Error Analysis in New Language Acquisition

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2010

11 Seiten, Note: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Error Analysis

3. Sample of Learner Language
3.1. Method and Data
3.2. Learner Background
3.2.1 Description of the First Learner
3.2.2 Description of the Second Learner

4. Description of Errors
4.1. First Learner
4.1.1 First Performance
4.1.2 Performance with preparation time
4.2. Second Learner
4.2.1 First Performance
4.2.2 Second Performance

5. Error Frequency Analysis
5.1. Effects of Preparation Time and Breaks
5.2. Similarities and Differences

6. Conclusion

7. Works Cited:

1. Introduction

It is natural that learners who want to acquire a new language make mistakes or errors. You can even say that it is necessary to have errors in your own produced utterances. But the most important step in understanding and learning language is to reconsider the mistakes made, to understand what is wrong and to get to know the correct version. Moreover, errors are necessary to understand how second language acquisition works and this is the reason why error analysis is an important and interesting method to analyze and understand learner language, especially for future teachers (cf. Richard 1974: 189).

Ellis and Barhuizen (2005: 62), drawing on second language investigator Corder, distinguishes between errors and mistakes: a mistake involves only the “difficulty of processing forms that are not yet fully mastered” whereas the errors outline whole gaps in the learner´s L2 knowledge. Nevertheless, this term paper will not distinguish between errors and mistakes.

In the following work I am going to conduct an error analysis of an oral presentation made by second language learners of English. Following the guidelines of Ellis and Barkhuizen (2005: 57), there are five elementary steps when conducting an error analysis: Firstly, the collection of a sample, afterwards the identification, description, explanation and evaluation of errors. In the following term paper, I will especially focus on the identification, description and interpretation of errors. The interpretation involves a search for similarities and differences in the errors made by both learners. Do second language learners with different levels of English make the same amount and types of mistakes?

In the second part I want to concentrate on the effect of breaks and preparation time on the number of errors. In contrast to their first performance, the learners had time to prepare their second performance in order that I can see how this preparation time influences their oral presentation and, moreover, if breaks within the presentation improve concentration and, therefore, result in fewer mistakes? Finally, I want to draw a conclusion as to what I found out and give an idea of how further studies on the same topic could be like.

2. Error Analysis

Error Analysis, used in second language analysis, studies the errors that learners produce in their spoken and written language (cf. Ellis & Barkhuizen 2005: 51). In addition, it also studies the different types of errors and why they were made. Error analysis was invented in the 1960´s as an alternative and preferred method to contrastive analysis, which examines the differences of the learner´s first language and the target language, as well as a prediction of errors that would occur (cf. Ellis & Barkhuizen 2005: 52). To conduct an error analysis, the investigator has to make a clear definition of error, like the one defined by Lennon (1991: 182): “A linguistic form or combination of forms which, in the same context and under similar conditions of production, would in all likelihood, not be produced by speakers´ native counterparts”.

Ellis and Barkhuizen (2005: 57), drawing on Corder (1974), divided the conduct of error analysis into five different steps: the first step involves the collection of a sample, which can be influenced by different factors - influenced by the learner, the language, as well as the production itself. After having collected a sample, the errors have to be identified by comparing the utterances to a native speaker-like reconstruction that the investigator has to prepare. Once the errors are identified, they have to be described in the form of the surface structure taxonomy and the linguistic taxonomy and that in comparison to the first taxonomy goes into more detail by describing the target language categories. Corder (1974: 128) describes the description of errors as a “comparative process” between the erroneous utterance and the reconstructed utterance. The Error Explanation has the task of investigating the sources of errors in order to find out why the learners make such mistakes. Even if second language researchers consider Error Explanation as the most important stage in error analysis (cf. Ellis and Barkhuizen 2005: 62), it is, unfortunately, a wide subject that is too detailed to conduct in this term paper. Error Evaluation, Error Correction and explanation of errors are additional parts that do not have to be included in every Error Analysis.

3. Sample of Learner Language

In the following section I am going to describe how I collected the data and which method of recording I chose.

3.1. Method and Data

As a consequence of the disturbances that video recording creates (especially for the learners) I decided to choose the audio recording method. Both recordings took place in the institute for physical education and, unfortunately, it was not possible to get a separate silent room. Consequently, there are some background voices within the performance. I recorded the oral data with my mobile phone which did not bother the participants.

