Faculty of legal and business studies Dr Lazar Vrkatic

Novi Sad
English language

Error Analysis

Professor:

Student:

Dr Vesna Pilipovic

Dunja Uzelac M52/13
November 2013.
Novi Sad

Contents
Introduction......................................................................................................................................2
Errors and Mistakes.........................................................................................................................3
Identifying and Describing Errors...................................................................................................4
Sources of Errors.............................................................................................................................5
Correction of Errors.........................................................................................................................6
Critics of Error Analysis..................................................................................................................7
Conclusion.......................................................................................................................................8
Bibliography....................................................................................................................................9

1

Introduction

Second language acquisition is a process where people learn a language that is not their
mother tongue. Researchers started analyzing this process in the second half of the twentieth
century. In 1950s Contrastive analysis tried to compare all elements of the first (L1) and the
second language (L2). They concentrated on the interference of the first language on the second
language. In the second language acquisition it is very common that learners make errors.
Contrastive analysis, which was based on behavioral theory, described language learning as habit
formation, and believed that errors should be avoided, because they could become habits. The
problem with contrastive analysis was that it couldn’t predict errors, and it was criticized in
1970s.
In 1960s, error analysis was established by Stephen Pit Corder as a method in second
language acquisition which studies, analyzes and organizes the types and causes of language
errors. It was established as an alternative to the contrastive analysis. Corder rejected the idea of
second language acquisition being a habit and described it as a creative process of constructing a
language system, which made making errors inevitable and necessary. Error analyses also
explained that learners don’t make errors only because of their native language, but as a result of
the same overall learning process as well. Learner’s errors provide the evidence that the second
language acquisition is a cognitive process and not a habit, as it was thought before.

2

Errors and Mistakes
Mistakes that learners are making during the process of second language acquisition can
be divided into errors and mistakes. There is a huge difference between them and it cannot be
ignored. Mistakes are performance errors. They occur when a learner fails to perform what he
knows. It means that learner’s system is correct, but that in some particular moment he was not
able to use it correctly due to fatigue, emotional strain or other factors. These deviations are
made by foreign language learners as well as by native speakers, who can correct them very
easily.
Errors represent gaps in learner’s knowledge. They can be caused by incorrect or partial
learning system, which means that a learner does not know how to use language elements
correctly. It can also be the result of interference of the first language system, which is known to
the learner, to the second language system, which learner does not know yet.
The difference between errors and mistakes can be determined by checking the
consistency of the learner’s performance. If a learner uses incorrect forms consistently, it is most
probably an error. But if the learner’s performance is not consistent and he sometimes uses a
deviance and sometimes a correct form, it can be interpreted as a mistake.
Other criteria by which the distinction between errors and mistakes can be done is the
self-correction. While mistakes can be self-corrected by the learner, errors cannot be, due to lack
of knowledge.
Although these methods can be used to distinct between errors and mistakes, it is not
always easy, or even possible. For example, learners can consistently use some features in some
contexts and consistently fail to use it in others (Ellis, 2003, p.18).
The fact that learners make errors which can be analyzed and used in teaching of a
second language led to error analysis study, which is distinguished from contrastive analysis by
its examination of errors caused not just by interference of the mother tongue, but by other
sources as well (Brown, 2007, p.259).
3

Identifying and Describing Errors
The first step in analyzing errors is identifying and describing them. Corder provided a
model for identifying errors by which any sentence can be analyzed for idiosyncrasies. There are
several categories for describing errors.
The major distinction is between overt and covert errors. Overt errors are ungrammatical
at the sentence level while covert are grammatical at the sentence level, but are incorrect in the
context of communication. For example, if a learner says: “He are fine.” It is ungrammatical at
the sentence level and this error is overt. If a learner says: “He is fine.” This sentence is
grammatical, but it is not correct if it is an answer to the question: “Who is he?” In this case,
sentence is incorrect in the context of communication and this is a covert error.
Errors can also be divided into omission, addition, substitution and ordering (Brown,
2007, p.262). Omission is leaving out some important elements of language such as the articles
or -s for plural nouns. Addition is adding some elements that are not necessary or are incorrect
such as adding –ed to irregular verbs, or using both modal and verb to be. This occurs because
learners overgeneralize some rules. Substitution occurs when one element is substituted with
another similar, for example: “I lost my road.” Finally, ordering is incorrect order of the words in
a sentence (He is dear to me friend.).
There are also global and local errors. Global errors are more serious than local errors.
Global errors violate sentence structure and they can prevent the hearer to comprehend the
message. These errors should be corrected in oral practices, because they cause problems in
processing the message. Local errors are miner and they affect only some parts of a sentence, but
do not make problems in understanding the message.
The last categorization makes difference between domain and extent. Domain is the
broadness of context that must be analyzed in order to understand the error. Extent is a linguistic
unit that has to be changed in order to fix the error. In the example ‘’a scissors’’ the domain is the
phrase and the extent is the indefinite article.

