Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Acquisition of English Prepositions among Malaysian Learners: A Case Study

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Acquisition of English Prepositions among Malaysian Learners: A Case Study

Article excerpt


Educationists are often in a predicament as to whether grammar should be taught formally, or whether it can be deliberately learned. This question is especially pertinent in Malaysia where there has been a general deterioration of grammar skills among English as a second language (ESL) learner. A prospective case study was carried out on seven Malay students from the International Islamic University Malaysia. The study sought to determine the extent to which students acquired English prepositions in the naturalistic setting in the written mode, the different types of errors, the use of alternative locative frames, and whether there was a specific pattern in the learning of prepositions. The study used writing tasks where students were required to write essays as well as make journal entries. Data was collected at six monthly intervals over three years. An analysis of students' use of prepositions was carried out to monitor progress. It was found that most subjects had improvements in their use of prepositions, with more errors of commission than omission. One of the most common errors was the unnecessary use of the phrase involving a preposition, 'for me'. Persistent errors could arise due to incomplete linguistic rule formation and transfer from the students' first language (L1). There were also instances of other words like adverbs being used instead of prepositions. The best improvement was seen in the prepositions 'for', 'in' and 'about'. These findings necessitate the need for corrective feedback on errors, and for grammar instruction to be compatible with the natural processes of acquisition.

Keywords: natural, acquisition, grammar, teaching, prepositions

1. Introduction

1.1 Prepositions in General

In English grammar, one of the most perplexing systems is the use of prepositions. The preposition says something about where a thing is (location) or moves (direction), in relation to a point of reference or landmark. Gass and Selinker (2001) contend that prepositions are among the most difficult items to master in a second language (L2). To compound the problem, some prepositions are roughly synonymous with others: they seem to have a relational meaning and this can cause difficulty to L2 speakers. Lindstromberg (1991) says that prepositions are simple, but sometimes, proper use and placing of prepositions pose a problem. The same form of prepositions may carry different meanings in different contexts. It has also been found that the higher the proficiency in L2, the better the acquisition of the language (Zhang & Widyastuti, 2010). Sinclair (1991) points out that most sentences in English include a preposition, with more than 100 prepositions in the English language. One of the most common errors that people learning English make is the use of the wrong preposition. Gyori (2005) indicates that functional elements like prepositions are general categorizations of relations between non-linguistic phenomena as perceived by people. He suggests that many prepositions categorise recurring patterns in our experience. Lindstromberg (1996) points out that prepositions are likely to have a few related literal meanings. There is a tendency to adopt one of these meanings as a psychological prototype, being regarded as a sort of best example. Apart from this, it has been claimed that some of the literal meanings of the preposition, more so the prototypical meaning, are modified with the use of metaphors to create a whole new set of meanings. Galleguillos (2013) found that students used several strategies to acquire prepositions like 'in', 'on', and 'at', like overgeneralization of basic uses, inference, application of rules, mental images, among others. Jayoung (2014) found that enhanced extensive reading can effectively contribute to EFL secondary school students' incidental acquisition of English prepositions.

Additionally, there may be differences in the prepositions of the students' first language (L1) and the L2. …

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