Error Analysis in SLA. An Investigation of Errors made by Polish Learners of English

Term Paper, 2010

16 Pages, Grade: 3,0

Tom Keller (Author)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Error Analysis and Contrastive Analysis

3. Errors

4. Steps in EA Research
4.1 Collection of Samples
4.2 Identification of Errors
4.3 Description of Errors
4.4 Explanation of Errors

5. Critics of Error Analysis

6. Conclusion

Works Cited List

1. Introduction

During the last several decades linguists have investigated the way of acquiring a second language. Learners have several ways of acquiring a language and the field of second language acquisition (SLA) tries to uncover and improve them.

When people try to learn a foreign language they produce a considerable amount of errors. These errors have always been made in the learning process and will never cease to occur. During the complex investigations of second language acquisition, linguists have focused on Error Analysis (EA) with its aim to take a deeper look on learner production. Around the late 60`s this particular analysis was established with an approach of Pit Corder. This system shows that errors should be investigated to understand and also improve the linguists attempts of learning a second language. Typical questions which arise are why learners make errors and what reasons do they have?

Before Pit Corder, linguists used the Contrastive Analysis (CA) which examines certain errors and refers to a particular connection between the first and the second language. The differences between these two types of analysis will be examined in detail in the following chapter.

Several steps are needed to analyze various errors in language. Investigators have developed procedures to collect, identify, describe, explain and lastly evaluate certain errors. These certain steps will be described and underlined with certain examples. I will investigate several language productions from Polish learners using the English language and try to uncover their errors. Using Error Analysis I will describe and explain the reasons for the error production. An interesting question will be whether the Polish speakers may have typical errors which could be related to their native language. Due to the numerous kinds of errors, it will be necessary to classify them and to relate them to certain reasons. Furthermore there exists a difference between an error and a mistake. It’s importance will be discussed later on.

Even though Error Analysis, initially offers helpful opportunities to investigate error production in a structured way, it has several disadvantages which were criticized in past decades.

In the end the conclusion will give an overview of the contents and summary the handled topics.

2. Error Analysis and Contrastive Analysis

Error Analysis gained its acceptance in the year 1967 when Pit Corder publicated his article called “The significance of learners` errors”. Through this publication linguists started to rethink their view on errors. Before Corders` article, linguists used the Contrastive Analysis which compared the linguistic differences between the first language and the second language of a learner. The main assumption of CA was that learners made errors by transferring their well-known habits from their first language (L1) to the new language (L2). This kind of error was referred to the use of interference. Errors generally occur when habits differ between the L1 and L2. The disadvantage of CA was the fact that it only concentrated on the native language of the leaner and the target language (Ellis 1994, 47). Errors were the result of differences between the two languages and CA had the aim to “[...] predict the areas in the target language that would pose the most difficulty” (Dulay/Burt/Krashen 1982, 140). Over time researchers found out that it was impossible that errors only occurred due to the influence of the native language (Dulay/Burt/Krashen 1982, 140). Furthermore linguists thought that errors, as such, are merely troublesome phenomenon’s which occur while learning a foreign language.

This point of view was changed totally because Corder`s view showed the opposite. Errors could very well be important and show the quality of a L2 learner. Gass & Selinker (2008) describe errors as “[...] red flags [...]” which provide a deeper look on a system of language learning. Errors are the evidence that learners try to figure out a particular system for the new language “[...] to impose regularity on the language the learner is exposed to” (Gass/Selinker 2008, 102). They were established as valuable research objects which help to show the level of knowledge of the learner. Additionally, EA simply explains learner errors more efficiently than CA (Dulay/Burt/Krashen 1982, 141). In CA “[...] errors were the result of the intrusion of L1 habits over which the learner had no control” (Larsen-Freeman/Long 1991, 61). On the other hand from the EA perspective, the learner takes an active instead of a passive role. The learner uses the input for the development of hypotheses which he is able to test and improve (Larsen-Freeman/Long 1991, 61).

