Scholarly article on topic 'Dealing with Writing Deficiencies at Tertiary Level'

Dealing with Writing Deficiencies at Tertiary Level Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Shabbir Ahmed, Naheeda Ahasan

Abstract Errors in students’ written scripts at the tertiary level may lower grades as well as posing challenges to language teachers for checking scripts and offering corrective feedback. At the worst, students fail to develop essential skills, remaining inefficient in writing. 108 students took part in the study. This paper looks into the grammatical errors of selected genres of written tests, while acknowledging the successful language aspects. A qualitative analysis was used to comment on the quantitative data. Results show that errors made were twofold: at the word level and at the sentence level. Discussions based on the findings in the data highlight their pedagogical implications. An action plan is suggested to improve overall learning and teaching outcomes for tertiary students.

Academic research paper on topic "Dealing with Writing Deficiencies at Tertiary Level"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 208 (2015) 60 - 67

3rd International Conference on Linguistics, Literature and Culture (ICLLIC 2014)

Dealing with Writing Deficiencies at Tertiary Level

Shabbir Ahmed *, Naheeda Ahasana

*Universiti Malaysia Sabah- Labuan International Campus

Jalan Sungai Pagar, 87000, W.P. Labuan, Malaysia aUniversiti Malaysia Sabah- Labuan International Campus Jalan Sungai Pagar, 87000, W.P. Labuan, Malaysia

Abstract

Errors in students' written scripts at the tertiary level may lower grades as well as posing challenges to language teachers for checking scripts and offering corrective feedback. At the worst, students fail to develop essential skills, remaining inefficient in writing. 108 students took part in the study. This paper looks into the grammatical errors of selected genres of written tests, while acknowledging the successful language aspects. A qualitative analysis was used to comment on the quantitative data. Results show that errors made were twofold: at the word level and at the sentence level. Discussions based on the findings in the data highlight their pedagogical implications. An action plan is suggested to improve overall learning and teaching outcomes for tertiary students.

© 2015 The Authors.Publishedby Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of The English Language Studies Section School of Humanities Universiti Sains Malaysia Keywords: grammatical errors; feedback; qualitative;, qualitative; pedagogical implications;

1. Introduction

According to Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987, p 12), a learner in writing engages in two-way interaction between developing knowledge and developing a text. Hadley (1993) believes that the writing process probably is best viewed as a continuum of activities that range from the mechanical formal aspects of "writing down" at the one end, to the more complex act of composing on the other end.

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +6-016-582-3086; fax: +6-087-460-497. E-mail address: shabbir@ums.edu.my or shabbir142005@gmail.com

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of The English Language Studies Section School of Humanities Universiti Sains Malaysia doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.11.180

However, errors are common occurrences in writing, no matter how hard the students try to keep their text error-free. The writing deficiencies of learners at the tertiary level in this paper are focused on two different but commonly occurring features of their written scripts: mistakes and errors. 'Mistake' according to Brown (2000) refers to a performance error that it is a failure to follow a known system correctly. However, an "error" is a noticeable deviation from the adult grammar of a native speaker, reflecting the interlanguage competence of the learner. Corder (1967) refers to writing shortfalls by two labels. Mistakes are "performance errors" and like the slip of pen to him. Learners can correct it later, since these are not the result of unawareness. Conversely, genuine errors are ignorance of rules that learners cannot correct by himself or herself. They show learners 'transitional competence'. The distinctions between the two are as follows:

• Errors are the result of ignorance whereas mistakes are result of stress.

• Errors of a learner have a definite pattern: mistakes, on the other hand, do not demonstrate a clear pattern.

• Errors cannot be corrected by the language user, but mistakes may be.

English occupies the status of L2 in the Malaysian education system. However, learning English as a L2 is not an easy task. According to Brown (2000), in order to master the English language, learners have to be adequately exposed to all of four basic skills, namely listening, speaking, reading and writing. Language teaching in this country is currently focusing on the teaching and learning of these four language skills. Nonetheless, the standard of English among Malaysian children is on the decline, despite the years committed to learning English. Malaysian students are still weak in English, particularly in their writing skills. Students face difficulty in handling a topic and writing about it, following the process. Hence errors in various forms at different parts of the genre (any text type, e.g. Paragraph or Essay) are quite common occurrences. These errors seem to be costly for both parties, teachers and learners. First of all, pupils lose significant marks for any such mistakes, ultimately lowering their grades in English, as it does in other subjects. Their teacher, on the other hand, spends significant amount of time checking and offering corrective feedback to them. This is frustrating for the teacher, as well as demotivating for at least some language learners. If they do not overcome these errors, they may remain poor in academic and personal writing. This study looks at the errors and mistakes of learners, finding two major sources of transfers: interlingual and intralingual. A similar finding is reported in Brown's study (1980).

