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AN ITEM RESPONSE THEORATIC APPROACH
INDIAN STATISTICAL INSTITUTE, KOLKATA
INDIAN STATISTICAL INSTITUTE, KOLKATA
INSTITUTE OF ENGLISH, KOLKATA
Since the geniuses of the two languages, viz. Bangla, i.e., L1 and English, L2 are in many ways
different externally and because English is important in the Indian context –mainly as a language
for national discourse, higher studies, business, administration – the present study was
considered worthwhile as it aims to gauge the extent to which L1, i.e. mother-tongue or Bangla
interferes with the learning of English in the context of West Bengal (India). When English is
taught in West Bengal’s Bangla medium schools as L2, the students confront some major
problems and this hinders their learning of L2. Therefore, it is necessary to identify the linguistic
zones where the interferences occur and also determine the extent of encroachment/cohabitation
of these two languages. It is assumed that questions or items loaded with selected components (a
mismatch between L1 and L2) are expected to be relatively difficult for a learner. In the present
study, questions with differential loadings or mismatch have been identified and nature of the
difficulties of the items faced by students have been proved.
2.1. FACTORS INTERFERING LEARNING
The aim while constructing the questionnaire was to locate the areas of supposed mismatch
between the epiphenomenal parameters of LI & L2 and to find out the nature of actual classroom
The following suppositions were made:
1. Agreement: In English, there is a marked agreement between the number and person of
noun and verb. In Bangla, it is not so.
Word order: English follows Subject-Verb-Object sentence pattern. On the other hand
Bangla follows Subject-Object-Verb sentence pattern. (Component 2)
Passivization: English yields to Passivization, e. g. “Ram killed Ravan.”: “Ravan was killed
by Ram.” In Bangla no such transformation is generally
possible except in formal writing.
Tense: Perception of time as expressed in the two languages is different. For example, there
is no separate use or auxiliary verbs like “is/was/am” etc. in Bangla. Again, in Bangla, as per
perception of the speakers, /bolchilo/ “was saying” and / boleche/ “has said” both are considered
as past tense (perceptually, not grammatically) whereas in English there is a well defined
grammatical distinction between the immediate past and distant past. Here, we are not talking in
terms of prescriptive grammar but about the subjective perception of the native speaker
5. Tautology: Bangla speakers of English are often heard saying “cousin brother, return back,
actual facts” etc. In contrast, in English these are frowned upon as grammatical faults or
tautologous expressions. (Component 5)
6. Selectional Restrictions: English words are selectionally restricted to their place in a
sentence, e.g. “an” is used before “umbrella”, “you” and “is” are not compatible. Whereas in
Bangla, such tagging of articles or auxiliaries are not at all used. (Component 6)
Suppletion or internal change: In the case of affixations, there are a whole variety of
problems. To start with, there is the problem of suppletion. In English, lexical metamorphosis is
the order (good-better, go-went), while in Bangla they are rare. Then there is again the problem of
internal change In English (man-men, wife-wives etc.) Lastly, there is no overt plural marker in
some lexical items in English (sheep and deer). In contrast, overt plural markers are quite
common In Bangla. In this context the uniqueness of ox-oxen may be kept in mind. (Component
8. Yes-No Questions and WH-Questions: In Bangla often the gesture and intonation determine
the question structure, but in English the Wh has a fixed place in a question pattern – its mobility is
almost unknown. Moreover the auxiliary verb in English is always shifted to the beginning of the
sentence while framing “yes-no questions” (Component 8)
Keeping in mind areas of mismatch or difficulty and components stated before, a suitable
psychometric model was adopted to measure the learning achievement and component effect. It
was further assumed that the difficulty of an item is related to the nature and character of the
components already stated. For the purpose of our study the Rasch model was adopted. Items
were dichotomously scored; 1 for correct response and 0 for wrong response or no response. To
put it mathematically, response to an item i by an examinee j is denoted as uij. Learning
achievement is considered as a continuous variable θ. According to IRT, the probability of giving a
correct response to i by an examinee with ability θj is defined as Item Characteristic Function
(ICF) and represented by
Pi(θ j) = P(uij =1|θj) ……………………… (1)
For Rasch Model the ICF is given as
Pi(θ j) = [1+e-(θ j -bi) ] -1………………………(2)
Where bi is the difficulty parameter of i it is expected that the ICF would be a monotonically
increasing function, at least non-decreasing with respect to θ. It may be mentioned that the
difficulty parameter bi is not sample dependant under IRT. In the case of classical and
conventional testing theory, the difficulty of an item is defined as proportion of responses, and this
is definitely sample dependant (Lord, Norick, 1968).
The important assumption associated with IRT is the axiom of local independence. According to
this assumption, for the given ability level θ items are statistically independent of each other. If the
response pattern of n value of an examinee with ability θ; is denoted by a vector as vi = (u1j, u2j, …,
unj). Then the assumption of local independence can be expressed as:
Prob (uij = uij, ……., unj = unj|θi) = ∏ Prob (uij = ui|θi)
= ∏ Pi (θi)uijQi(θ1)1-uij………….(3)
where, Qi(θ) = 1- Pi(θ).
