an analysis of the common grammatical errors in the english writing


Having students to produce an organized, neat and error-free piece of writing has always been the life long dream and the ambition of all EFL teachers. The purpose of this study is to explore the common types of grammatical errors made by Emirati secondary male students in their English essay writing. The study was conducted in five leading schools on the Eastern Coast of the UAE. The most common and salient grammatical errors which were found in the students essays included: passivization, verb tense and form, subject-verb agreement, word order, prepositions, articles, plurality and auxiliaries.

These errors were classified and tabulated according to their number of frequency in the students essays. 105 students and 20 teachers participated in completing two separate questionnaires reflecting their attitudes and opinion towards the English writing skill. Follow up interviews with 5 supervisors were conducted to deepen understanding and interpretation of the results. The data revealed that the UAE students make different types of grammatical errors, and most of these errors were due to intralingual transfer. In this study, intralingual transfer errors were more frequent than interlingual ones.

Furthermore, the findings and the results of this study also showed that the English writing skill of the secondary male students in the UAE state schools needs more reinforcement and development. Based on the findings, recommendations and some implications which are of significance to educators and policymakers as well as to EFL teachers are provided. At last, it is hoped that the results of this study could be of much benefit for developing the English writing skill among secondary students in the UAE schools. CHAPTER ONE: Introduction 1. 1. The Writing Skill Writing is a difficult process even in the first language.

It is even more complicated to write in a foreign language. Many studies indicate for the beginning English Foreign Language (EFL) students, there tends to be interference from their first language in the process of writing in English (Benson, 2002; Cedar, 2004; Chen & Huang, 2003; Collins, 2002; Jarvis, 2000; Jiang, 1995; Lado, 1957; Liu, 1998; Mori, 1998; Yu, 1996). Writing in a foreign language often presents the greatest challenge to the students at all stages, particularly essay writing because in this activity, writing is usually extended and therefore it becomes more demanding than in the case of writing a short paragraph.

Writing in general and essays in particular form problems to secondary students in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Teachers of composition or writing classes in the UAE secondary state schools are generally faced with students who have memorized a good amount of English vocabulary and grammar rules, but have seldom put that knowledge to practical use (Wachs, 1993). In many cases, the majority of these students are still translating words, phrases, and sentences from Arabic to English with often very strange results.

The challenge for the composition teacher is to find methods to activate in a meaningful way the passive knowledge the students possess in terms of the writing skill, as well as to help the students become more proficient while working to eliminate some of their common errors. A better understanding of the L1 influence in the process of EFL writing will help teachers know students’ difficulties in learning English. It will also aid in the adoption of appropriate teaching strategies to help beginning EFL students learn English writing skills better.

As Richards & Renandya (2002:303) claim; “there is no doubt that writing is the most difficult skill for L2 learners to master. The difficulty lies not only in generating and organizing ideas, but also in translating these notions into legible text”. Yet, it is very necessary to look into the dynamics of writing and its teaching, as writing is a skill that not only is tested in every valid language examination, but also a skill that learners should possess and demonstrate in academic contexts.

Writing includes numerous considerations and choices to be made regarding “higher level skills”, such as content, structure and organization, and “lower level skills”, such as punctuation and choice of appropriate vocabulary items and grammatical structures, which are the terms used by Richards & Renandya (2002). Moreover, writing skills must be practiced and learned through experience. By putting together concepts and solving problems, the writer engages in “a two-way interaction between continuously developing knowledge and continuously developing text” (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987, p.

12). Indeed, academic writing demands conscious effort and practice in composing, developing, and analyzing ideas. Compared to students writing in their native language (L1), however, students writing in their L2 have to also acquire proficiency in the use of the language as well as writing strategies, techniques and skills, they want to write close to error-free texts and they enter language courses with the expectations of becoming more proficient writers in the L2. However, most secondary school Arab students find it difficult to write essays free of errors of various types.

Therefore, teachers of essay writing need to anticipate certain common types of errors. They may also find other types of errors, which can be revealed by analyzing the written products or essays of students. These are the conventions, which are usually followed by the teachers of writing when analyzing students’ errors. 1. 2. Significance of Errors Many educators and theorists in the field of error analysis have focused on the importance of second language learners’ errors. Corder (1967) indicates that errors are significant in three different ways.

