An error analysis of students’ written work
Error analysis is regarded as an important key to obtaining a better understanding of the process of SLA (second language Acquisition Research). This study attempted to identify, describe, categorize and diagnose the error in Chinese essay writing of the Mongolian speaking students. Error analysis showed that contrastive analysis was unable to predict a great majority of errors, although its more valuable aspects have been incorporated into the study of language transfer. As we observed in the research, mastering the Chinese articles in one of the most doubting tasks facing the non-native speaker-especially when L1 does not have articles.
As an Chinese teacher, I am well aware of the fact that my Mongolian speaking students commit a lot to errors in essay writing. Hence, I have decided to conduct an error analysis – the best tool for describing and explaining errors made by speakers of other languages [1, 9] in order to know the sources of these errors and the reasons behind their continued occurrence year after year with different groups of learners. I need to familiarize myself with the types of errors that my students make in order to determine the sequence and emphasis of instruction. It is essential here to make a distinction between mistake and error; both Corder (1967, 1971) and James (1998) reveal a criterion that helps us to do so:it is the self-correctablity criterion. A mistake can be self-corrected, but an error cannot. Errors are “systematic,” i.e. likely to occur repratedly and not recognized by the learner. Hence, only the teacher or researcher would locate them, the learner wouldn’t (Gass and Selinker, 1994). And it is this light that we choose to focus on students’ errors not mistakes. Error analysis is type of linguistic analysis that focuses on the errors learners make. It consists of a comparison between the errors made in the Target language (TL) and TL itself. Pit Corder is the “Father” of Error analysis (the EA with the “new look”). It was with his article entitled “The significance of learner errors” (1967) that EA took a new turn. Errors used to be “flaws” that needed to be eradicated. Corder presented a completely different point of view. He contended that those errors are “important in and of themselves”. For learners themselves, errors are ‘indispensable’, since the making of errors can be regarded as a device the learner uses in order to learn. In 1994, Gass and Selinker defined errors as “red flags” that provide evidence of the learner’s knowledge of the second language [2:36]. Researchers are interested in errors because they are believed to contain valuable information on the strategies that people use to asquire a language (Richards, 1974; Taylor, 1975; Dulay and Burt, 1974).
Moreover, according to Richards and Sampson (1974, p.15), “At the level of pragmatic classroom experience, error analysis will continue to provide one means by which the teacher assesses learning and teaching and determines priorities for future effort.” According to Corder (1974), error analysis has two odjects: one theoretical and another applied. The theoretical object serves to “elucidate what and how a learner learns when he studies a second language.” And the applied object serves to enable the learner “to learn more efficiently by exploiting our knowledge of his dialect for pedagogical purposes.” The investigation of errors can be at the same time diagnostic and prognostic. It is diagnostic because it can tell us the learner’s state of the language (Corder, 1974) at a given point during the learning process, and prognostic because it can tell course organizers to reorient language learning materials on the basis of the learners’ current problems. The significant role of errors in language teaching and learning: “A learner’s errors…are significant in that they provide to the researcher evidence of how language is learned or asquired, what strategies or procedures the learner is employing in the discovery of the language” (Corder, 1967). Errors arise from several possible general sources, two of which are interlingual errors of interference from the native language, intralingual errors within the target language, context of learning and communication strategies” (Brown, 2000) [3:28]. Interlingual errors refer to the second language errors that reflect native language structure. Cook states that “the L1 is present in the L2 learners’ minds, whether the teacher wants it to be there or not. The L2 knowledge that is being created in them is connected in all sorts of ways with their L1 knowledge” (Cook, 1992). As a result, he suggests that when working with L2 learners, teachers must not treat the L2 in isolation from the L1. Richards (1974) defines intralingual errors as those “which reflect the general characteristics of rule learning, such as faulty overgeneralization, incomplete application of rules, and failure to learn conditions under which rules apply” Richards (1974). In this paper, I have made an analysis of some students’ written work, and their writers are non-chinese-major pre-intermediate level students in khovd State University. Essays were selected from 30 student’s written homework. After making an assessment of their writing, well-done and poorly-written essays were excluded, six of the average-written ones were selected, which shows the average level of their Chinese competence. The findings stem from two methods of analysis transfer error analysis and overgeneralization error analysis. According to behaviorist learning theory L1 influence or transfer can play either a positive or a negative role in L2 learning. Transfer will be positive when the first and second language habits are the same.
George puts that “one-third of the deviant sentences from second language learners could be attributed to language transfer” (George, 1971) [4:5]. Quite frequently, they write chinese sentences by translating directly from Mongolia to Chinese word by word or juct put Chinese word into Mongolian syntax, because they think in Mongolia rather than in Chinese.
Generalization is believed to be a crucially important and pervading strategy in human learning, and the meaningful learning is in fact generalization, so language learning is a process of generalization (Brown, 2000) [5:16]. However, “overgeneralization covers instances where the learner creates a deviant structure on the basis of his experience of other structures in target language” [10:39].
Transfer errors and overgeneralization errors discussed above can be in great part attributable to the lack of exposure to the Chinese language. When it comes to the listening practice of the Mongolian students, they have only 4 class hours for it each week. Besides, they are short of the input of authentic materials. The language they contact is specially adopted, not only simplified in terms of syntax and limited in vocabulary, but also tidied up in terms of discourse structure. Authentic materials should be put in listening class. Non-classroom input data should be supplied to increase the chances for students to contact chinese after class. After listening, students may be asked to write a review on the film they have seen or write an outline of a certain program they have listened to. Wide reading is a straightforward matter of getting input.
Conclusion: The, important implication of this error analysis is to guide the teaching and learning of Chinese language in the Mongolian EFL classroom.
In sum, what I have done is extremely limited, and I hope it can offer some implication for the Mongolian EFL teaching and learning in some way. In fact, this is only a starting point for my further research on second language acquisition and development.
- Hai Ruo Wang. Error Analysis in Consecutive Interpreting of Students With Chinese and English Language Pairs, 2010, Beijing
- Corder S.P. Error analysis and interpretation. Oxford., 1981, Oxford University Press
- Brown H. Principles of language learning and teaching. England., 2000, Longman
- 肖奚强在“外国学生汉字偏误分析”，“世界汉语教学”2002 年，第2期
- 肖奚强在“外国学生汉字偏误分析”，“世界汉语教学”2002 年，第2期
- 黄伟嘉 “汉字知识与汉字问题”， 北京，2009， 10页