Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Analysis of Spelling Errors of Saudi Beginner Learners of English Enrolled in an Intensive English Language Program

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Analysis of Spelling Errors of Saudi Beginner Learners of English Enrolled in an Intensive English Language Program

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study reports the types of spelling errors made by the beginner learners of English in the EFL context as well as the major sources underpinning such errors in contextual writing composition tasks. Data were collected from written samples of 122 EFL students (male and female) enrolled in the intensive English language programme during the preparatory year at the University of Ha'il in Saudi Arabia. Students were given 1.5 hours to write on one of four different descriptive topics related to their life and culture.

The spelling errors found in the writing samples was analysed and classified intofour categories of errors according to Cook's Classification: omission, substitution, insertion, and transposition. An analysis of errors established that errors of omission constituted the highest proportion of errors. The majority of learners' spelling errors were related to a wrong use of vowels and pronunciation. When uncertain about accurate spellings, beginner learners often associated a wide range of vowel and consonant combinations in an attempt to spell words accurately, sometimes even combining two distinct lexical items by overlapping vowels. The findings suggest that spelling errors are mainly the outcome of anomalies existing in the target language of the learners as well as L1 interference from their internalized Arabic language system.

Keywords: omission, substitution, insertion, transposition, overlapping errors

1. Introduction

In Saudi context, English is taught as a foreign language (EFL), in which students are supposed to master the four language skills. Teaching the skill of writing is one of the most challenging areas of language instruction and learning in the Saudi EFL context (Aljarf, 2007). As an important component of writing, spelling poses a major challenge to most beginner learners of English, resulting in misspelled words and incoherent sentences Hyland (2003). Hildreth (1962) observes that correct spelling is evidence of good manners and bad spelling may give the impression of inadequate education or carelessness. Bean and Bouffler (1987) claimed that, 'Standard spelling has assumed importance beyond the function it plays in written language. It has become the 'ticket' to the literacy club-the heir to the traditions and scholarly world of print'. Spelling is a communication tool, not an end in itself (Chandler-Olcott, 2001). Inaccurate spelling often sends a message that the writer is careless or less intelligent than other students (Granham & Harris, 2005).

In addition, it has been noted that many English language learners, including Arab students, have difficulties with English spelling (Al-zuoud, K. M., & Kabilan, 2013). These difficulties have been attributed to a number of causes, such as the differences in the orthographic system between Arabic and English, and first language (L1) interference. Moreover, these spelling difficulties cause many spelling errors which negatively affect the writing proficiency of Arab students (Saiegh-Haddad, 2004).

Addressing spelling errors should be an integral part of teaching English language. Bad spelling affects English sentence structure and causes the mispronunciation of words. Bowen (2011) emphasized the learning of spelling as a component of writing, not as the result of studying isolated words. Despite the importance of spelling in producing meaningful written texts, language programmes mostly focus on teaching listening, speaking, reading, writing, vocabulary building, and grammar and often neglect spelling instruction. We, as the researchers, claim that spelling in the Saudi context has not been given the priority it deserves.

2. Literature Review

The literature on spelling errors among students contains only some studies investigating the spelling difficulties which Arab students face in studying EFL. For example, Al-Jarf (2005) investigated the correlation between the spelling and listening comprehension of students and a decoding test in the Saudi context. …

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