First to the teachers, in that they tell them how far towards the goal the learners have advanced and consequently, what remains for them to learn. Second, they provide to the researchers evidence of how language is learnt or acquired, what strategies or procedures the learners are employing in their discovery of the language. Thirdly, they are indispensable to the learners themselves, because we can regard the making of errors as a device the learners use in order to learn.

Research has provided empirical evidence pointing to emphasis on learners’ errors as an effective means of improving grammatical accuracy (White et al, 1991; Carroll and Swain, 1993). Indeed, as Carter (1997:35) notes, ‘Knowing more about how grammar works is to understand more about how grammar is used and misused’. There is a need for students to recognize the significance of errors which occur in their writing, to fully grasp and understand the nature of the errors made. This requires English language teachers to be better equipped, more sensitive and aware of the difficulties students face with regard to grammar.

In other words, it is a way the learners have for testing their hypotheses about the nature of the language they are learning. Taking these ideas into consideration, this study attempts to identify the grammatical errors which students make in writing English essays in order to help teachers of English tackle the problem and to indicate the points of weakness in English writing. 1. 3. Research Questions The aims of this study will be investigated through the following research questions: 1.

Does the incomprehensibility of English grammatical rules have negative effect on students writings? 2. Is mother tongue interference the major cause for errors in the English writings of Emirati male students? 3. What are the most common sources of grammatical errors in students English essays? 4. Are the UAE Secondary Male Students weak in writing English essays? CHAPTER TWO: Previous Studies A lot of causes and sources of errors have been introduced by some theorists. In the following section the primary causes of errors will be reviewed: Interlingual errors and intralingual errors.

Interlingual errors are those which are related to the native language (NL). That’s to say there are interlingual errors when the learners’ NL habits (patterns, systems or rules) interfere or prevent them, to some degree, from acquiring the patterns and rules of the second language(SL) (Corder, 1971). Interference (negative transfer) is the negative influence of the mother tongue language (MTL) on the performance of the target language (TL) learner (Lado, 1964). Intralingual errors are those due to the language being learned, independent of the native language.

According to Richards (1971) they are items produced by the learner which reflect not the structure of the mother tongue, but generalizations based on partial exposure to the target language. The learner, in this case, tries to “derive the rules behind the data to which he/she has been exposed, and may develop hypotheses that correspond neither to the mother tongue nor to the target language” (Richards, 1974, p. 6). In other words, they produce deviant or ill- formed sentences by erroneously applying their knowledge of TL rules and structures to new situations.

In 1974, Selinker (in Richards, 1974, p. 37) reported five sources of errors: 1. Language transfer. 2. Transfer of training. 3. Strategies of second language learning. 4. Strategies of second language communication. 5. Overgeneralization of TL linguistic material. In 1974 Corder (in Allen & Corder, p. 130) identified three sources of errors: Language Transfer, Overgeneralization or analogy, & Methods or Materials used in the Teaching (teaching-induced error). In the paper titled “The Study of Learner English” that Richards and Simpson wrote in 1974, they displayed seven sources of errors: 1.

Language transfer, to which one third of the deviant sentences from second language learners could be attributed (George, 1971). 2. Intralingual interference: In 1970, Richards exposed four types and causes for intralingual errors: a. Overgeneralization (p. 174): it is associated with redundancy reduction. It covers instances where the learner creates a deviant structure based on his experience of other structures in the target language. It may be the result of the learner reducing his linguistic burden. b. Ignorance of rule restrictions: i. e. applying rules to contexts to which they do not apply. c. Incomplete application of rules.

d. Semantic errors such as building false concepts/systems: i. e. faulty comprehension of distinctions in the Target language (TL). 3. Sociolinguistic situation: motivation (instrumental or integrative) and settings for language learning (compound or co-ordinate bilingualism) may affect second language learning. 4. Modality: modality of exposure to the TL and modality of production. 5. Age: learning capacities vary with age. 6. Successions of approximative systems: since the cases of language learning vary from a person to another, and so does the acquisition of new lexical, phonological, and syntactic items.

