Scholarly article on topic 'What Exam Papers Make us Think'

What Exam Papers Make us Think Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — F. Özlem Saka

Abstract Although errors are accepted inevitable in the foreign language learning, they give information about teaching- learning process of the students. The fact that even ELT students’ exam papers contain lots of serious errors has led to this research to find the reasons for them. With this aim, the exam papers of ELT students were examined in terms of their overall quality and the errors the students have made and they were listed according to their types. This study is a qualitative study which reflects the errors of students in their exam papers. To get the data, document analysis was conducted. The documents are the exam papers of sophomore and junior students of ELT department of Akdeniz University. It was found out that ELT students have problems in expressing their own ideas on any topic by analysing the situation. Besides, most of them are not careful with their writing, in terms of grammar, syntax and spelling. Some errors can be regarded as careless errors when the exam situation is considered. However, some of them result from overgeneralization of rules. Some errors occur because of the effect of the native language or students’ inefficiency to use correct structures in writing although they know everything by heart. It is important for ELT students to use the language accurately as they are English teacher candidates. To overcome the problem, foreign language teaching and testing processes should be taken into consideration.

Academic research paper on topic "What Exam Papers Make us Think"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 199 (2015) 298 - 304

GlobELT: An International Conference on Teaching and Learning English as an Additional

Language, Antalya - Turkey

What exam papers make us think

F. Ozlem Sakaa*

aAkdeniz University, Faculty of Education, Antalya, 07058, Turkey

Abstract

Although errors are accepted inevitable in the foreign language learning, they give information about teaching- learning process of the students. The fact that even ELT students' exam papers contain lots of serious errors has led to this research to find the reasons for them. With this aim, the exam papers of ELT students were examined in terms of their overall quality and the errors the students have made and they were listed according to their types. This study is a qualitative study which reflects the errors of students in their exam papers. To get the data, document analysis was conducted. The documents are the exam papers of sophomore and junior students of ELT department of Akdeniz University. It was found out that ELT students have problems in expressing their own ideas on any topic by analysing the situation. Besides, most of them are not careful with their writing, in terms of grammar, syntax and spelling. Some errors can be regarded as careless errors when the exam situation is considered. However, some of them result from overgeneralization of rules. Some errors occur because of the effect of the native language or students' inefficiency to use correct structures in writing although they know everything by heart. It is important for ELT students to use the language accurately as they are English teacher candidates. To overcome the problem, foreign language teaching and testing processes should be taken into consideration.

© 2015 The Authors.PublishedbyElsevier 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 Hacettepe Universitesi.

Keywords: exams in language teaching; error analysis; foreign language teaching

1. Introduction

Language learners commit a lot of mistakes while they are using the language orally or written. Edge (1989) divides mistakes in three groups and calls the mistakes that cannot be self- corrected by the student himself/ herself as errors. From the beginning of foreign language teaching, errors have been one of the important issues to be taken

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +0-242-310- 6623; fax: +0-242-226-1953. E-mail address: ozlemsaka@akdeniz.edu.tr

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 Hacettepe Universitesi.

doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.07.549

into consideration. While in some methods such as grammar translation method, direct method and audio- lingual method, errors should be avoided and corrected immediately, in recent foreign language teaching methods, they are accepted inevitable during the learning process (Larsen- Freeman& Anderson, 2011). Corder (1967) emphasizes the importance of learner's errors in three points as in the following: First, if the teacher makes a systematic analysis, he/she will learn how much the learner has reached the objectives. Second, how language is learned. Thirdly it gives information about the learner as it is accepted as a device the learner uses in the process of language learning.

Investigation of second language learners' errors systematically is called as error analysis (Mitchell, Myles and Marsden, 2013). With the help of error analysis, teacher can find out the reasons for errors and they can take some measures to make students avoid them (Erdogan, 2005). Hinkel (2005, p.615) thinks that "error analysis was based on an assumption that many L2 errors are outcome of L1 to L2 transfer of syntactic and lexical regularities and language properties". According to Keshavarz (1999, p.44), error analysis is based on these assumptions:

1. Errors are inevitable as we cannot learn a language without goofing.

2. Errors are significant in different ways.

3. Not all errors are attributable to the learner's mother tongue.

Errors that learners make in the exam papers provide feedback for language teaching and learning process (Corder, 1986). After examining the errors on students' exam papers, educators can improve their materials, techniques and tests which are suitable for learners (Erdogan, 2005). §anal (2008) claims that finding errors and analyzing them through contrastive analysis can be a beneficial step in setting up teaching priorities.