1.1. Interlingual errors

This type of error occurs at the primary stage of target language learning. According to Brown (1980), a learner draws on his/her L1 as a sole linguistic system before becoming familiar with the second or target language system. So, the first language of the learner interferes with the use of the target language, at least in three major areas: the use of grammar, prepositions and lexicon (or words).

1.2. Intralingual errors

This second source of errors refers to the negative language transfer within the target language, especially when learners internalize these rules: e.g., a learner fails to use the rule of the third-person singular marker in a sentence of the target language in a given situation due to overgeneralization (Richards, 1974).

To orient the learner's learning process with their thinking process, Error Analysis is important. The value of EA is supported by Jack Richards in Corder's observation: "Learners' correct sentences do not necessarily give evidence of the rules of the new language and the rules he has developed at given stages of the language development". This can only be done by the errors made. Teaching can start teaching after this lesson. Hence, errors and their analysis are regarded an inevitable part of the teaching and learning of any language.

To deal with learners' errors in English academic writing, a language teacher must complete Error Analysis, with the objective of finding the number of errors made, their frequencies, the genesis of errors and finally measures to minimize errors as quickly as possible. That is why EA is the best tool for describing and explaining errors made by speakers of other languages. Investigating students' written work will provide a means to assist Malaysian teachers recognize the importance of errors as a challenging area in teaching English. Most importantly, EA will create awareness among language users about the norms of the writing deficiencies that they produce, what they have missed in their piece, and the ways of improving their present writing, using the corrective feedback from the concerned teachers. Yasemin (2010) suggests the same in a similar study on Turkish adult learners' writing errors.

1.3. Research questions

This paper will try to seek answers to these two questions:

1. What are the major mistakes or errors of the students of UMSKAL?

2. What are the possible sources of these writing shortfalls?

2. Methodology

2.1. Participants

A total of 108 students' written scripts were selected for the sampling of this study. They are of three main races: Malay, Malaysian Chinese and International Chinese, and Malaysian Indian. They were between 19 and 22 years old. Previously, they achieved MUET bands 1 and 2.Their first languages are Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and Tamil respectively. They are all first- and second-year students who have enrolled for the third semester, having finished all the assessments of the course. Samples for this study were selected randomly.

2.2. Data collection and analysis

Generally, test scripts of written examinations were used as the sole source of data for this paper. The basis for selecting the grammar content or items from the written papers was two-fold. The former focused on word level, which played a crucial role in the ultimate development of their grammar knowledge of English. Hence, the analysis of parts of speech was chosen as the first important content. These smallest units contribute to the formation of their larger counterparts—sentences. Conversely, the later concentrated on the most frequently made mistakes which cost them marks or failed to give the impression of using correct English grammar. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used to collect and analyze this data.

2.3. Analysis procedure

In the analysis process, the learned contents were noted and discussed before any further actions were taken. Next, the questions based on the contextual use of the grammar content as fully discussed. Lexicon-grammatical analysis procedure was used to highlight the shortfalls, first on the word level, by looking at their basic features. After that, the error was elaborated based on the grammatical whole. The context of each word in focus or the bigger chunk, the sentence, was also observed and explained. Possible sources of the answers and their possible answers were discussed to make this analysis fruitful and justifiable for the language users, who have a better understanding about what they missed, their reasons for missing them and how they can improve their as shown by their teachers.

Tabular presentations were made for readers to follow the findings easily. Some of the data was quantified to indicate frequency of occurrence, with essential remarks after the analysis of students' responses.

3. Results and discussion

Table 1 below shows the number of errors in two different categories with their 11 types. A total of 776 individual errors were detected in the written samples of the students. The two sources of errors, namely Interlingual and Intralingual errors, were subdivided further to exemplify the norms of the errors as they appeared in the chosen texts. For example, the number of Interlingual errors (n=461) produced by the learners was higher than the Intralingual errors (n=325). An error of the first category was divided into major types—grammatical, prepositional and lexical—with each type subdivided further based on the type of errors committed. Likewise, the second category was divided into categories and subcategories. Grammatical interference under the category of interlingual errors was top-listed with a maximum number of errors (n=198) followed by prepositional interference (n=187) and lexical interference (n=76) errors. Conversely, errors in the intralingual category shows that the use of articles has the highest number (n=163), followed by overgeneralization (n=64) and spelling (n=62). Redundancy under the sub category stays at the bottom with the lowest number of errors (n=36).

