second language learners. This is because, in Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia, there is no indication of time in their verbs as compared to English that has present, past, future and continuous tenses. Besides that, it can also be assumed that some students are not aware of the different rules of tenses application. (Saadiyah Darus & Kaladevi Subramaniam, 2009) Another reason might be because in Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia, words are added before the verb to show the time of the action. (Ting, Mahanita Mahadhir & Chang, 2010) Hence, students have problems in constructing sentences with correct tenses.

Wee (2009) found that Asian students tend to use the stem forms of the verbs in all contexts regardless of their tense. This is because Bahasa Malaysia does not have any linguistic device like verb inflections to show past time. So, the Malay students often use the stem of forms of the verbs in order to simplify the target language rules and reduce their linguistic burden or learning load (Wee, 2009). “Warmed muscles are less susceptible to injuries” in Bahasa Malaysia would be “Otot-otot yang telah panas tidak mudah mengalami kecederaan”. The word ‘telah’ shows the tense of the sentence in Bahasa Malaysia whereas in English, we need to add the suffix -ed to show the past tense of the sentence. Therefore, the subjects will usually omit the tense because they do not know when to add the suffix -ed.

Error

Correct Form

We can prevent injuries if we be in a proper physical condition when playing a sport.

We can prevent injuries if we are in a proper physical condition when playing a sport.

Frequent training and conditioning can prove useful in a long run.

Frequent training and conditioning proven to be useful in a long run.

The first way to prevent sport injuries is be in proper physical condition to play a sport.

The first way to prevent sport injuries is to be in proper physical condition to play a sport.

The athletes should had properly train for the sport.

The athletes should be trained properly for the sport.

Table 4: Examples of errors on auxiliary

Results show that many students have problems in using the appropriate auxiliary in their compositions. They often used the wrong form of modals. For example, the majority of the students wrote “We can prevent injuries if we be in a proper physical condition when playing a sport” instead of “We can prevent injuries if we are in a proper physical condition when playing a sport”. This shows that many students did not know the proper use of auxiliary verb. Ali Akbar Khansir (2008) investigated syntactic errors in English committed by Indian undergraduates and he found that errors on auxiliary were the second highest error committed by his subjects. His study revealed that there is a lack of knowledge of auxiliary verb rules among his subjects.

Error

Correct Form

For example, in rugby we must wear a mouth guards to prevent our mouth or teeth from injuries.

For example, in rugby we must wear a mouth guard to prevent our mouth or teeth from injuries.

A sportsmen can do this by doing regular exercises, eating proper food and doing regular practice.

A sportsman can do this by doing regular exercises, eating proper food and doing regular practices.

These safety gear such as ball guards, helmets and etc are designed to prevent injuries.

These safety gears such as ball guards, helmets and etc are designed to prevent injuries.

There are many reason they got injured.

There are many reasons they got injured.

This is because most of the athlete did not warm up before playing.

This is because most of the athletes did not warm up before playing.

Table 5: Examples of errors on singular/plurals

Ten students made errors on singular and plurals. Most of them do not know when to apply the suffix -s when it is a plural noun. This might be due to the absence of plural marker for a noun in Bahasa Malaysia. (Saadiyah Darus & Kaladevi Subramaniam, 2009) Some students might be aware of the existence of singular and plural nouns, but probably they are confused on when they should use singular or plural nouns. For example, “There are many reasons they got injured” when translated into Bahasa Malaysia will be “Terdapat banyak punca mereka cedera”. In Bahasa Malaysia, the word ‘banyak’ indicates many, so ‘banyak punca’ means ‘many reasons’. However, in English, we must apply the suffix -s to show that ‘there are many reasons’.

Error

Correct Form

During the year 2009, the highest number of sport injuries was soccer.

In the year 2009, the highest number of sport injuries was soccer.

For the conclusion, there are many ways to prevent injuries when we are playing sports.

In conclusion, there are many ways to prevent injuries when we are playing sports.

For example, our country’s famous national football player, Mokhtar Dahari, retired in his football career at such a young age because of his calf injury.

For example, our country’s famous national football player, Mokhtar Dahari, retired from his football career at such a young age because of his calf injury.

Last but not least, avoid playing when you are in tired or in pain.

Last but not least, avoid playing when you are tired or in pain.

Sports can be divided to many categories such as indoor sports, outdoor sports and aquatic sports.

Sports can be divided into many categories such as indoor sports, outdoor sports and aquatic sports.

Table 6: Examples of errors on preposition

Error on preposition is the least error made by the students. Only eight out of 22 students made errors on preposition. Error on preposition happens might be because of the interference of students’ L1 and Bahasa Malaysia. This is because some of the prepositions in Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia have similar meanings and functions with the prepositions in English. Hence, students might be confused on which preposition to be uses in their writing because sometimes a preposition in Bahasa Malaysia can be translated into different English prepositions. (Saadiyah Darus & Khor, 2009) Ting and colleagues (2010) examined university students’ grammatical errors in spoken English and they found that, their subjects made the most mistakes in preposition and this indicates that the subjects are uncertain of the correct usage of the prepositions in the appropriate settings. The same problem occurs in students’ writings because the students are uncertain of the correct usage of the prepositions.

Summary

According to the data collected, 14 students made errors on subject verb agreement, 13 on tenses, 10 on auxiliary, 10 on singular/plural verb and 8 on prepositions. The reasons students made these errors might be due to the influence of their mother tongue or first language. Another reason might be because the subjects are confused with the rules of grammar usage.

Every Form four student in the Malaysian education system follows the same English language syllabus provided by the Ministry of Education of Malaysia. The current syllabus has been used since 2003. The syllabus is divided into two sections; the first is ‘Learning Outcomes and Specifications’ and the second section is ‘Language Content’. Under the language content, there is a list of grammatical items that the teacher has to teach in class. They are nouns, articles, adjectives, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, connectors, sentences and punctuation. So, every grammatical item is covered under the syllabus but the subjects still have problems with the grammar rules. Therefore, students should be made aware of the grammar rules and the teachers should make sure their students know how the grammar rules and apply them in their writings.

There are some limitations in this study. First, the students were selected based on their proficiency and not based on ethnicity, so it is not easy to determine whether students’ mother tongue or first language influence the students’ command of English. Secondly, students’ compositions should be marked by more than one marker so that the result will be more reliable. Thirdly, this study was conducted in an urban secondary school where English is used widely in the community. So, the result of the study does not indicate that all students in Malaysia commit the same errors and have the same reasons behind the errors. Thus, this study can be improved by taking these factors into consideration.

Conclusion

In conclusion, by referring to previous studies and the results of the data collected, most students in Malaysia commit syntactic errors in their written compositions. Hence, teachers play an important role in teaching the students the correct forms of the language. They can incorporate grammar lessons into their English lessons and device interesting games and exercises to teach their students grammar. Many students and teachers acknowledge the fact that grammar lessons are boring and most teachers will try to avoid grammar lessons because the students are not interested in learning them. However, if teachers are able to device interesting lesson plans for their grammar lessons, students will be very interested and will participate actively in class.

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