There are many different reasons for students to make errors in the process of learning a foreign language. The native language of the learner has a great influence on learning another language. If the target language has elements in common with the mother tongue, the similarities make learning easier; when they have differences it gets difficult to learn the target language (Cook, 1996). Brown (2000) accepts native language interference as the most noticeable source of error among second language learners. Ferguson (1965) believes that interference results from the structural differences between the native language and the target language (cited in Khansir, 2012).

Corder (1986) defines interlanguage as the language systems of language learners. The interlanguage is between the native language and the target language and it has features different from and similar to both languages (Keshavarz, 1999). Ortega (2009, p.82) claims that "interlanguages are systematic and natural languages and learners are constrained in their development of a second language by the same natural principles of any human language". According to Harmer (2001, p.100), "errors are part of the students' interlanguage, that is the version of the language which a learner has at any one stage of development, and which is continually reshaped as he or she aims towards full mastery".

Examining students' errors in the acquisition of English as a second language, Richards (1984) recognizes that beside their interlanguage errors, students make other errors that do not result from interference of their mother tongue and he calls them as intralingual or developmental errors. Richards (1984, p.173) believes that "intralingual and developmental errors reflect the learner's competence at a particular stage and illustrate some of the general characteristics of language acquisition". According to intralingual theory, as learners make progress in the foreign language learning, their former experiences and what they have learn will influence structures in the target language (Brown, 2000).

No matter what the reason for them is, we observe that second language learners and foreign language learners make errors in their exam papers while learning the target language during the learning process. The responsibility of researchers and teachers is to find out the reasons for these errors and try to find ways to overcome them. At all levels of language learning period, students tend to make errors even students at ELT departments. The errors can be interlanguage or intralingual errors, however they should be examined carefully and necessary precautions to prevent them should be taken.

ELT Departments are preferred by the students who like English and wish to be an English teacher in the future. The requirement for being a student in the department is to pass the national language exam with high grades. To succeed in the exam which includes multiple choose questions mostly about grammatical structures, vocabulary and reading they spend a lot of time to study. Before the exam, they have to learn how to develop strategies to answer the questions by studying hard. After such a difficult process prior to university education, the first year, they have courses based on developing language skills. Starting from the second year, the courses are based on topics related

to teaching and they are trained to be a teacher. After such a difficult exam on language, they are expected to use the language accurately. As a lecturer of ELT department for 11 years, the researcher has observed problems and lots of errors in the exam papers and would like to examine them in detail and find out what the reasons for these errors can be. The research was conducted with these questions in mind:

1. What are the problems of ELT students during the open- ended exams?

2. What are the errors of ELT students on exam papers?

3. What are the reasons of the errors on exam papers?

2. Method

In this qualitative research, document analysis method was carried out. As the document, the exam papers of sophomore and junior students of ELT department of Akdeniz University were used. Descriptive analysis of exam papers was made in terms of errors students committed during the exams. In the process of evaluation, the errors of the students were classified according to their types. The reason why ELT students were chosen for the study is that as they are candidate teachers of English, they are expected to use the foreign language correctly. It was believed that the fact that even ELT students have errors in written English is a great problem to be solved in the field of ELT. In the study, errors types were only exemplified to determine what the problems are for the students during the exam, the frequency of the errors weren't taken into account. As the documents were exam papers, students' failure in using the language accurately because of test anxiety and their carelessness were taken into consideration as some of the reasons for errors. Besides, the main concern of the exam is to understand the literary texts and so long as the students express their ideas related to topic, their grammatical errors are ignored. Nevertheless, they have some fatal errors that should be avoided especially by ELT students.

3. Results

The data gained from the exam papers of students were categorized in three groups as in the following: The question types which students find difficult to answer, interlanguage errors and intralingual errors. These three categories are explained and exemplified in detail one by one.

