S.P. Corder is the parent of the scientific method that focuses on the errors learners make. He is considered as one of the main exponents of Error Analysis and that actually became a recognized part of applied linguistics. In Corder’s article (1967), entitled “The significance of learner’s errors,” the author investigates error analysis from a completely different perspective. Whereas, before Corder, errors used to be seen as defects that needed to be eliminated without giving too much attention to their role in second language acquisition, with Corder we begin to see how errors are indispensable for the learners themselves. In fact, according to Corder, errors could be regarded as a device the learner uses in order to learn the language. He states, “we interpret his ‘incorrect’ utterances as being evidence that he is in the process of acquiring language” (p. 165). Lightbown and Spada (2006) agree with Corder’s claim that error analysis sights to discover and describe different kinds of errors with the intention of understanding how students attain a second language.
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Corder’s argument that learners’ errors are signals of actual learning is supported by another researcher of error analysis, James M. Hendrickson (1978), who points out, “not only do all language learners necessarily produce errors when they communicate, but systematic analysis of errors can provide useful insights into the processes of language acquisition” (p. 388). Thus, they both celebrate the fact that errors are significant and essential in the study of Second Language Acquisition. Corder demonstrates that not only do errors play a crucial role to the individual who can learn from these errors, but also to the teachers as they are able to track each student’s progress, and even to the researchers as they demonstrate how a language acquired and what strategies the learners use.
Related to this, is the concept of how many errors are due to the fact that the learner uses structures, which derive from the native language. In Corder’s view, the possession of one’s native language is facilitative, as errors in this case represent evidence of one’s learning strategies. Dulay and Burt (1974) in their study maintain the same idea. In other words, they endorse that “the child’s errors are not indicators of faulty learning nor a need for instructional intervention” (p. 135). To put it succinctly, they emphasize that making errors is vital in the learning process, and learners need to know the kind of errors they utter.
Hence, before moving on the next notion that Corder’s article researches, it is essential to report the distinction that the author makes between systematic and non-systematic errors. Unsystematic errors occur in one’s native language; Corder calls these “mistakes” and asserts that they are not significant to the process of language learning. On the other hand, he defines “errors” the systematic ones that are likely to occur repeatedly and that are not recognized by the learners. Such insight plays a significant role in linguistic research, and in the way linguists look at errors, understand them, and apply their outcomes to improve language competence.
Moreover, Corder suggests that when a learner makes an error, the most efficient way to teach him/her the correct form is not by simply giving the correct answer to him/her, but by introducing a self-correctability criterion, in which the learner has to discover and find the correct linguistic form. In this way, learners should be given ample opportunities and sufficient time to self-correct. The standard way of thinking about error correction is that its purpose is to improve learners’ accuracy and language acquisition. I have always believed that providing students with immediate corrective and constructive feedback would have helped them acquire a new language better.
When I was in high school, I used to think that it was the teachers’ responsibility to offer us, learners, corrections of our errors and that we were supposed to follow teacher’s instructions firmly. However, as a teacher, I have a totally different point of view. I support the idea that the audio-lingual approach to teaching a language is helpful in the sense that we learn grammar through memorization of dialogues and drills, but I find Corder’s argument of making language teaching in a more humanistic and less mechanistic way to be more persuasive. With this new trend comes the idea of learners’ different needs and styles.
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I currently learn basic Cantonese and Spanish through behaviorist theory. I am not yet a fluent speaker of those two languages but I put more efforts to acquire these language strands via repetition and mimicry. Although I find this to be an interesting and fascinating learning process, on closer examination I admire the idea that language teaching now follows more modern theories, which take into account students’ needs and wants. Because students are different from one another, they may react differently to their teachers’ error correction. Therefore, it is extremely critical that we, as language teachers, create a safe and supportive classroom environment in which our students can feel confident and at their ease about expressing their thoughts and ideas freely without suffering the threat or embarrassment of having each one of their incorrect language utterances corrected. As Mark R. Freiermuth (1997) advocates in his essay, “errors are inevitable in the language classroom, but they should be addressed in a rational and consistent manner” (p.6).
In conclusion, although the study of error analysis is still quite speculative as we do not have a well-defined answer for who should correct the errors, when they should be corrected, and how they should be brought to the learners’ attention, we should keep in mind that there are techniques and strategies for error correction that we ought to implement in our classrooms. Interestingly, as I mentioned earlier, Corder views errors deriving from the learner’s L1 not as inhibitory, but as something that could aid to their learning growth, whether the learners are children or adults. As we studied in this class, many could count as factors for the L1 transfer errors in the acquisition of English. Among these are age, motivation, intelligence, time of exposure to the target language, place and purpose of learning English. Those can surely influence SLA and in some cases they can obstruct communication. It is our job, therefore, to provide our students with constant support and guidance, and ensure a pleasant and growing ambience.
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