Table 1. Frequency of error type Interlingual errors Grammatical interference

Pluralization Verb tense

84 114

Prepositional interference

Addition 74

Omission 64

Missing prep 49

Lexical interference 76

Sub-Total 461

Intralingual errors

Overgeneralization 64

Use of article

Addition 39

Omission 73

Missing article 51

Spelling 62

Redundancy 36

Sub- Total 325

Total errors 776

3.1 Sample of detected errors under categories and sub-categories

Grammatical interference

Grammar rules differ from one language to the other. Commonly, learners commit mistakes or errors when mother language rules interfere with that of target language rules. Pluralization is one such case. Learners in this study do not have plural nouns in their mother language. Therefore, they tend to miss plurals in any context.

Use of articles

The majority of learners are Malaysians who do not have definite or indefinite articles in their L1. As a result, they tend to make errors in using articles in their writing. They commit the following type of errors: addition, omission and misuse.

Adding

1. I will get the good position in my career. (a)

2. So you can see, the book cannot solve the problems for you but you will see things with different angle, or better one. (a)

3. Beach is wonderful thing in the world. (a, a)

Omission

1. This is_right time to ease the burden of my parents. (the)

2. ____ Lowest bottom of food pyramid is carbohydrates which perform numerous roles in living

organisms and recommended to consume in big quantity. (The)

Misusing

1. In conclusion, the emotions and feelings are all human attitude of objectives things to experience.

Pascasio (1961) and Stockwell (1957) claimed that students encounter the maximum degree of difficulty in learning the grammatical elements that are absent in their native language.

Verb tense

Present progressive tense in place of simple present and present perfect.

1. John haven't just getting back from (get) office. It's already 6.00 p.m. He must be very busy. (--has just got...)

2. Nothing. I not telling them anything yet. Let's wait until our plans are more definite. (haven't told)

3. She works hard with the (work) environmentalists in Kenya and Tanzania to save the wild elephant. (has been working)

Lexical interference

1. Please get on, I will go and call her. (hold)

2. Matsuo Basho became a teacher. He doesn't want to become a samurai. (didn't)

3. Why I_talking about dream today? (am -word order)

Prepositional interference

Three types of errors are identified in student writing scripts: addition, omission and misuse Addition

1. The most common type of crust used on Cantonese-style mooncakes is chewy. (in)

2. When we reduce the cars in the road.... (on)

Omission

1. I want people_realize that pollution gives bad effects to us. (to)

2 ._that time_beach is wonderful to see because.. (At, the)

Misuse

1. It will affect to our health. (no preposition)

2. We go Labuan Bird Park and see many species of bird aUhere. (no preposition)

Wrong word form

1. Our group choose a theme that is about language and my tittle is "Important of language". (Importance)

2. So that, before I achieve my dream, I need to study smart to get the excellent result. (smartly)

3. In conclusion, i feel that this is an interest class. (interesting)

4. So we need to protect our culture from destroyed in the future. (destruction)

Overgeneralization

This study shows 325 intralingual errors originating chiefly from overgeneralization which refers to the negative transfer of linguistic elements and grammatical rules in the target language (English), with partial application of rules due to the learners' failure to apply them in given situations. The corpus has errors occurring from overgeneralization in the following cases:

i. Using modal auxiliary verbs

ii. Using '-ed' in irregular verb forms,

iii. It is also evident in using third person singular marker: '-s' '-ing' etc.

iv. Using the passive structure with verb having base form rather than past participle

v. Using singular number in lieu of plural or vice versa

vi. Omitting the capitalization rule for pronouns

vii. Using subject -verb agreement

1. In the paragraphs, we must contains 3 parts which are topic sentence, supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence. (have)

2. Everyone can enjoy_ it. (drop can" and add 's')

3. She like to join activities. (likes)

Number

1. They tend to be eithers Hindu, Christian or Mamaks. (either)

2. Sand Castle is so popular activities at beach ... (activity)

3. Reason Why Health is Important. (reasons)

Subject-Verb agreement

1. Emotions is the attitude in a more complex and physiologically stable physiological evaluation and experience. (are, physiological)

2. She is a kind people. (person)

3. Land degradation is one of the land pollution factor. (factors)

Dropping past participle form in passive structure

1. It must be relate__with topic sentence. (d)

2. In conclusion, last Tuesday English class was taught about how to write a paragraph. (Active structure is appropriate with a subject "teacher")

3. Human is more concern___ about their health. (concerned)

Capitalization

1. I learned how to write a paragraph on last tuesday. (Tuesday)

Redundant

This type of error is reported by Corder (1974), which is distinctive in nature and different from learner's inherent errors which s[he] makes in a natural learning process. The learner's mental or physical state may play an important role here.

