Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Investigating Students' Ability in Handling Problems in Writing Mechanics at King Saud University

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Investigating Students' Ability in Handling Problems in Writing Mechanics at King Saud University

Article excerpt


This study investigates the problems related to writing mechanics of Saudi students at the College of Languages and Translation (COLT). The researcher will examine punctuation and spelling problems by conducting a written test. The participants in the study included 100 college students and 20 language instructors. The researcher used both qualitative and quantitative research design to assure a high level of reliability. The study shows that English Department students at the first level of the College of Languages and Translation commit many errors in writing mechanics. Specifically, the number of spelling errors was 984 more than the number of errors in punctuation mark.

Keywords: Mechanics of writing, Error analysis, Inter-lingual errors, Spelling

1. Background

Writing is a challenging task that requires both effort and skill. During the learning process, English as a foreign language and English as a second language (EFL/ESL) learners face many obstacles, such as learning how to do the mechanics of writing. The concept of writing mechanics aims at making "the writing systematic and is concerned about how to be correct in punctuation and spelling" (Cornnell, 1980, p. 20). Fageeh (2003) states that errors in the mechanics of writing are the most frequent in Arab writing of English. Punctuation errors are more frequent than spelling (Almarwany, 2008). Many Arab students are not aware of the role of punctuation in writing as well as in reading (Fageeh 2003). Irmscher (as cited in Cornnell, 1980) states that "even though many writers do not want to be concerned with punctuation, , , they have to be because the reader cannot easily do without them. Sending out the wrong signals is misdirecting the reader or often momentarily delaying the coding process." (p. 120)

Sometimes, first language (L1) interference causes problems in choosing correct punctuation marks. According to Koch (1983), the Arabic punctuation system does not follow the same rules as its English counterpart. Students are sometimes confused between the Arabic and English systems of punctuation; when students fail to choose the right punctuation, they will struggle to convey their ideas.

Spelling, the second aspect investigated in this research, also has an impact on students' writing. Even native speakers of the English language have problems with spelling (Bebout, 1985). Students sometimes avoid using certain words that they cannot spell, thereby limiting their vocabulary and failing to express themselves clearly. Moreover, some students may paraphrase what they want to write if they are unable to spell the words. For Arab learners, the English spelling system causes a great deal of uncertainty (Harmoush, 2000). As Atwneh noted, English is based on phonetic pronunciation, yet many English words are not spelled as they are pronounced (cited in Almarwany, 2008). Harmoush (2002) also confirms that the first problem confronting Arabs who are learning English are its unfamiliar sounds and symbols and its spelling. Teachers should address these problems before students start writing sentences. From this perspective, it has been demonstrated that some EFL/ESL Arab learners have problems in spelling that they do not know how to solve.

This study is significant in many ways. It begins by identifying problems in writing mechanics in punctuation and spelling faced by COLT students. The results of the study will help language instructors determine the needs of students in solving writing mechanics problems. This study, moreover, will help decision makers at COLT realize that their students have serious problems with the mechanics of writing. The study encourages decision makers at COLT to evaluate the content of writing textbook, and to determine if these books are solving the identified problems. Since COLT is developing computer software to independently teach all language skills, this study may help experts to design software that can improve students' writing abilities. …

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