Sabtu, 10 Juli 2010



Written by;
I Dewa Putu Eka Adi Putra
NIM. 0929011016
Student of English Education Department
Post-graduate program, Undiksha Singaraja


This paper presents a study of error analysis and its pedagogical implication toward second language and foreign language (SL/FL) classroom teaching. It starts by giving a systematic review of the concepts and theories concerning EA (Error Analysis); the historical background to the field of EA is comprehensively explored. The writer proposes that teachers should employ different and flexible error treatment strategies in accordance with the teaching objectives, students’ linguistic competence, their affective factors and the effectiveness of the error correction.

Key words: error analysis, contrastive analysis, pedagogical implication, interlanguage, SL/FL learning

1. Introduction
Like any other human learning, language learning is closely associated with the making of errors. Therefore, it is quite natural and inevitable that most – if not all – language learners commit errors when they put the language to use. In this sense, errors can be seen as an integral part of language learning that are not avoidable.
In a traditional second language/foreign language (SL/FL) teaching situation relying on Behaviorist learning theory, errors are regarded as the linguistic phenomena deviant from the language rules and standard usages, reflecting learners’ deficiency in language competence and acquisition device (Jie, 2008). In accordance with this thought, many SL/FL teachers simply correct individual errors as they occur, with little attempt to see patterns of errors or to seek causes in anything other than learner ignorance. Presently, however, with the development of linguistics, applied linguistics, psychology, and other relevant subjects, SL/FL teachers’ attitude toward errors changed greatly. Instead of seeing errors as problems to be overcome or evils to be eradicated, most today’s SL/FL teachers tend to consider errors as evidence of the learners’ stages in their target language (TL) development, which can provide information that can be used to sequence items for teaching or to devise remedial lessons (Ellis, 1986). In relation to the later view, learners’ errors in language learning should carefully be analyzed. It is through analyzing learner errors that errors are elevated from the status of “undesirability to that of a guide to the inner working of the language learning process” (Ellis, 1986).
In the field of SLA, there have been some influential approaches to errors with a general movement from approaches emphasizing the product, i.e. the error itself, to approaches focusing on the underlying process under which the errors are made (Jie, 2008). Among others, Error Analysis (EA) is the most influential approach to study learners’ errors. This approach enables SL/FL teachers or researchers to find out the sources of errors and take pedagogical precautions towards them. Thus, the analysis of learner language has become an essential need to overcome some questions and propose solutions regarding different aspects. In addition, whether it is deviant or self-contained, applying EA to interlanguage will enable SL/FL teachers or researchers to reveal some reality of the learner language.
In fact, however, few SL/FL teachers know a lot about EA and some related theories. As consequence, they often take so negative attitudes toward errors that they could not tolerate any errors and tend to correct them as soon as they could find any. As a result, although they think that they have been working hard enough and spend much time and energy working on error correction, their effort is not effective and the students do not believe they have benefited a lot. On the contrary, the students often feel upset, for they have found that there is a great gap between themselves and their teachers in dealing with errors and understanding of error correction. Taking such the fact into account, the writer finds it necessary to have a theoretical foundation about EA and its implication toward language teaching and learning. Therefore, in this paper, the writer presents the theoretical basis and pedagogical implication of the theory – Error Analysis.

