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Error And Related Terms English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2484 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In teaching practice of English language, teachers often encounter terms such as error, mistake, slip etc. They are linguistically different terms for the teacher whose knowledge of English is very important. Similarly, students who learn English as a foreign language should have a good grasp of the terms and their usage, meaning and weight. Therefore it is necessary to familiarize with the terms.


„If a student cannot self-correct a mistake in his or her own English, but the teacher thinks that the class is familiar with the correct form, we shall call that sort of mistake an error” (Edge, 1989, p.10).

James (1998, p. 83) says that „errors cannot be self-corrected until further relevant (to that error) input (implicit or explicit) has been provided and converted into intake by the learner. In other words, errors require further relevant learning to take place before they can be self-corrected.”

Literary sources indicate various breakdowns of errors according to various criteria.

James (1998) divides errors into three groups: 1.Substance errors, 2. Text errors and 3.Discourse errors. Each group contains four types of errors: (1. mispronunciations, misspellings, misperceptions, miscues; 2. misspeaking, miswriting, mishearing, misreading; 3. misrepresenting, miscomposing, misconstrual, misinterpretation). The author goes on to say each of the twelve types of errors allows further classification, in terms of the five categories: omission, redundancy, misselection, misordering and blends.

Other transparent division of errors along with examples is provided in an article published on the Internet under the title Study on – ERROR ANALYSIS (cit. 2012-09-25). Authors divide errors in this article as follows: omission errors, addition errors, misformation errors, misordering errors.

Omission errors are defined by the lack of an item that must appear in a well-formed utterance. Language students omit grammatical morphemes much more frequently than content words (E.g. Spanish use many countries.).

Addition errors are defined by the occurrence of an item which must not appear in a well-formed utterance. Three sorts of addition errors are: Double markings : (E.g. He didn’t went back.); Regularization : (E.g. eated for ate, childs for children); Simple additions : (E.g. The shipes doesn’t live in the water.)

Misformation errors are defined by the use of the incorrect form of the morphemes or structure. The sorts of errors are: Regularization errors: (E.g. The lion eated the chicken.); Archi-forms : (E.g. I see her yesterday. Her dance with my father.); Alternating forms: (E.g. He seen her yesterday.);

Misordering errors are defined by the wrong placement of a morpheme or set of morphemes in an utterance (E.g. She does not know what is that.).

According to the article Significance of Error Analysis in Language Teaching and Learning published on the Internet (cit. 2012-09-22) the errors can be divided as follows: I. Area: This means an error related to some special part of language. It can be divided into: 1. Phonological error: These are the errors of pronunciation. E.g. in a word like ‘driver’ the last ‘r’ should not be pronounced fully. If this is done, it is a phonological error. 2. Lexical error: These are the errors related to words. E.g. ‘air-conditioned house’. Here, ‘ed’ is not required. So this is a lexical error. 3. Grammatical error: These are errors related to problem with syntax. E.g. “They prefer juice than tea.” 4. Semantical error: These errors are due to the ambiguity of meaning. E.g. “He is like tea.” Here, meaning is not clear. 5. Spellings: Due to wrong spellings, the meaning is either not clear or is totally changed. E.g. “She is my sun.” II. Comprehensibility: These errors are divided into two groups: 1. Global error: in which meaning is not clear at all. E.g. “They hope you wont mind if they sit there.” “Yes yes.” 2. Local error: where meaning is clear, but still it is a wrong expression. E.g. “My wife is a beautiful.”

The above division shows that the mere statement that an issue is an error is insufficient and the error needs to be properly identified. This knowledge will ultimately help teachers determine which area of language is the most difficult for students and focus on it in further educational process.


According to James (1998) the major difference between an error and mistake is also based on the notion of corrigibility. If the student can self-correct after using an wrong expression or utterance, we are talking about a mistake. In contrast, when the student makes an unintentionally deviant utterance and cannot self-correct, she or he committed an error.

Edge (1989) splitted the mistakes into two groups: the mistake that occurs when a speaker uses a correct piece of language (linguistic form) that doesn`t mean what the speaker wanted to mean and the mistake which occurs when the speaker uses a correct linguistic form which is socially intolerable – the big dilemma here being one of politeness.

„If a simple indication that there is some deviance is a sufficient prompt for self-correction, then we have a first-order mistake. If additional information is needed, in the form of the exact location and some hint as to the nature of the deviance, then we have a second-order mistake” (James, 1998, p. 83).

“When teachers talk about mistakes, they usually mean mistakes of linguistic form”(Edge, 1989, p. 4). „When we talk about mistakes of form, we are comparing something in the student`s English with standard English” (Edge, 1989, p. 7).

According to the author, the most significant kind of mistake is a mistake that leads to a misunderstanding (Edge, 1989).

Some authors in their work also used the term “covert mistake”. Bartram and Walton (1991, p. 39) define it as follows: „A covert mistake is when the student says something which is correct, but is not what they meant.” These authors also add that it is more significant to give the learners information about the covert mistake (like any mistake) rather than necessarily leap in with a correction – but only if the point is genuinely useful, and only if the learner is not going to be corrected automatically by the following conversation (Bartram, Walton, 1991).

Mistakes might be considered as being natural. They might be natural in mother`s tongue; conversely, they might be necessary in learning a target language. We have to realise that it is essential for lecturers as well as students to admit mistakes as the part of the educational process.


According to James (1998) slip or lapse of the ballpoint or tongue can rapidly be detected and self-corrected by their author unaided. Example of slip: „My father was a farmer. he wanted me to be a doctor.” Edge (1989, p. 9).