3.1. Questions Students Find Difficult to Answer

As the lecturer of the students, the researcher has observed that most students have problems in answering the questions which require them to analyse and synthesize. They only want to memorize the theoretical things and recall them to write as an answer. They are not very good at questions which need comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. The following question can be a great problem for most of the students:

Among the short stories we have read which one is suitable for university preparatory class students? Answer this question by discussing the suitable story in terms of the criteria used to choose a literary text to teach.

When they come across such type of question, they tend to write the criteria as a list at first and then they say something related to them. It is very disappointing to see that only 10% of the whole group gives the answer in the way that is expected. If they are asked what the criteria that are used to choose a literary text are, they will give the answer accurately. As they are not familiar with this type of question, they find them quite difficult.

The following question was the other problem seen in the exam papers and most students try to answer it in the same inaccurate way:

Write the similarities and differences between Morality and Mystery Plays?

For such a question, it is expected that students write the similar points of both types under the title of similarities and the different ones under the other. Instead of this, students write the features of two types of plays separately

without comparing them. As a tester, you should infer what the similarities and differences are, by reading the features of both types.

3.2. Interlanguage Errors

Under the influence of their native language students tend to have errors as in the following:

He was affected from Vera's story

I would live difficulty...

Nicolay feels himself guilty for Mashenka.

She is married with a man.

Her one leg is short from other leg.

...different than the previous ones.

Mashenka was accused with theft.

She was never go to a ball in her life. (She hasn't been to a ball in her life.)

When the examples are examined in terms of Turkish equivalents of these words, it is recognized that the students make these errors because of their mother tongue. In the last example, the sentence should be written in present perfect tense but students mostly do not use it properly as there is no equivalent of this tense in Turkish.

There can be differences in English and Turkish in terms of the grammatical rules. Under the effect of the native language, students can use the words inaccurately as in the following examples:

An old English literature She went to the doctor and told the John's illness.

A water They go a hunting.

Many vocabularies In the October

Furnitures Her house is small flat. (a small flat)

a lot of moneys The Jim

In Turkish, all nouns can be made plural, there is no exception. Whereas in English nouns can be divided in two groups as countable and uncountable. As students are not familiar with this in their native language, they still have difficulty in using them appropriately. Similarly, the topic "Articles" causes problems especially for Turkish students because there is no definite article like "the" in Turkish.

3.3. Intralingual Errors

The errors under this title all result from the effect of the target language, not the native one. Studying the rules of the target language, students make overgeneralization, which causes errors in writing. Different examples of these types of errors are presented as in the following:

Group 1.

leafs a womenmans/ mens lifes the youngs criterias

understanded cutted weared forgived choosed hurted

... didn't doubted that... /.... didn't stole the brooch. She would recovered..../ She could thought that ....

They went to hunting.

Who did put that letter on the table?

Let them to marry.

The story makes them to learn....

She doesn't go to there.

How that letter got there?

When the examples are examined in detail, it can be recognised that students have learned some grammar rules of English and they tend to use them for all cases without thinking of the exceptions. For example, keeping the idea of making a noun plural with -s suffix, students use it with all words, even with adjectives (the youngs). Using -ed suffix for all verbs to make past form is another example of intralingual errors. The same error can be seen in the examples in simple past negative sentences and past modals such as could and would. The error in the use of "to" after "make" and "let" can be the result of generalization of the rule "verb +somebody+ to +verb". Knowing the rule, students make these sentences with "to", which can cause an error. In the same way, they are taught to add "to" after the verb "go" to show the direction, they put "to" whenever they make a sentence with go, even if it is unnecessary. The examples related to question forms clearly indicate that having learned that there are different types of questions to ask subject and object of the actions, some students mix them.

Group 2.

Difficulty for understanding Convince her about staying

It is very funny and entertainment.

Larry is death.

She is a loyalty person.

She was telling the story so realistic. He works hardly. (He works hard.) He is mental ill. Whiston treats bad her.

She was very pride... This book is about religious. He greeted her with admire.

The Canterbury Tales is consist of 24 tales. She afraids...

We are not accustomed to hear... She was so regret to push the button.

He wanted to her stay.

American wanted Jig had an operation for the baby. Nicolay told her to steal the brooch.

