Scholarly article on topic 'An analysis of written errors of Turkish adult learners of English'

An analysis of written errors of Turkish adult learners of English Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

Share paper
OECD Field of science
{"Error analysis" / "intralingual errors" / "interlingual errors" / "grammatical errors"}

Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Yasemin Kırkgöz

Abstract This study examines errors in a corpus of 120 essays produced by 86 adult Turkish learners, who were beginners in their language proficiency in Çukurova University. The corpus was examined to identify and classify written errors in terms of the possible sources of errors. Errors were classified in accordance with two major categories: interlingual errors and intralingual errors, and some sub-categories were identified. It has been found that most written errors students produce result from the interlingual errors indicating interference of the first language. Some suggestions have been made in the treatment of errors.

Academic research paper on topic "An analysis of written errors of Turkish adult learners of English"

Available online at


Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 2 (2010) 4352-4358


An analysis of written errors of Turkish adult learners of English

Yasemin Kirkgoza *

a£ukurova University, Faculty of education, Department of ELT, 01330 Balcali, Adana Turkey Received November 3, 2009; revised December 11, 2009; accepted January 19, 2010


This study examines errors in a corpus of 120 essays produced by 86 adult Turkish learners, who were beginners in their language proficiency in Qukurova University. The corpus was examined to identify and classify written errors in terms of the possible sources of errors. Errors were classified in accordance with two major categories: interlingual errors and intralingual errors, and some sub-categories were identified. It has been found that most written errors students produce result from the interlingual errors indicating interference of the first language. Some suggestions have been made in the treatment of errors. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Error analysis; intralingual errors; interlingual errors; grammatical errors.

1. Introduction

Language learning, like most other human learning is a skill in which mistakes constitute a major aspect. Research has demonstrated that children learning their native language make countless errors in comparison to adults. Similarly, in second language learning adults will inevitably make mistakes until they have fully mastered the rules of the target language. Errors or mistakes are an inevitable during the process of learning a foreign language. Although the terms mistake and error appear to have the same meaning, they are different. Mistake refers to a type of performance error which results in the learner using the language incorrectly. An error however, is a deviant structure from the standard language reflecting the interlanguage ability of the learner (Brown, 1980).

There have been two schools of thought in respect to learner errors. The behaviorist school maintains that if our objective is to achieve a perfect language teaching, the occurrence of learner's errors should he avoid, otherwise they would become a habit for the learner and show a sign of the inadequacy of teaching methods. With this view, contrastive analysis of the native and the target language has become an important aspect of studying the language differences. Contrary to the view of behaviorist approach, the cognitivist school believes that in spite of the teacher's efforts, the errors will occur, and this does not necessarily mean the learner's failure, rather progress the learner is making in the language learning system. With this view, the cognitivist has placed an emphasis on hypothesis formation, experiments and feedback, raising the issue of error analysis as a way to study the difficulties encountered by the second language learner.

* Yasemin Kirkgöz. Tel.: 0532 6103299; fax: +0322-338-65-26 E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.03.692

2. Error Analysis

In relation to second language acquisition process, Corder (1967) noted that errors are significant in three aspects: they tell the teacher what needs to be taught, they tell the researcher how learning proceeds and errors are a means whereby learners test their hypothesis about the target language. An investigation into the types of errors reveals that the sources of errors may be attributable to two major transfers: interlingual and intralingual transfer (Brown, 1980).

2.1. Interlingual errors

The earlier stages of learning a second language are characterized by a good deal of interlingual transfer from the native language. As suggested by Brown (1980) before the learner becomes familiar with the system of the second language, the native language is the only linguistic system upon which the learner can draw. First language interference may result from a number of interferences, such as grammatical, prepositional, and lexical interference.

2.2. Intralingual errors

The next source of error, intralingual error or intralingual transfer refers to the negative transfer of language items within the target language and occurs generally in the rule learning stages of language, such as overgeneralization of grammar rules within the target language, and learner's failure to apply rules of the target language under appropriate situations (Richards, 1974).

Learner errors can serve two purposes, diagnostic and prognostic (Corder, 1967). It is diagnostic because it can tell us the learner's grasp of a language at any given point during the learning process. It is also prognostic because it can tell the teacher to modify learning materials to meet the learners' problems. Corder (ibid) also contended that errors are visible proof that learning is taking place. He has emphasized that errors, if studied systematically, can provide significant insights into how a language is actually learned by a foreigner. He also agrees that studying students' errors of usage has immediate practical application for language teachers. In his view, errors provide feedback; they tell the teachers something about the effectiveness of his teaching.

The use of error analysis and appropriate corrective techniques can aid effective learning and English. In recognition of the crucial role of errors in learners' interlanguage, this study aims to analyze the most common errors produced by adult Turkish students learning English as a second/foreign language in Qukurova University who are beginners in their language study.

3. Method

3.1. Participants

72 adult learners of English aged 18-21 participated in this study. The students were non-language majors in their first year of undergraduate education.