2. The Notion of Error Analysis
EA has widely been used among SLA (Second Language Researcher) researchers since it took over its predecessor, CA (Contrastive Analysis), in the late 1960s. EA begins with the premise that errors can be attributed to a variety of factors, not solely to interference from the native language. By collecting a raw linguistic sample and analyzing the errors within it, researchers in the EA camp closely examine, and hopefully explain, the linguistic competence—however transitional it may be—of a second language learner (Harashima, 2006).
James defined the notion of EA as “the study of linguistic ignorance, the investigation of what people do not know and how they attempt to cope with their ignorance” (James, 1998). It was Corder who made the first argument for the significance of learners’ errors in his 1967 seminal paper (in Jie, 2008). The significance of learners’ errors, which signaled the shift of pedagogical interest from CA to EA, provided the impetus for many empirical studies (Jie, 2008).
The analysis of error sources has been regarded as a central aspect of EA. Researchers believe that the clearer the understanding of the sources of learners’ errors, the better SL/FL teachers or researchers will be able to detect the process of second language (L2) learning. In his non-contrastive approach to EA, Richards (1971) identified a number of different sources or causes of competence errors: interference errors of mother tongue interference, intralingual errors within the Target Language (TL) itself and developmental errors, reflecting the learners’ attempts to construct hypotheses about their target language from their limited experience.
Excluding interference errors from his discussion, Richards (1971) focused on the intralingual and developmental errors observed in the acquisition of English as a second language and further classified them into four categories: (1) Overgeneralization, covering instances where the learners create a deviant structure on the basis of his experience of other structure of the TL; (2) Ignorance of rule restriction, occurring as a result of failure to observe the restrictions or existing structures; (3) Incomplete application of rules, arising when the learners fail to fully develop a certain structure required to produce acceptable sentences; (4) False concepts hypothesized, deriving from faulty comprehension of distinctions in the TL.
EA is a systematic study and analysis of errors made by the learners of a SL/FL in an attempt to account for their origin, their regularity, their predictability and variability. It views both first and second language acquisition as a process involving the active participation of the learners. In this approach, errors are seen as a natural phenomenon that must occur when learning the first or second language before correcting language rules are completely internalized. Errors occur systematically in learners’ language behavior and are, therefore, to be regarded as manifestations of an inner-working system.

3. A Historical Background to the Field of Error Analysis
Until late sixties, the prominent theory regarding the issue of second language learning was behavioristic, which suggested that the learning was largely a question of acquiring a set of new language habits. Therefore, errors were considered as being the result of the persistence of existing mother tongue habits in the new language (Erdoğan, 2005).
Consequently, this idea made the researchers of applied linguistics devote their studies largely to the comparison of the native and the target language in order to make predictions and explanations about errors. However, errors that were not explained in this way were underestimated. As a result, all errors whatever their origins were dealt with the same technique of further drilling and exercise.
Error analysis, a branch of applied linguistics, emerged in the sixties to demonstrate that learner errors were not only because of the learner’s native language but also they reflected some universal learning strategies, as a reaction to contrastive analysis theory, which considered language transfer as the basic process of second language learning as what behavioristic theory suggested. Error analysis, on the other hand, deals with the learners’ performance in terms of the cognitive processes they make use of in recognizing or coding the input they receive from the target language (Erdoğan, 2005). Therefore, a primary focus of error analysis is on the evidence that learners’ errors provide with an understanding of the underlying process of second language acquisition
Theoretical analysis of errors, according to Erdoğan (2005), primarily concerns the process and strategies of language learning and its similarities with first language acquisition. In other words, it tries to investigate what is going on in the minds of language learners. Secondly, it tries to decode the strategies of learners such as overgeneralization and simplification, and thirdly, to go to a conclusion that regards the universals of language learning process whether there is an internal syllabus for learning a second language (Erdoğan, 2005).
Applied error analysis, on the other hand, concerns organizing remedial courses, and devising appropriate materials and teaching strategies based on the findings of theoretical error analysis.