As ELT students have studied English for years and succeeded in foreign language exams with high grades and they will be English teachers in 2-3 years time, they are expected to use all the things above accurately. These errors show that some students mix all the words up. Whereas they should already have known the collocations of the words, what part of speech they are, how they are formed and how they are used in the sentences. They have such fatal errors that they say something else instead of what they want to say. For example, the sentence "Nicolay told her to steal the brooch." has a different meaning when compared to "Nicolay told her that he had stolen the brooch." To use the first one instead of the latter makes the meaning ambiguous.

Group 3.

Solding his gold watch, he ... Both of them were sold their most precious things.

Mashenka was hurt, by pointing out as a thief. She couldn't bear accusing of being theft. (...being

(...pointed out....) accused of theft.)

After dying her husband, she took money from her Larry is died.

husband's life insurance. She noticed that her room was searching. She learnt what was happened.

Students at ELT departments must have learned how to express their ideas using the correct structures. Especially at high levels, not only are they asked to use the grammatical rules of the language accurately, but also they are wanted to use them for appropriate functions. In the examples of participle clauses, students seem to know the rule of how to make participle clauses with present participle but they do not know how to make them meaningful as the sentences above lose their meaning. Passive construction looks a difficult issue for them. All the examples above indicate that students have problems with passive forms. It is clear that they know how to form passive voice. However, either do they put verb "to be" before every past participle verb or they forget to put it. The main problem is that they look they do not know which verb is transitive, which one is intransitive.

4. Results and Suggestions

Teachers are thought to be role models for the students with their knowledge, behavior and attitudes. In this respect, language teachers should use the foreign language accurately and appropriately. How can a language teacher who does not use the language accurately and appropriately be expected to teach it properly? Although errors of language learners can be ignored to some extend not to demotivate students, when the language learner is a candidate teacher of English, errors can be problematic issues to be overcome at once, especially like the errors found in the exam papers of ELT students. There can be many reasons for these errors. All possible reasons that cause students to make errors of these kinds have been questioned as follows:

Foreign language teaching requires students to be creative and productive. However, in crowded classes in Turkey all students do not have the chance to show their performances. It is difficult for teachers to reach individual students as well. When students don't have feedback about what they do properly in language learning regularly, their errors will be permanent.

Students tend to use bilingual online dictionaries and mostly want to learn the equivalent of the words in both languages. As they do not use monolingual target dictionaries, they are not familiar with the collocations, different usages, different meanings of the words. Efficient dictionary use is more important than finding the equivalent in target language or vice versa. It is not possible for the students to produce the language correctly if they do not improve their dictionary use skills.

Reading, especially in foreign language, helps students to improve their language skills. Seeing different types of structures and vocabulary, students start to use them in writing and speaking. However, people do not read a lot even in our native language. Students have the same habit and as a result they cannot benefit from the advantages of reading.

Not spending much time reading, students do not feel competent in writing as well. To write well, first students should organize their ideas, they should know the necessary vocabulary and structure. It is quite difficult for most of the students even in their native language. Whereas writing is a productive skill, with which students have the chance to express their feelings and ideas.

Another reason for students' errors in writing can be the multiple choice exams given to them during their language learning period. Multiple choice exams do not let them be productive. Students only memorize the topics and when they are asked as questions, they answer them by recalling the things memorized. From the early beginning of the language learning process, students are taught the tactics for finding the correct answer. Multiple choice questions are the ideal question type for ELT students because they are quite familiar with them and very successful in answering them correctly. Although they answer the most difficult multiple choice questions, they cannot show the same performance for other types which require them to produce the language. These suggestions are made to overcome the errors of students in foreign language teaching:

1. Students should be motivated to read and write more in the foreign language.

2. Students should be supported to use the language in class and their performance should be evaluated during the term with alternative evaluation techniques.

3. Students should be motivated to use monolingual dictionaries in the target language.

4. Tests, which make students productive and make their intelligence work at different levels, should replace multiple choice exams.

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Singapore: Longman Group Limited. §anal, F. (2008). Error- analysis based on second language teaching strategies. Selcuk University Social Sciences Institute Journal. 2008. Vol. 20. pp. 597- 601.