3.2. Data collection and analysis

In the present study, the three steps of error analysis specified by Corder (1974) were followed: (1) Collection of sample errors; (2) Identification of errors, and (3) Description of errors

The source of data for this study was 120 student essays written on three different topics. Each of these essays was between 150-250 words. Data was collected over two months. All of the errors in the essays were identified by the respective language instructors. Then, the identified errors were classified into afore-mentioned categories by the researcher. As the next step, a trained research assistant on error analysis checked for the accuracy of the classification. Inter-rater reliability was high.

4. Findings

4.1. Analysis of errors

Table 1. The relative frequency of error types

Interlingual errors

Grammatical interference

Pluralization 55

Verb tense 75

Prepositional interference

Addition 15

Omission 50

Misusing prep. 15

Lexical interference 31

Total 221

Intralingual errors

Overgeneralization 30

Use of articles

Addition 14

Omission 65

Misusing article 15

Spelling 37

Redundancy 18

Total 179

Total number of errors 400

Table 1 displays categories of error types in students' essays. A total of 2 categories, 11 error types, and 400 individual errors were identified. As indicated in Table 1, each error category (interlingual and intralingual) was further classified in detail. The results show that the number of interlingual errors committed by the students was higher (no=221) compared with intralingual errors (no=179). Errors relating to interlingual errors were divided into three types; grammatical, prepositional and lexical, and each was further subdivided into subcategories depending on the kind of errors produced by the students. Similarly, intralingual errors were further divided into categories and subcategories, where appropriate. Of the interlingual errors, the category grammatical interference had the greatest number of errors (no=140), followed by prepositional interference (no=80), and lexical interference errors (no=31). In the case of intralingual errors, errors in the use of articles had the highest number followed by redundancy errors and then overgeneralization.

As seen clearly, the major cause of errors in adult language performance is due to the interference of the mother language. Before the adult learner has become fully familiar with the grammar of the target language, in this study English, his/her native language, which is Turkish, is the only linguistic environment he has experienced, and therefore, the learner tends to transfer the grammatical rules of his native language to the target language. The present study supports Brown (1980) who noted that early stage of language learning is characterized by a predominance of interlingual errors.

The section below presents examples of common errors from the corpus. The underlined part of the sentences indicates the location of the error.

4.1. Samples of errors

4.1. 1. Interlingual errors Grammatical interference

Native and the target languages have different grammatical rules so when the learner transfers grammatical element from his/her native language to the target language s/he makes errors.

The following errors on pluralization have been noted in the composition papers of the students. In the examples below, Turkish students are obviously applying a grammatical rule which they know in their native language to the target language. When "three cups of coffee" or "three dogs" are thought in terms of the Turkish grammatical rules, no pluralization can be seen on the nouns, which is contrary to the English grammar rules.

He is drinking three cup of coffee We have a big garden and three dog. There is two telephone on the table. There is a few apple in the basket Verb tense

The major source of errors in the following samples is that in English language, simple present tense is used to express these situations, whereas in Turkish present continuous tense is employed.

My family is living in Malatya.

She is_always feeling ill.

They are loving their children.

He is wanting his mother to buy him a book. Prepositional interference

It has been found that the students under this study make prepositional errors in three different ways: by adding the wrong preposition, omitting the preposition, and misusing the preposition.

The followings are samples of adding the wrong preposition: Suzanne is on downstairs I am going to home. He is watching to TV

The followings samples from the corpus are classified as omitting the preposition: She is working house I am interested music They are listening music His overcoat is his hand. They are talking a girl.

The samples below constitute examples to misuse of the preposition: The plane is flying in the city (over the city) The teacher is sitting on her desk (at her desk) Aylin is looking from the window (through the window) I am interested with music (in music) Lexical Interference

This type of interference is observed when a language item in the student's native language interferes with a corresponding language item in the target language, as in the following samples:

She is_a two sister and three brother (has...) Bilge is a large garden (has) He is some fat.

We celebrated her. (Congradulated)

Lexical interference of the first language can become more obvious when the student does word-ford-word translation of idioms, proverbs and phrasal verbs.

Please close the radio. (Please turn off the radio) Can you open the tap? (Can you turn on the tap?) I will open the TV. (I will turn on the TV)

When a student does not know the appropriate word, structure or expression to use, he falls back on his mother language as can be seen in the above examples. Selinker (1972) names it "interlanguage" meaning as a halfway between his own language and the target language.

First language related errors, like these, have been studied by many researchers. Duskova investigated written errors in the compositions of Czech postgraduate students who were taking English course, and found that interference of mother language was obvious in errors of word order and sentences structure. Lo Coco's findings in his study of American college students learning Spanish and German in the U.S.A. were similar to that of Duskova. Lo Coco also found that second level Spanish students made numerous interference type errors due to translating expressions from first language. (Quoted in Krashen, 1981).

4.1.2. Intralingual errors

In the present corpus analysed, a total of 179 intralingual errors were identified, resulting mainly from overgeneralization, that is, negative transfer of language items and grammatical rules in the target language, incomplete application of rules, resulting from learner's failure to apply rules of the target language under appropriate situations. Overgeneralization

When learners created a deviant structure depending on his previous experience of other structures in the target language, s/he made errors, as in the examples:

He can sings song.