4. The Procedures of Error Analysis
In order to analyze learners’ errors in a proper perspective, it is crucial to make a distinction between “mistake” and “error”. According to Brown (2000), a “mistake” refers to a performance error in that it is a failure to utilize a known system correctly. On the other hand, an “error” is a noticeable deviation from the adult grammar of a native speaker, reflecting the interlanguage competence of the learner. This recognition process is followed by the error description process. We compare learners’ sentences with the correct sentences in target language, and find the errors. Then we come to the next step—explanation stage, finding the sources of errors.
The beginning stages of learning a second language are characterized by a good deal of interlingual transfer from the native language. In the early stages, the native language is the only linguistic system upon which the learner can draw. These kinds of errors can be found in all aspects of language learning (Brown, 2000).
Intralingual transfer (within the target language itself) is also a major factor. At an intermediate level, learners’ previous experience and existing subsumes begin to influence structures within the target language itself. Most of time, negative intralingual transfer or overgeneralization has occurred, and these kinds of errors are called developmental errors. We have found that overgeneralization makes it significant for us to study the psychological process of language learners (Brown, 2000).
Cultural interference can cause either linguistic errors or inappropriateness in the context. In addition, it sometimes hinders communication, so it should be taken seriously (Brown, 2000). For example, an American lady said to a Balinese lady “what a beautiful dress!”. Instead of saying “Thank you, I’m glad to hear that”, she replies “No, no.” In accordance with Balinese way of receiving compliment will make the American lady feel at loss. Thus, language learning is also the culture learning. Otherwise, we cannot get a good understanding of the language.
In some occasions, due to their insufficient linguistic knowledge, learners have to express themselves with the help of communicative strategies. The most frequently used communicative strategies are avoidance, language switch and prefabricated patterns (Brown, 2000). Factually communicative strategies do help learners a lot in expressing their ideas and the communicative teaching approach need these strategies as well. On the other hand, teachers need to pay more attention to the errors occurred, otherwise they will backfire.

5. Error Treatment
Error treatment is a very complicated and thorny problem. As language teachers, we need to be armed with some theoretical foundations and be aware of what we are doing in the classroom. Here principles of optimal affective and cognitive feedback, of reinforcement theory, and of communicative language teaching all combine to form these theoretical foundations. With these theories in mind, we can judge in the classroom whether we will treat or ignore the errors, when and how to correct them.
5.1 What kinds of errors should be corrected?
Learners’ errors are usually classified in different categories. Burt (1975) made a distinction between “global” and “local” errors. Global errors hinder communication and they prevent the learner from comprehending some aspects of the message. Local errors only affect a single element of a sentence, but do not prevent a message from being heard. According to Hendrickson (1980), global errors need not be corrected and they are generally held true. But the expressions such as “a news”, or “an advice” are systematic errors, and they need to be corrected. As for pre-systematic errors, teachers can simply provide the correct one. For systematic errors, since learners have already had the linguistic competence, they can explain this kind of errors and correct them themselves. So teachers just remind them when they commit such errors. As to what kind of errors should be corrected, it needs teachers’ intuition and understanding of errors. At the same time, the teacher should consider the purpose of the analysis and analyze them in a systematic way.
5.2 When to correct the errors?
Concerning this problem, the most controversial issue is to treat them immediately or to delay. First, we are confronted with a dilemma—fluency versus accuracy. For communicative purpose, delayed correction is usually preferred. Some advanced students believe that when to correct errors is determined by the type of errors committed. For instance, if they are pronunciation or grammatical errors, immediate correction is preferable, for post-correction cannot make learners remember anything. Furthermore, the overall situation in the classroom is also important. When the whole class is familiar with a word, but only one of them is singled out for being corrected, he/s would feel awkward. So, we can see that when to correct is very complicated. Both the teachers’ intuition and the feedback from the students are equally important.
5.3 How to correct the errors?
According to James (1998), it is sensible to follow the three principles in error correction. Firstly, the techniques involved in error correction would be able to enhance the students’ accuracy in expression. Secondly, the students’ affective factors should be taken into consideration and the correction should not be face-threatening to the students.
Some teachers believed that their indirect correction is highly appreciated. They either encourage students to do self-correction in heuristic method or present the correct form, so students couldn’t feel embarrassed. Compare the two situations:
(1) Student: “What means this word?”
Teacher: “No, listen, what does this word mean?”
(2) Student: “What means this word?”
Teacher: “What does it mean? Well, it is difficult to explain, but it means…”
It is obvious that teacher’s remodeling in (2) is more natural and sensible than the direct interruption in (1).

