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Contrastive and Error Analysis

Contrastive and Error Analysis

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Published by: Aan Safwandi EmoTicore on Dec 10, 2010
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Contrastive and error analysis: Methodology of language teaching
Posted by bichhuyen on Aug 22, 2009 - 03:45 PM (3217 Reads)
For a Chinese learner of English, the third person singularform and the plural ending '-s' or '-es' are the commonsources of errors, even though both forms are the very basicitems to learn in English and superficially simple.Thisdifference in only one system between the two languages hasalready been a great source of error for the learners betweenthe two languages. This brings out the major concern of contrastive analysis and error analysis (CA and EA) inapplied linguistics for second or foreign language teaching.
For a Chinese learner of English, the third person singular form and the plural ending '-s'or '-es' are the common sources of errors, even though both forms are the very basic itemsto learn in English and superficially simple. '-S' or '-es' endings are readily dropped in both the written and spoken forms of English for a Chinese learner. The reason isobvious: in Chinese, the plurality of the NP is encoded in the preceding numerals or determiners. Thus 'two sisters' becomes 'two sister' (liang zimei
), 'five boxes' (wuzhi hezi
), literally in English: 'five item box'. 'Zhi' is a kind of measurementclassifier indicating a kind of 'unit' of the referent. This is also something special in theChinese language, and may cause similar difficulty for an English learner of Chinese.This difference in only one system between the two languages has already been a greatsource of error for the learners between the two languages. This brings out the major concern of contrastive analysis and error analysis (CA and EA) in applied linguistics for second or foreign language teaching.Contrastive linguistics owes its origin to the American linguist C. C. Fries who stated in1945 thatThe most effective materials are those that are based upon a scientific description of thelanguage to be learned, carefully compared with a parallel description of the nativelanguage of the learner.#This assumption was taken up by Robert Lado more than ten years later in his Linguisticsacross Cultures in which the theoretical foundation of CA was laid down. CA was further developed in Europe in the seventies when several projects on CA were actually carriedout (van Els et al 1984). Although it is said that CA project rarely meet their objectives, Ithink that CA is still an indispensable and significant part in the field of appliedlinguistics for a very simple and obvious reason that human languages are different (inspite of the theoretical claim that there is the universality of all languages whose
empirical aspects are still far away in the future). When an interaction takes place between two languages, e.g. L2 learning or translation etc. their differences willinevitably play an important part. The phenomenon like ‘foreign accent’ is one of theexamples. The criticism that CA gains no fruitful result can be viewed from two differentangles: world-wise and individual-country-wise. Most critics are from the former  perspective, expecting that a ‘universal’ contrastive grammar of some sort should finally be produced from CA, predicting all difficulties that L2 learner may have so that thecorresponding teaching materials can be designed, e.g. Wilkins (1968) poses a rhetoricalquestion:Yet, is it true that by listing the areas of differences between languages are listing all thelinguistic difficulties that will occur?In reply, James (1971) says that while maintaining that first language is a source of interference in L2 learning, CA has never claimed that it is the only source. As a matter of fact, CA has been practiced in different L2 learning classrooms in L1 environments indifferent countries throughout the world. Considering that most of the L2 textbooks (atleast at elementary and intermediate level) are written with L1 explanation. Manystudents would prefer a bilingual teacher with their mother tongue knowledge than amonolingual L2 teacher, especially for learners of elementary and intermediate level.This implies that CA has always naturally been a part of teaching-learning strategies, if not all. Now let us first look at the objectives of CA, its psychological basis and linguisticcomponents, then look at another field of enquiry, i.e. error analysis and finally concludesome arguments for the futures developments of CA.CA nowadays has been commonly recognized as a branch of applied linguistic science.As the terms suggests, CA, by definition, means systematic comparison of specificlinguistic characteristics of two or more languages. Its objectives are summed in van Elset al (1984:38) at the followings:a) Providing insights into similarities and differences between languages; b) Explaining and predicting problems in L2 learning;c) Developing course materials for language teaching.The first objective has a close relation with translation theory; the other two are its pedagogical application. It is this pedagogical application which has met with the mostcriticism which is mainly thata) CAs predict L2 learning problems which do not occur; b) CAs turns out not to predict learning problem which do occur (op cit: 50)
Both are equal to saying that CA can not predict all linguistic problems in L2 learning.As we have mentioned above, this criticism has gained its ground on the oversimplifiedexpectation of CA and mainly directed at the Strong Version of CA which claims that L2learning problems can be predicted on the basis of linguistic differences between L1 andL2 (op cit). There is another claim of CA which is called the Weak Version: someobserved L2 learning problems can be explained on the basis of linguistic differences between L1 and L2 (op cit). The Weak Version takes a posteriori, i.e. back looking pointof view and was criticised by van Els et al (op cit) as not scientific because of lacking predictive power. But this view, I think, is close to the field of Error Analysis which, after CA has actually gained more favourable pedagogical implication. I shall discuss this inthe later section.\##To say that CA will predict all problems in L2 learning is of course an oversimplifiedhypothesis, but to deny that CA can actually predicted L2 learning problems is also notscientific. Among the Chinese learners of English, error in the number and tense system,in article usage are highly predictable. As I mentioned at the beginning of the essay, thedropping of ‘-s’ or ‘-esis frequently found, even at the very advanced level andespecially in spoken forms. The following sentence is taken from a composition written by a Chinese science postgraduate student who has come to study in Britain:So they began to settle down in a certain place, started to plant crop, while the crop weregrowing they managed to feed animal so that they can have the animal to eat withoutoften going out for hunting.The missing of '-s' after the countable nouns of generic reference shows the Englishmorphological pluralization of nouns is not so easy acquired by the Chinese students.Tense system is another notorious problem for the Chinese students. Here are theexamples taken from the similar composition:… As the time past, they found that the resources of animal and fruit are used up…. Thelife at that period is uncertain .We notice that even in a very clear context as to what tense should be used, the student just picks up the unmarked, which is the easiest things to do. The composition was probably written under an examination condition when there was little time for thestudent to ponder upon the unfamiliar morphological change and the writing in this casedirectly reflects the way he speaks English. Obviously, if more training and practising inthese areas were given to the Chinese student errors of these kinds are avoidable. We canalso imagine that errors as such are not easily found among French learners of English,whose language, on the whole is similar in these systems.The psychological basis of CA is Transfer Theory which is the assumptions in psychology that a previously learned skill or task tends to interfere with the learning of asecond task or skill. This is automatically applied to language learning which has been sofar commonly recognized as learning of skill rather than knowledge. There are 'negative'and 'positive' transfer distinctions. The former refers to the transfer of an element in L1

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