We are hope to visit the museum.

It isoccurs always at the same time.

He is_come from Adana

Arthur is going to giving a book to the woman.

In the following samples, by combining the rules of the previous tense, which appear to be the present continuous tense, with the newly learned structures, which are modals can and must produce a faulty expression in their writings.

John can singing.

Mr. Jones must waiting at the bus stop. He must wearing his socks.

Overgeneralization is associated with "redundancy reduction" (Norrish, 1983:31). It may occur with language items that are contrasted in the grammar of the target language, yet do not carry any apparent contrast to the learner. Accordingly, in English 'ed' is the past tense marker. However, in the case of irregular verbs, the grammar rule changes and the student is expected to use appropriate past tense marker of such verbs. Instead, student makes errors of overgeneralization.

I been a student last year. (I was a student last year).

He goed to school an hour ago. (He went to school).

They haved supper (They had supper).

The child broked the window (The child broke the window).

In addition to the faulty application of the past tense, there was a tendency among the students to omit the third person -s- in simple present tense. Bruce sell expensive cars. (sells) He do not always drink cola (does not) He watch TV at week-ends (watches)

Duskova (in Krashen, 1981), in discussing the omission of third person -s- points out that in the present tense all persons take the same zero verbal endings except the third person singular By omitting -s- in the third person singular, the endingless form is generalized for all persons. Use of articles

Unlike most European languages, the Turkish language does not have definite or indefinite articles. Therefore, Turkish students make many errors in using articles correctly. In the corpus analyzed, article related errors were due to two reasons; by adding, omitting or misusing the article, as in the following samples:

The bird is flying in a_sky (the sky)

The girls are not wearing a_hats. (the hats)

I want the glass of beer (a glass of beer)

Take your umbrella with you to an office (the office)

I live in house (in a house)

According to Pascasio (1961) and Stockwell (1965), maximal degree of difficulty is encountered in the learning of grammar elements that do not exist in the native language, as in the above-listed errors related to the use of articles end present perfect usage (quoted in Schumann and Stenson (1974). Redundant

Besides the factors explained above, which account for the erroneous utterances of the students, there are other groups of factors involving the learning ability of the students. A student may be in a bad mood or his/her attention may be distracted by the things outside the classroom; as a result, he makes errors. These errors have been referred to as "redundant" by Corder (1974) and they are different from the inherent error which is associated with a natural learning activity. In the sample "I have been to Kusadasi ten years ago", the use of the time expression "ago" with the present perfect tense constitutes redundancy.

5. Suggested treatment of written errors

Zamel (1985) suggests that distinguishing between serious and minor errors may be a good guide in choosing what to correct. Thus the teacher should prioritize which errors to correct in students' writings. Error correction may take the form of a teacher correction, peer correction, and self-correction. In the case of teacher correction, the teacher can use standardized methods to indicate to their students the type and place of errors. Lists of symbols often prove useful if the teacher first trains her students on their meaning and what is expected from the students when a certain symbol is used, such as T ({Tense); WO (word order); Sp (Spelling); P (preposition.); A (A article) ; WF (word form). A major benefit of peer correction is that by correcting the errors of their class mates, students can become more critical learners of the language. Self-correction is also useful for a student in that through correcting his/her mistake the student can become aware of his/her error, and can learn that particular language item better.

6. Conclusion

This study has investigated the types of written errors produced by Turkish students who are beginners in their level of English proficiency. Findings indicate that the early stages of language learning are characterized by a predominance of interlingual errors. It is suggested that student errors should not be regarded as a failure, but as a real progress the student is making in attaining the knowledge of the target language, in particular, as errors provide to the teacher or the researcher evidence of how language is being learned or acquired, what strategies the learner is employing in the discovery of the language. As Corder (1967) noted "a learner's errors... are significant in (that) they provide to the researcher evidence of how language is learned or acquired, what strategies or procedures the learner is employing in the discovery of the language" (pp. 167). Errors show the teacher what aspects of language items have been understood, learned or confused. Also, by being able to predict errors to a certain extent, teachers can be well-equipped to help students minimize or overcome their learning problems. Errors are indispensable to the learner because they may, in turn, benefit from various forms of feedback on these errors.


Brown. H. D. (1980). Principles of language learning and teaching. London: Prentice Hall Inc.

Brown, J. I., & Thomas, P. E. (1985). Better spelling: Fourteen steps to spelling improvement. Levington: Heath.

Curzon, L. B. (1985). Teaching in further education: An outline ofprinciples and practice.. London: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Corder, S. P. (1974). 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. Krashen. S. D. (1981). Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press. Norrish. J. (1983). Language learners and their errors. Hong Kong: Macmillan.

Richards, J. C. (1974). Error Analysis: Perspectives on Second Language Acquisition. London: Longman.

Schumann, J., & Stenson, N. (1974). New frontiers in second language learning. (Eds. ) Rowley, MA: Newbury House Publishers. Selinker, L. (1972). Interlanguage. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 10, 201-231. Zamel, V. (1985). Responding to student writing, TESOL Quarterly, 19, 79-102.