7. Universal hierarchy of difficulty: This factor has received little interest in the literature of 2nd language acquisition. It is related to the inherent difficulty for man of certain phonological, syntactic, or semantic items or structures. Some forms may be inherently difficult to learn no matter what the background of the learner is. Krashen (1982) suggested that the acquisition of grammatical structures follows a ‘natural order’ which is predictable. For a given language, some grammatical structures tend to be acquired early while others late.

This order seemed to be independent of the learners’ age, L1 background, and conditions of exposure. James (1998, p. 178) exposed three main diagnosis-based categories of error: 1. Interlingual: interference happens when “an item or structure in the second language manifests some degree of difference from and some degree of similarity with the equivalent item or structure in the learner’s first language” (Jackson, 1981 101). 2. Intralingual: a. Learning strategy-based errors: i. False analogy ii. Misanalysis iii. Incomplete rule application iv. Exploiting redundancy

v. Overlooking co-occurrence restrictions vi. Hypercorrection (monitor overuse) vii. Overgeneralization or system simplification b. Communication strategy-based errors: i. Holistic strategies: e. g. approximation and language switch ii. Analytic strategies: circumlocution (expressing the concept indirectly, by allusion rather than by direct reference. 2. Induced errors: they “result more from the classroom situation than from either the student’s incomplete competence in English grammar (intralingual errors) or first language interference (interlingual errors) a.

Material induced errors b. Teacher-talk induced errors c. Exercise-based induced errors d. Errors induced by pedagogical priorities e. Look-up errors Language transfer is another important cognitive factor related to writing error. Transfer is defined as the influence resulting from similarities and differences between the target language and any other language that has been previously acquired (Odlin, 1989). The study of transfer involves the study of errors (negative transfer), facilitation (positive transfer), avoidance of target language forms, and their over-use (Ellis, 1994).

Behaviorist accounts claim that transfer is the cause of errors, whereas from a cognitive perspective, transfer is seen as a resource that the learner actively draws upon in interlanguage development (Selinker, 1972). Despite the fact that L1 transfer is no longer viewed as the only predictor or cause of error at the structural level, a writer’s first language plays a complex and significant role in L2 acquisition. For example, when learners write under pressure, they may call upon systematic resources from their native language for the achievement and synthesis of meaning (Widdowson, 1990).

Research has also shown that language learners sometimes use their native language when generating ideas and attending to details (Friedlander, 1990). In addition, contrastive studies, which have focused on characteristics of L1 languages and cultures, have helped us predict rhetorical error in writing. These studies have been valuable in our understanding of L2 writing development. However, many feel that these studies have also led to reductive, essentializing generalizations about ways of writing and cultural stereotypes about students from certain linguistic backgrounds (Fox, 1994; Leki, 1997; Spack, 1997).

As a result, erroneous predictions about students’ learning based on their L1 language and culture have occurred regardless of social factors, such as “the contexts, and purpose of their learning to write, or their age, race, class, gender, education, and prior experience” (Raimes, 1998, p. 143). J. Kerr (1970) based his study on the common errors in written English made by a group of Greek learners of English as a foreign language. It was found that the causes of mistakes were: 1. Ignorance of the words or constructions to express an idea; 2.

Carelessness; 3. The influence of the mother – tongue; 4. Mistakes arising from making false analogies with other elements of the foreign language. On the other hand, Ntumngia (1974) conducted research on error analysis of Francophone Cameroonian secondary school students. The purpose of this study was to identify and analyze the errors of these students with the hope that this identification and analysis would result in implications for instructional strategies used by teachers of English.

The result of the study showed that the sources of errors committed by the students were due to both interlingual and intralingual factors. For instance, the writing problems experienced by Spanish speakers living in the United States may be due to a multiplicity of factors, including the effects of transfer and interference from the Spanish language, and cultural norms (Plata, 1995). First of all, learners may translate from L1, or they may try out what they assume is a legitimate structure of the target language, although hindered by insufficient knowledge of correct usage.

In the learning process, they often experience native language interference from developmental stages of interlanguage or from nonstandard elements in spoken dialects (a common occurrence in students writing in their native language as well). They also tend to over-generalize the rules for stylistic features when acquiring new discourse structures. In addition, learners are often not certain of what they want to express, which would cause them to make errors in any language.

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