For half a decade, I have spent significant time working with and studying English as Second Language (ESL) learners in several contexts – online, corporate, and academic. In the course of interfacing with these different types of students, several interesting features arise in the study of the learners’ language, most especially errors in writing. In this article, I will give a brief background of the errors of the learners. I will also try to encapsulate some of my observations and experiences in dealing with language errors and probably suggest ways on how to appropriately address them.
Hopefully, this will be an eye opener to a lot of English language teachers and practitioners that errors are important in both learning and teaching ESL. The Context The influence of mass media, which use English as a medium for communication has greatly contributed in the development of the English language in the Philippines. Several broadsheets and magazines, FM radio shows and late night newscasts in English are just a few manifestations that the language is indeed alive in the local media scene.
Furthermore, the prevalence of business process outsourcing (BPO) industries is also a validation that the country is home to thousands of bilingual customer service representatives who deliver quality customer service to English-speaking clients. Philippine education, however, does not have the same story. Through the years, teachers and school administrators have tried different strategies to improve the English language proficiency of their students.
But based on observation and research, there is incongruence between the strategies and the language practices in Philippine schools ; for instance, “most colleges and universities claim that their medium of instruction (MOI) is English but there is often no explicit school policy articulating this (Bernardo and Gaerlan, 2006:21). ” This, in return, results in the decline of English proficiency, leaving educators and teachers with unresolved problems regarding standard policies and procedures in using the English language in the academe.
On Errors and the Learners’ Language (Interlanguage) Errors are considered significant features in acquiring, learning, and teaching a second language. It has been customary for students and teachers to talk about errors in the language classroom, most especially in writing classes. Teaching professionals often feel frustrated with the quality of the language of their students’ essays. , For some, errors are signs of failure while others believe that they are indications of and opportunities to understand the very complex process of learning to communicate in a second language.
One methodology in studying the learner’s error is by doing Error Analysis (EA) or “the process of determining the incidence, nature, causes and consequences of unsuccessful language” (James, 1998:1). Brown (2000:218) states that errors may result from several sources, two of which are: “interlingual errors of interference from the native language and intralingual errors within the target language, context of learning and communication strategies. To simply put it, the first kind refers to the second language errors that reflect native language structure while the second one, results in faulty structures that do not follow the standards of the target language. It is also a must to acknowledge the kind of language that learners produce in order to come up with a holistic study of the learners’ errors. Larry Selinker labels this as interlanguage or “the separateness of a second language learners’ system, a system that has a structurally intermediate status between the native and target languages” (1972 in Richards, 1974:31).
With this, it will be easier for teachers to understand where learners are coming from and also for them to come up with possible solutions to address these errors. The Classroom Experience In the English classroom, where formal learning takes place, I have encountered several “unique experiences” in dealing with errors in academic writing. Filipino college students are very innovative in constructing English sentences that often result in several interlingual and intralingual errors. Take for instance the following excerpt from a student’s composition: Me in my friend was stranded at the gate 3 of fort Bonifacio because the jeepney cannot pass over because of the heavy flood that if we measure is in a waistline and in some place in a neckline. Me and my friend was just stay in the jeepney hoping and waiting that the rain would stop for us to go home. ” It is quite obvious that the student has committed several intralingual errors such as: a. Misused pronoun (Me and my friend – My friend and I) b. Faulty capitalization (fort Bonifacio – Fort Bonifacio) c. Wrong conjunction (Me in my friend – “and”) . Incorrect verb tense (was just stay – stayed) e. Lack of punctuation (Me and my friend was just stay in the jeepney (,) hoping and waiting that the rain would stop(,) for us to go home. f. Inventing new vocabulary and usage (pass over which means “to pass through”; waistline which should be “waist deep”) The student also used her knowledge of the first language (in this case Tagalog) to write in English. For example, the compound subject “Me and my friend” is a direct translation of the Filipino phrase “Ako at ang kaibigan ko”.
This is a concrete example of an interlingual error. It is really tedious to mark essays that contain numerous errors but these things must be pointed out in order to improve the language abilities of students. Moreover, by studying these kinds of errors, it will be easier to diagnose certain areas that need reinforcement. Some Possible Solutions As a teacher and researcher, I have realized that it is imperative to put utmost importance to the errors that ESL students commit in academic writing. Studying these errors may mean finding probable solutions to address them.
The following are some suggestions that other teachers can do in their own classrooms: 1. Analyze and rectify the errors found in the learners’ compositions by following specific “linguistic criteria or the formal features of a language” (James, 1998:206). With this on hand, a basis for assessing and correcting the errors of students will be available. 2. After analysis, provide supplementary materials that will help reinforce language proficiency. This can be done by addressing specific areas of concern like grammar, lexis, usage, and mechanics.
This will be helpful most especially to struggling students that are having difficulties in understanding the complex rules of the target language. 3. It is also a must to recognize individual differences inside and outside the classroom. Finding time to connect with students will also help in understanding the nuances of the languages that they use. Knowing how they interact and being able to cope with their interests will give the teachers several insights as regards the learners’ language. . Finally, continuous research and error analysis can lead to a development of a standard material based on empirical data. This will help address the most frequent errors that learners commit in specific linguistic areas. References: Bernardo, A. & Gaerlan, M. J. (2006). Teaching in English in Philippine higher education: The case of De La Salle University-Manila. Hong Kong University. Brown, H. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching. England: Longman. James, C. (1998).
Errors in language learning and use. London: Addison Wesley Longman Limited. Selinker, L. (1972). Interlanguage in error analysis: Perspectives in second language acquisition. Jack C. Richards, (Ed. ). London: Longman Group Limited. Author’s Profile Mark Arthur Payumo Abalos teaches college English, writing (expository, research and technical), oral communication, and literature at the Far Eastern University – East Asia College and De La Salle – College of St. Benilde in Manila, Philippines.
He also works as an English language program facilitator at John Robert Powers International and an IELTS consultant at the PALMS Australian Immigration Services. He used to be a full-time Educational Consultant for the Language and Literacy Programs of Scholastic Publishing. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in English Studies: Language from the University of the Philippines – Diliman. His master’s research focuses on the significance of interlanguage grammar and error analysis in developing ELT materials. You can reach him at [email protected] com.