The samples I collected are from two different learners who I chose because of their different proficiency level and their age difference. First of all I asked the learner to help me to analyze errors in retelling a picture story with their own words in English. After they agreed to it, I asked the learner about their experiences with the English language, and moreover, I wanted them to tell me in English something about their hobbies. I wanted to use this short introduction to accustom them to talking English in order to avoid any inhibitions or fears of talking in English.

For the performance itself, I provided various picture stories which the learners could choose from. Once they chose a story they had to immediately start describing the pictures in their own words. In the first case they had no time to prepare their performance. They had to tell it spontaneously and, in this way, unplanned. I did not interrupt them nor did I ask interposed questions within the oral presentation. However, I was with them during the whole performance. As far as I can see, this was actually helpful because I was able to give them some confidence by nodding and, thereby, acknowledging that they were doing well. In the second example we did some pre-task planning by discussing the pictures first and they had a time slot of five minutes to sort their ideas without using written notes. I conducted both methods, unplanned and planned. I was able to look at the effect of preparation time on errors.

3.2. Learner Background

3.2.1 Description of the First Learner

Learner 1 is 21 years old, already out of school for two years and studies a Bachelor of Education (physical education and mathematics), in the third semester. She has been to a secondary school and has successfully got her high school diploma even though English was not her favorite subject. Important to mention is that she has never been to an English spoken country. When I asked her if she still practices English sometimes, she answered that she does not really like to talk English because she only has a limited amount of vocabulary and, therefore, often has problems in expressing herself. That is the reason why she tries to avoid situations where she has to talk English. Nevertheless, she immediately agreed to the method of recording her oral presentation because I know her well and she is not afraid to talk English in my presence.

3.2.2 Description of the Second Learner

The Second Learner is 14 years old and her mother tongue language is also German. She is in the eighth grade and she has English lessons twice a week for two hours each time with an additional tutorial once a week. As a result she learns the language through instruction since she has never been to an English speaking country. She started learning English three years ago. The learner has no problems or shame to speak English even though she is aware of the fact that she makes a lot mistakes. She says about herself that she does not like English and is not talented in speaking languages.

4. Description of Errors

According to Ellis (2008: 50) the description of Errors compares the learner´s erroneous utterances with a native speaker like target language reconstruction. In the next section I am going to describe the errors by reference to the taxonomy tables (Appendix B).

4.1. First Learner

The first learner performed two different stories with the difference that the second performance involved a break and followed a pre-task planning.

4.1.1 First Performance

In the first example the learner made six mistakes in four different categories. The mistakes especially cover the use of wrong expressions (errors 3, 4, 5) as well as the category of possessive pronouns as can be seen in mistakes 2 and 4. Another typical mistake is the addition of an additional –s in the exceptional plural form of “children”.

4.1.2 Performance with preparation time

After discussing the second story I gave the participant the advice to use German words in case she did not know how to translate them into English. Thereby, I wanted to facilitate better fluency. As it can be seen in mistakes 7, 9 and 10 she uses German words three times. Except for these three vocabulary mistakes she only incorrectly uses the third person singular form three times (mistakes 8, 11 and 12).

4.2. Second Learner

The second learner performed similar stories in fewer time. In the following section the errors of Learner 2 are documented.

4.2.1 First Performance

The first performance involved seven mistakes even if the whole transcription only contained 59 words. Nevertheless, the learner seemed very self-confident and familiar with the situation of being recorded.

In mistakes 13 and 17 the learner had difficulties in using the right tense. In both cases she built mixed forms because she used the infinitive instead of the continuous form. Mistake 14 is a missing –s in the third person singular form. The following error 15 involved a blend by adding the redundant utterance “…from the one…” The last two mistakes involved the expression “himselves” (error 16, 18), which does not exist.


Ende der Leseprobe aus 11 Seiten


Error Analysis in New Language Acquisition
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
590 KB
error, analysis, language, acquisition
Arbeit zitieren
Andrea Letzel (Autor:in), 2010, Error Analysis in New Language Acquisition, München, GRIN Verlag,


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