Likelihood function L of the data set with N examinees is given by
L = ∏ ∏ Pi (θi)uijQi(θ1)1-uij ………………..…(4)
j = 1 i= 1
Maximum likelihood estimators of parameters under the model (Hambleton et al, 1984) were
estimated by implementing the Newton-Raphson procedure (n item parameters and N ability
parameters). All parameters were expressed in the normal deviate scale, i.e., mean = 0 and
standard deviation = 1. The apriori assumption of the effect of components or Item difficulties is
represented through a binary matrix. [qij]. In this weight matrix, 1 indicates the presence of the
component in items i and 0 indicates absence of that component. According to Fischer (1973), the
matrix [qij] is called weight matrix and the effect of the component on the item is given as
bi = Σnqijλj+c ……………………………..(5)
where λj is the effect of component j and c is a scaling constant.
The above formulation is known as Linear Logistic Test Model. The difficulty parameter bi has
been estimated by the Newton-Raphson procedure and λj was estimated by coefficient of multiple
3. DATA COLLECTION
The questionnaire was framed with these factors in mind. Questionnaires prepared on the basis
of the above hypotheses, the raw data was collected from schools located in Kolkata and Howrah
(two adjacent districts of Kolkata) Eight parametric differences were arranged through fifty
questions (items) according to the supposed English-knowledge base of the concerned class.
The responses of about 500 students were obtained with the help of the questionnaire to support
the ad-hoc hypothesis.
The initial survey covered the industrial areas of Kolkata and Howrah --and concentrated on
schools and students from similar socio-economic background. Data regarding the
socio-economic background was also been collected but has been kept aside for future studies
and correlation. The schools selected for survey were those with Bangla as medium of instruction
where students mostly have little exposure to the English language outside the classroom. The
students were selected on the supposition that in learning English the mother tongue
interferences would be more pronounced in their cases.
Responding to the questionnaire took an average time of 45 minutes and the work was done by
the students themselves and without any prompting or external help.
4. RESULTS AND OBSERVATIONS.
It seems that this is a first step towards the understanding of L2 learning process of school-going
students. The multiple regression method, considering components as independent variables,
and difficulty of an item as a dependant variable, has been applied to indicate the effect of
components on the difficulty of an item. Correlation between difficulty values and components are
There are many positive correlations which are evident from the results. However in components,
5 (tautology) and 6 (selectional restrictions) correlations are low. Component 7 (suppletion,
internal change) indicates negative correlation.
Multiple correlation between dependent and independent variables appear to be considerably
high (.73). In other words, it can be stated that the weight matrix can explain almost 54%
variances of the difficulty parameter. Keeping in mind the complexity of language learning, it is to
be noted that the hypothesis is confirmed by the high value of the multiple correlation coefficient.
The regression coefficients are shown below:
bi = .76x1+1.21x2+1.95x3+.23x4+1.8x5+.11x6+.62x7+.20x8-0.149 …………..(6)
where bi is difficulty of item i and x1,………,x8 are components. All regression coefficients are
significant at 1% level.
Components 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7 happen to be relatively dominant in the context of other components.
Further, stepwise regression has been carried out and results are shown below:
bi = .74x1+1.05x2+1.21x3+1.40x5 - 1.09 ……………………………….(7)
From the results it is evident that four components 1, 2, 3 and 5 alone can explain the extent of
variance, explained in multiple regression with 8 variables. However, it is to be mentioned that
considerable amount of correlations exist among independent variables.
4. CONCLUSION: LINGUISTIC INFERENCES
The following inferences can be drawn from the results mentioned above:
From the results obtained, it is certain that where the idiomatic use of English is demanded,
the difficulty level is the highest. This only confirms the fact that Idiomatic usages are
culture-specific(context-sensitive) and greater attention should be paid to them when
pursuing the syllabus.
Question structures (WH and yes-no), passsivizations, word-order, tense and selectional
restrictions: these components have presented moderate difficulty. One reason could be the
mismatch between L1 and L2. Here the interference of L1 is obvious and hardly needs
Simple tenses and suppletion, internal changes have proved easy Items for examinees. The
possible reasons are (a) these tenses are without any riders attached. In other words they
are not determined by auxiliary markers. But, in cases where such markers are demanded,
the problem of tense (subjectively perceived time) has proved difficult. (b) in the case of
affixations, the uniqueness of words must have determined correct responses Conjecture
and guessing could have also played a part, e.g. good-better, not “gooder” man-men, not
“mans”, send-sent, not “sended”. But, in the case “acquire” wrong responses is common.
This is obviously because of the lack of familiarity with the word and because of distracters.
It may further be noted that the multiplicity of components in an item is not the determining
factor for a correct response. This is perhaps because of our gestalt way of learning a
language. A learner perceives language as a whole and not as something fragmented as
made out by grammarians.
Moreover, it is observable that items on affixations have proved easy. This Is perhaps
because greater emphasis is put on learning words rather than on learning sentence
In conclusion it should be noted that the performance on the whole is poor, 22.37 being the
average score. The presence of multiplicity of components in certain tasks, i.e., interaction effects
have not been investigated upon. Consideration of interaction effect may be helpful to explain
variants of different parameters by components.
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