4

Sources of Errors
An important step in error analysis is discovering the sources of errors. Errors were
assumed to be result only of interference of the first language, but studies have shown that there
are other reasons for making errors. Brown (2007) states that there are four major sources of
errors.
The first source of errors is interlingual transfer. Errors are caused by the interference of
the learner’s mother tongue. A learner is transferring his habits from his mother tongue to the
second language and makes mistakes. The most vulnerable stages are the beginning stages of
learning, because the only familiar linguistic system is the native language. If the teacher knows
the learners first language, he can detect the source of error more easily.
The second source of errors is intralingual transfer. In this type of errors there is no
interference of other languages, but only the influence of one target language item upon another.
These errors result from the partial or faulty learning of the language. Learners have tendency to
overgeneralize some rules and use them incorrectly. For example, a learner may say “mans”
instead of “men” as the plural form of “man”. These types of errors make both foreign language
learners and the children that are acquiring their mother tongue.
Third source of errors is context of learning, although it overlaps both types of transfer.
Context may represent a classroom with a teacher or a textbook. Students often make errors
because of a misleading explanation, faulty presentation, or even the incorrect information
provided by the teacher or the book.
Sometimes, learners make errors by using the production strategies in order to
communicate and send the message. This is called communication strategy.

Correction of Errors
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The last step in error analysis is the correction of errors. First, a teacher has to identify
the problem and discover the source of error. He also has to decide which errors should be
corrected and which method should be used. Usually, analysts are more interested in written
forms of errors than in errors made in communication, which are tolerated and regarded as
natural outcome of the development of communication skills. Different kinds of errors require
different treatments and different type of feedback, which are provided by the teacher.
Teachers usually give priority to some types of errors. Errors that are corrected are those
that may affect communication or cause misunderstanding. These are global errors. Local errors
usually don’t need to be corrected, as the message is clear.
There is also a distinction between correction and improvement. Correction refers to the
process of bringing the student’s language to the grammatically correct level, while improvement
refers to the process of bringing student’s composition to a higher level and improving his skills
(Huang).

Critics of Error Analysis
6

Error analysis has been criticized for a number of practical problems connected to the fact
it tried to gather knowledge of language learning process by examining the learner’s output. This
output is insufficient for determining whether the deviation is error or mistake, which type of
error it is, or what is its source.
Another problem with the error analysis is a danger of teacher becoming so preoccupied
with noticing and correcting errors that he doesn’t even notice the correct usage of language.
Ignoring correct outputs or any other aspect of learning process means leaving out important
sources of information that could be important for describing the acquisition process.
Studies have shown that error analysis fails to account for the strategy of avoidance. If
the learner does not know some elements of a language, he avoids them and uses some other
structures that he has knowledge of. This absence of errors does not reflect native like
competence and it does not mean that the learner does not have problems with language
acquisition (Brown, 2007, p.259).

Conclusion
7

Error Analysis is one of the major topics in the field of second language acquisition
research. They are an integral part of language learning and a natural outcome of the
development of communication skills. As a result of error analysis study, we can say that errors
are no longer seen as “unwanted forms”. Instead errors can be accepted as an indication of some
kind of learning activity.
The basic task of error analysis is to describe how learning occurs by examining the
learner's output and this includes his correct and incorrect utterances. Observing errors in
children’s first language acquisition helps second language learners to generalize their language
systems. By tracing the records of errors, we can see student’s progress and help them improve
their language learning.

Bibliography
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Brown, H. D. (2007). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. New York:


Pearson Education.
Ellis, R. (2003). Second Language Acquisition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Huang, J. Error Analysis in English Teaching: A Review of Studies. Retrieved November
7, 2013, from

http://lib.csghs.tp.edu.tw/%E4%B8%AD%E5%B1%B1%E5%A5%B3%E9%AB
%98%E5%AD%B8%E5%A0%B1%E7%AC%AC%E4%BA%8C%E6%9C%9F/03ERROR
%20ANALYSIS.pdf

Şanal, F. Error-Analysis Based Second Language Teaching Strategies. Retrieved
November 7, 2013, from

http://www.sosyalbil.selcuk.edu.tr/sos_mak/articles/2008/20/FSANAL.PDF

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Error_analysis_(linguistics)

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