Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

An Analysis of English Errors Made by Polytechnic of Namibia Students

Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

An Analysis of English Errors Made by Polytechnic of Namibia Students

Article excerpt

1.1 Introduction/Background

On the attainment of her independence, Namibia elected to make English the official language in preference to Afrikaans which was the lingua franca at that time. Ever since, English has been the medium of instruction at all levels of education in the country. The Polytechnic of Namibia, being an institution offering tertiary level education, provides English from basic to advanced level, and other courses such as various types of Business Communication. In addition, English is compulsory for all Polytechnic students because it is a service course. This means that all students joining the Polytechnic are required to take up a placement test in order to be placed into different levels of the English course.

Twenty years after independence, even though English is used in several contexts, it is still perceived as a difficult language. The level of written English expected at tertiary level has not been reached by many students who join the Polytechnic of Namibia. There are several reasons for the low level of English used in Namibia, but that is beyond the remit of this paper.

2.1 Literature Review

It was Corder (1967) who pointed out the significance of errors and the need to analyse them in order to gain a better understanding of errors that students make and to help them improve themselves. It is important and necessary to distinguish between "errors" and "mistakes". Errors are systematic and occur because students do not realise that they are wrong. However, when it comes to mistakes, they are non-systematic and could be because of a slip of the tongue or pen. Identification of errors may help teachers/researchers develop an underlying system which should eventually facilitate the remediation process. The study of errors moved from the library to observable data collection and collation in the classroom. In many cases, errors occur repeatedly and students are unaware of them. From the point of view of teachers and researchers, these are errors, but from the point of view of students they are not errors and they are a systematic entity which forms a part of "inter language" (Gass and Selinker: 1993:67). According to Selinker (1969) interlanguage is the data which is the speaker's attempt to produce a foreign language with errors and non-errors. This behaviour is "highly structured" (Selinker: 1969:71). This moves into the area of performance. Several objections to the notion of interlanguage have been raised:

1. Concentration of morpho-syntactic development and failure to account for the semantic level

2. Failure to account for the learner's linguistic knowledge and the relevance of the learner's own standards of correctness

3. Misuse of concepts related to target language

4. Failure to specify features that distinguish interlanguages from other natural languages

5. Failure to deal with variability and, Anally

6. Failure to define the concepts clearly (Spolsky:1989).

Another important area has to be taken into consideration when it comes to the analysis of errors. Within error analysis studies there is an assumption that it is possible to categorise errors belong to one or the other type. Dulay and Burt (1974b) point out that it is not possible to always assign the errors to the one or other category. To establish this category they call it "Ambiguous goofs", which they describe as "Interference-like Goofs or L1 developmental goofs"(p.115). Gass and Selinker (1993) state that error analysis cannot be a sum total of second language data because it is only a partial picture of language learning that one gathers through error analysis.

3.1 Research question/Hypothesis

The main hypothesis of this study is that students joining the Polytechnic have a low level of English. The common errors that the students make seem to be a result of mother tongue influence.

The research questions arising from this hypothesis are the following:

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