In the end EA helped to improve the learning of a L2, with the opportunity to know why and when learners make errors. Teachers could finally find ways to help them and to develop new teaching strategies.

Furthermore EA showed that learners from different countries with their native languages make different errors in certain stages of the language learning. The reasons for this fact will be discussed later on.

3. Errors

By learning a new language learners produce errors from time to time in the fields of comprehension and production. Some can misunderstand utterances like “I live in Bergen” as “I live in Berlin” and are therefore possibly confused in further conversation.
Only because they simply don’t understand the pronunciation and cannot relate the spoken word to known knowledge, several problems might occur. Corder described the testing of comprehension errors as “'[...] very difficult to assign the cause of failures of comprehension to an inadequate knowledge of a particular syntactic feature of a misunderstood utterance'” (Ellis 194, 47). Furthermore there are existing production errors which are produced by L2 learners and by children who learn their first language. Errors like “I going at the bus.” (=I am going to the bus) or “Did you saw the dog?” (=Did you see the dog?) are typical in this stage of learning. In addition it is possible that native speakers who usually can speak a language perfectly, make errors by miss ordering word-orders like in the following phrase: “What you did do there?” But we have to differentiate errors between these groups which can be seen as unwanted forms (L2 learners), slips of the tongue (native adult speakers) and transitional forms (young L1 learners) (Ellis 1994, 47).

In addition the following distinction between errors and mistakes is important. Deviations in a language can be attributed to factors like a lack of knowledge (errors) or inattention (mistakes). In general mistakes happen only unintentionally. They “[...] are akin to slips of the tongue” (Gass/Selinker 2008, 102). Usually mistakes can be recognized and corrected by the speaker even during the production. On the other hand errors occur systematically. They belong to a particular system (interlanguage) and are produced by the learner who does not realize they are being made. “The learner in this case has incorporated a particular erroneous form (from the perspective of the TL) into his or her system” (Gass/Selinker 2008, 102). Therefore an example for a mistake could be a phrase like “He like chocolate” (=He likes chocolate) and for an error “I did ran down the road” (=I ran down the road). In conclusion mistakes occur only as “[...] one-time-only events [...]” whereas errors occur constantly (Gass/Selinker 2008, 102).

What Corder noted was the usage of errors. Therefore “[] errors could be significant in three ways: [...]” They can provide information about the level of knowledge of the learner, show the ways of learning a language and lastly learners can use them as a help to learn the rules of a language (Ellis 1994, 48).

4. Steps in EA Research

To analyze errors one has several steps to keep in mind. This research paper will focus on four particular steps developed by Corder (1974):

1. Collection of a sample of learner language
2. Identification of errors
3. Description of errors
4. Explanation of errors

The fifth point would be the evaluation of errors but I will only focus on the first four. There are also other sources which name six different steps. To understand what it means to analyze errors, the following chapters will explain the particular steps in more detail. In addition we will look at some particular examples how to work with these steps analyzing the English language use of Polish native speakers (Ellis 1994, 48).

4.1 Collection of Samples

First of all one has to decide what samples should be investigated and furthermore how they could be collected. There are three particular types of samples. The biggest sample, called the massive sample, consists of “[...] several samples of language use from a large number of learners [] which is representative of the entire population” (Ellis 1994, 49). The second type is the specific sample which “[...] consists of one sample of language use collected from a limited number of learners []” (Ellis 1994, 49). The last is the incidental sample which involves only one sample produced by one person. One very important fact which one should keep in mind, is that learners make certain errors because of certain influences. Learners with different native languages make different errors. These are reasons why investigators should consider a couple of particular factors. The following table shows the important factors:


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Error Analysis in SLA. An Investigation of Errors made by Polish Learners of English
Technical University of Braunschweig  (Englisches Seminar)
Second Language Acquisition
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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error analysis, english as a second language, sla
Quote paper
Tom Keller (Author), 2010, Error Analysis in SLA. An Investigation of Errors made by Polish Learners of English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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