Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Frequent Errors in Chinese EFL Learners' Topic-Based Writings

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Frequent Errors in Chinese EFL Learners' Topic-Based Writings

Article excerpt


This paper investigated a large number of errors found in the topic-based writings of Chinese EFL learners, especially provided an analysis on frequent errors, to find useful pedagogical implications for English grammar teaching and writing instruction in Chinese EFL setting. Students' topic-based writings were examined by the author. The findings suggest that misuse of tense and verb form was the most frequent error in Chinese students' writings. Others include those in spelling, use of particular words and phrases, Chinese-English expression, singular and plural form of nouns, parts of speech, non-finite verbs, run-on sentences, pronouns and so on. Teachers should pay due attention to all of the errors, especially those frequent ones, and try to find out what leads to those errors, thus, they may give their students effective grammar and writing instructions to help them with English learning.

Keywords: frequent error, topic-based writing, ungrammatical pattern, Chinese EFL learners, pedagogical implication

1. Introduction

Language teaching requires teachers to describe not only the target language (TL) but also the learners' version of the TL, which Corder (1971) called as learner's idiosyncratic dialect of the TL standard and Selinker (1972, 1992) called it their Interlanguage (IL). To describe learners' version of the TL, it is necessary to examine their utterances. Corder (1975, p. 207) pointed out that "the study of the whole performance data from individual learners" is performance analysis while "the study of erroneous utterances produced by groups of learners" is error analysis (EA). This paper is to provide an error analysis on Chinese learners' version of English in writing. Carl James (2001, p. 1) defined a language error as an unsuccessful bit of language. He pointed that learners' errors are a register of their current perspective of the TL (2001, p. 7). Corder (1967) made points that errors are significant in three aspects: they tell the teacher what needs to be taught; they tell the researcher how learning proceeds; and they are a means whereby learners test their hypotheses about the second language (L2). Johnson (2002, p. 59) argued that errors hold vital clues about the process of EFL learning, rather like the pain that may tell the doctor more than all the parts that do not hurt. All shows that teachers and learners will benefit from various forms of feedback on the errors, so it is necessary to focus on language learners' errors.

Errors are made by learners whether the language is spoken or written. English writing has become one of the important means to test English learning results. Accuracy is regarded as a significant criterion in assessment of English writing and plays an important role in the evaluation of English learning. However, in Chinese EFL learners' writings, errors are always a major factor to damage meaning and writing quality. Incorrect language use is reported as having negative impact on non-native speakers' perception of L2 writing quality (Johns, 1997; Johnson & Roen, 1989; Hinkel, 2002), therefore, it is significant to have writing errors analyzed.

James (2001) points out that error analysis is the study of linguistic ignorance, the investigation of what people do not know and how they attempt to cope with their ignorance. Learners' ignorance of TL can be expressed in terms of four categories: grammaticality (well-formedness), acceptability, correctness, strangeness and infelicity. Grammaticality involves forms, context-free, while acceptability involves contexts. It is grammar who decides whether something said or written by a learner is grammatical, and it is the users who decide whether an utterance is acceptable. Cross-classification of them gives four possible combinations (James, 2001): [+Grammatical (GR) +Acceptable (ACC)], [+GR -ACC], [-GR +ACC], [-GR -ACC]. Correctness is related to the prescriptive normative standards. A piece of language, like "with Tom and I", may be acceptable by native speakers at first, but reflection about it may lead to judge it is rejected because "with Tom and me" is correct. …

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