1. 1. John haven't just getting back from (get) office. It's already 6.00 p.m. He must be very busy. (--has just got.)

3.2 Action plan

Correction of students' errors in writing, both at the word level or the sentence level, may take the following three forms: i) teacher correction, ii) peer correction, and iii) self-correction. However, distinguishing between the serious and minor errors in correcting students' errors can be a good guide (Zamel, 1985). Next, the teacher can decide on the error type in terms of their priority. First of all, teachers can start with what the learner accomplished, before moving on to the item s[he] missed. An effective way to illustrate the error type is to refer to the source, e.g. interference of mother tongue that stops one from using a certain rule in the context of a target language, English. In offering corrective feedback, the language teacher can use Error correction Symbols (see Appendix 1). A thorough illustration of the correction symbols must be given before it is practiced in the class. Another effective tool can be peer evaluation using checklists of selected contents, for example, grammar, mechanics, or comprehension (see Appendix 2). Here language learners may be more critical about language errors of their peers, becoming active in their own learning. However, learners may feel embarrassed or intimidated in terms of losing face with their peers. Motivation from the language teacher is essential in these situations. Moreover, indirect guidance and monitoring can play an important role with this task. Some useful steps for language teachers to improve overall learning and teaching experience are:

• Discovering own mistakes (self-identification of the errors thorough revising)

• Illustrating with sufficient examples

• Contextualizing exercise in the forms of assignments and quizzes

• Encouraging them to use notes and checklists

• Now you do.. learning to correct the mistakes or errors

• Peer review and feedback

• Monitoring and checking back on their production regularly

4. Conclusion and pedagogical implications

This study contributes to the development of a repertoire of learners' errors, based on the genres selected that are crucial for the language teacher to deal with in an on-going course, either in an ESL or EFL situation. Another important factor is the source of errors namely: interlingual, i.e. the interference of learner's mother language rules while using the target language (English in this context), and intralingual errors, referring to the erroneous application of target language rules due to overgeneralization. This study also significantly indicates for the practicing teacher the successful contents that his/her learners have completed within this period. No doubt the contents which these learners could not master will be enumerated at the same time as the teacher adjusts them for present or future sessions.

This study, like other past research, can positively contribute to other research in similar fields in the future by adding insights. Therefore, using the results, discussion and conclusions drawn from the findings, syllabus, teaching

styles and methodology, and teaching materials may be upgraded or adjusted for improving the overall learning and teaching situations by achieving the learning outcomes in a given language course.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank all the participants who took part in this study, especially the English Unit (Pusat Penetaran Ilmu Dan Bahasa) of Labuan International Campus under Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

Appendix A

Error correction list

Content in short Elaboration Yes No

vt verb tense

wc word choice

ss sentence structure

num number

art article

ic incorrect capitalization

wf wrong word form

cap capitalization

sP spelling

s/v subject-verb agreement

pro pronoun

prep preposition

punc punctuation

adj adjective

adv adverb

n noun

v verb

conj conjunction

Appendix B

Peer Evaluation Checklist

Content 1 2 3 4 5

verb tense

word choice

sentence structure

number

article

incorrect capitalization

wrong word form

capitalization

spelling

subject-verb agreement

punctuation

pronoun

adjective

adverb

preposition

conjunction

References

Breiter, C. and Scardamalia, M. (1987). The psychology of written composition. Hillsdale, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum. Brown, H. D. (1980). Principles of language learning and teaching. London: Prentice Hall Inc.

Corder, S. P. (1967). The Significance of Learner's Errors. J. H. Schumann & N. Stenson (Eds.). New frontiers in second language learning. (pp.

90-99), Rowley, Massachusetts: Newbury House Publishers. Omaggio Hadley, A. (1993). Teaching language in context. Boston: Heinle & Heinle. Richards, J. C. (1974). Error Analysis: Perspectives on Second Language Acquisition. London: Longman

Yasemin, K. (2010). An analysis of written errors of Turkish adult learners of English. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2, 4352-5358. Zamle, V. (1985). Responding to student writing. TESOL Quarterly, 19, 79-102. 54.