„When the teacher knows that the students have not yet learned the language necessary to express what they want to say, we can call their mistakes attempts. When it is not clear what the students want to mean, or what structure they are trying to use, we can also call these mistakes attempts” (Edge, 1989, p. 10). Example of attempt: „I wish I went my grandmother`s house last summer.”


Contemporary linguistics recognizes several theories that address the issue of errors. Error Analysis is the third of the important theories dealing with errors in L2 acquisition. This is a theory replacing the Contrastive Analysis which was abandoned by linguists and lecturers due to its ineffectivity and unreliability.

„The fact that learners do make errors, and that these errors can be observed, analyzed, and classified to reveal something of the system operating within the learner, led to a surge of study of learners` errors, called error analysis” (Brown, 2000, p. 218).

„Error analysis is the process of determining the incidence, nature, causes and consequences of unsuccessful language” (James, 1998, p. 1). This analysis contains four stages: error detection, error location, error description, error classification.


The first stage is when errors are detected and therefore James (1998) terms it error detection. Firstly we have to collect a set of works produced by a L2 learners. A sentence is usually taken as an essential part of analysis and than the teacher himself or herself points out the suspicious or potentially erroneous utterances. Teacher decides if the utterance in question is really erroneous or not.


The next phase is called error location and it is when the teacher locates the error. James (1998) argues that we cannot locate some errors easily because they can be diffused throughout the sentence or the whole text and appear only after the whole text is carefully examined.


The third step is error description. It is obvious that a learner’s language has to be described in terms of some language system. James (1998) argues that the grammar used for the description must be comprehensive, simple, self-explanatory, easily learnable and user-friendly.


And finally, the last stage is error classification or categorization (James, 1998). We can categorize errors for example into dictionaries or taxonomies. A great model of up-to-date dictionaries of errors is Turton’s (1995) ABC of Common Grammatical Errors, which includes not only grammatical errors, but lexical as well. Another one is that of Alexander (1994), based on his own database of over 5,000 items collected during his ELT career.

There are a lot of ways to classify the errors. Teachers have to choose the specific way that fits not only for them but for their students as well.


Identification of sources of error is often linked with the process of “error classification” which is part of Error Analysis. “By trying to identify sources we can take another step toward understanding how the learner`s cognitive and affective processes relate to the linguistic system and to formulate an integrated understanding of the process of second language acquisition” (Brown, 2000, p. 223).

According to Brown (2000) the most frequent sources of errors are: interlingual transfer and intralingual transfer.


The first source of errors is interlingual transfer. This transfer (i.e. mother-tongue influence, causes interlingual errors) is according to Brown (2000) an important source of errors for all students. „They are very frequent at the initial stages of L2 learning since the L1 is the only language system the learner knows and can draw on and therefore negative transfer takes place. We have all heard English learners say „sheep” for „ship”, or „the book of Jack” instead of „Jack`s book”; French learners may say „Je sais Jean” for „Je connais Jean”, and so forth. All these errors are attributable to negative interlingual transfer” (Brown, 2000, p. 224).

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The second source of errors is intralingual transfer. Intralingual negative transfer or interference is the source of intralingual errors. Brown (2000) gives overgeneralization as a representation of negative intralingual transfer. This transfer, or overgeneralization, is illustrated in such expressions as „Does Mary can sing?” or „She goed…”. For exampe, in the first expression the student overgeneralizes the use of auxiliary verbs in the question.


As a school work containing an error is an essence of correcting process in teaching English in Slovak schools, the issue needs to be addressed adequately. Language pedagogists changed their opinions over the years. At present we see shifting from direct, directive correction of errors by teachers to creation of conditions for self- correcting process and thus forming responsibility for correcting errors is vested to students.

Edge (1989) adds three ways of correction: self-correction, peer correction, teacher correction.

Correction of errors by teachers is often used in written works. This approach is typical or traditional for Slovak teachers.

Edge (1989) believes that teacher correction is used when neither the students himself nor other students are able to correct the mistake. But the teacher does not have to give the correction straight away. Teacher can just help students to find the mistake or the right answer.

Accoridng to Fanselow mentioned by Pokrivčáková et al. (2008) a teacher has six options how to respond to errors in the speech of students’ language.

a.) Teacher listens and does not respond to an error immediately. He/She gives students time to think. The silence of a teacher is deemed a signal of an error for students / class and an opportunity to find it and fix it.

b.) In case of repeated occurrence of identical errors, especially in the language area, teacher specifies grammar rules or other regulations to students. Teacher however does not correct mistakes of students.

c.) In addition to his/her opinion on student’s error and correcting, teacher explains circumstances that may lead to similar errors.

d) Teacher imitates an error.

e.) When practising a certain phenomenon teacher penalises student, whereby he/she does not put aside positive assessment of student who comprehends the target phenomenon/fact.

f) Teacher provides a model / model form of correct expression to students.


Teachers can use ‘correction code’ in their correction process. According to Pulverness (cit. 2012-09-21) ‘correction code’ is a set of letters and symbols which make it clear what kinds of errors students have made. Examples of symbols: g = grammar; p = punctuation; v = vocabulary (wrong word); prep. = preposition; ? = I don’t understand what you have written. Please explain.; Sp = spelling; w.o. = word order; T = wrong verb tense; wf = wrong form; n = number / agreement (singular vs. plural); ^ = something missing; Ø = not necessary. Teachers may prefer to use more or fewer symbols and to create some of their own.


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