6. The Implication of EA toward Language Teaching and Learning
Firstly, by error analysis, teachers will get an overall knowledge about the students’ errors. Foreign language learning is a process of hypothesis and trial and error occurrence is inevitable. So, the teacher should learn to tolerate some errors, especially some local errors. Secondly, errors can tell the teacher how far towards the goal the learner has progressed and consequently, what remains for him or her to learn. So students’ errors are valuable feedbacks. We can do some remedial teaching based on their errors. Thirdly, errors are indispensable to the learners themselves, for we can regard the making of mistakes as a device the learner employs in order to learn. Finally, some errors need to be handled; otherwise, they will become fossilized. In a sense, error analysis theory together with other theories have enriched the second language learning theory in that learning involves in a process in which success comes by profiting from mistakes and by using mistakes to obtain feedback from the environment. With the feedback they make new attempts to achieve the more closely approximate desired goals.
Certainly, error analysis is significant, but it also has its limitations. First, there is a danger in too much attention to learners’ errors and in the classroom teacher tends to become so preoccupied with noticing errors that the correct utterance in the second language will go unnoticed. While the diminishing of errors is an important criterion for increasing language proficiency, the ultimate goal of second language learning is the attainment of communicative fluency in a language. Another shortcoming in error analysis is the overstressing of production data. Factually language comprehension is as important as production. It also happens that production lends itself to analysis and thus becomes the prey of researchers, but comprehension data is equally important in developing an understanding of the process of language acquisition. Thirdly, it fails to account for the strategy of avoidance. A learner who for one reason or another avoids a particular sound, word, and structure or discourse category may be assumed incorrectly to have no difficulty therewith. The absence of error therefore does not necessarily reflect native like competence since learners may be avoiding the very structure that poses difficulty for them. Finally, error analysis can keep us too closely focused on specific languages rather than viewing universal aspects of language.

7. Conclusion
Error analysis is associated with a rich and complex psycholinguistic view of the learner, but the sophisticated use is in its infancy. As SL/FL teachers, we should be aware of what is going on in the field of EA and keep a keen eye on the related theories. In order to improve teaching, we need to explore the learners’ psychological process in language learning so that we can enhance our understanding of learners’ errors. Based on the analysis of the causes of their errors, we provide our timely guide and help. In addition, while placing an emphasis on error correction in the classroom, as language teachers, we should take the teaching objectives, students’ linguistic competence, their affective factors and the effectiveness of the error correction into consideration. Consequently, we can employ more flexible strategies in error correction and make more contributions to the SL/FL classroom teaching and learning.

Brown, H. D. (2000). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. London: Longman, Inc.

Burt, M. K. (1975). “Error Analysis in the Adult EFL Classroom”. TESOL Quarterly, 9: 53-63.

Ellis, R. (1986). Understanding Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Erdoğan, Vacide. (2005). “Contribution of Error Analysis to Foreign Language Teaching” at (Accessed on: July 6, 2010).

Harashima, Hideto D. (2006). “An Error Analysis of the Speech of an Experienced Japanese Learner of English” at (Accessed on: July 6, 2010).

Hendrickson, J. M. (1980). “Error correction in Foreign Language Teaching: Recent Theory, Research, and Practice” in K. Croft. (Ed.). Readings on English as a Second Language (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Winthrop Publishers.

James, C. (1998). Errors in Language Learning and Use. London: Addison Wesley Longman Limited.

Jie, Xu. (2008). “Error Theories and Second Language Acquisition” at (Accessed on: July 6, 2010).

Richards, J. C. (1971). “A Non-contrastive Approach to Error Analysis”. English Language Teaching Journal, 25, 204-219.

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