Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Error Analysis


What is Error Analysis?

“There is an Italian proverb ‘We can learn through our errors’…making mistakes can indeed be regarded as an essential part of learning.” (Norrish 1983).

Brown (1987) says that language learning, like any other human learning is a process that involves the making mistakes.

In order to understand the process of L2 learning, the mistakes a person made in the process of constructing a new system of language should be analyzed carefully. Here we can give the definition of EA as a process based on analysis of learners’ errors.

Corder (1987) explains the significance of learners’ errors in three different ways.

1.    The first to the teacher in that they tell him, if he undertakes a systematic analysis, how far towards the goal the learner has progressed, and consequently what remains for him to learn.

2.    Second, they provide to the researcher evidence of how language is learned or acquired, what strategies or procedures the learner is employing in his discovery of the language.

3.    Thirdly, (and in a sense this is their most important aspect) they are indispensable to the learner himself, because we can regard the making of errors as a device the learner uses in order to learn.

     Brown (1987) gives the definition of error analysis as follows:

‘The fact that learners do make errors and these errors can be observed , analyzed and classified to reveal some thing of the system operating within the learner led to a surge of study of learners’ errors, called Error Analysis.’

Error analysis developed as a branch of applied linguistics in the 1960s. It is of great importance in second language teaching. Error analysis may be carried out in order to 1) identify strategies which learners use in language learning; 2) try to identify the causes of learners' errors and 3) obtain information on common difficulties in language learning, as an aid to teaching or in the preparation of teaching materials. It is a multidimensional process which involves much more than simply analyzing errors of learners. EA becomes distinguished from CA in that it examines all possible sources of errors.

Contrastive Analysis (CA) and Error Analysis (EA)

CA was originally developed by Charles C. Fries (1945) and expanded and clarified by Robert Lado (1957). It systematically compares the similarities and differences between the native languages and the target languages systems and predicts the difficulties that learners might encounter when learning a new language. CA which has been a part of second language pedagogy (as cited in Chang, 1996), believes that the similarities of the two languages will facilitate learning whereas the differences will increase the learners’ difficulty to learn.

Later on, another part of second language pedagogy had been developed known as Error Analysis (EA). EA in terms of SLA was established in the 1960s by Stephen Pit Corder and colleagues. EA was an alternative to CA, an approach influenced by behaviorism through which applied linguists sought to use the differences between the learners' native and target languages to predict errors. A key finding of EA has been that many learner errors were produced by learners misunderstanding the rules of the new language. EA indicates that CA was unable to predict a great majority of errors. According to Weireesh (1991), EA is an important aid in learning process. The making of errors is used as a device to identify and explain difficulties faced by learners. He proceeded to say that EA serves as a reliable observation to design a remedial teaching method.

Although CA has sometimes been criticized for its inadequacy to predict transfer errors that learners make in actual learning contexts, it is still a useful method to explain the errors students have.

Difference between Errors and Mistakes

In order to analyze learners’ errors in a proper perspective, it is crucial to make a distinction between a “mistake” and an “error”. Errors are due to deficient competence so they tend to be systematic and not self correctable. Whereas mistakes or lapses are due to performance deficiencies and arise from lack of attention, slips of memory, anxiety possibly caused by pressure of time etc. They are not systematic and readily identifiable and self correctable. Errors are assumed to reflect the level of COMPETENCE achieved by a learner; while mistakes are PERFORMANCE limitations that a learner would be able to correct.

When a stu­dent says "he" instead of "she", it is probably an er­ror, showing that the student has not mastered this distinction in English. Sometimes it is not easy for us to tell the differences between errors and mistakes. For example, when a student gets a poor score in a test, was he merely careless (making mistakes), or does he perhaps not know the language (making er­rors)? As a good test, one of its characteristics is that most of the wrong answers from the students are real­ly errors, showing us what the students have not yet mastered, rather than mistakes caused by poor direc­tions, confusing questions, etc.

Significance of Error Analysis

Error analysis is essentially significant because, as Jack Richards refers to Corder’s observation: “Learner’s correct sentences do not necessarily give evidence of the rules of the new language and the rules he has developed at given stages of his language development”. This can be done only by the errors he makes. And after knowing this only one can proceed in teaching. So, errors, and its analysis both are an inevitable part of teaching & learning.

The pedagogical significance of error analysis is related to the four categories: the problem of correc­tion; the design of syllabuses; the remedial work; and the writing of pedagogical grammars.


First of all, we note down some of the major errors frequently committed by the English language learners.

1.    Regularization of Irregular Plurals and Irregular Verbs

·        We saw womens and men. (women)
·        The childrens were eating food. (children)
·        We putted our things in bags. (put)
·        He writed a letter. (wrote)

2.    Omission of the Plural “s”

·        The student in our class were excited. (students)
·        Many person came. (persons)

3.    Omission/Wrong Use of Prepositions

·        When we reached at Multan. (‘at’ is not needed)
·        After we got Multan. (got at)
·        We went at the stage. (on)
·        He was on the hospital. (in)

4.    Mis-ordering Errors

·        He bought for me a present. (He bought a present for me)

5.    Use of ‘me’ as Subject

·        Me asked her to come. (I asked)

6.    Lack of Gender Agreement

·        John took her bag. (his)
·        My father told her friend to come home. (his)

7.    Errors Regarding Auxiliaries

·        I could rushed. (could have rushed)
·        The day I born. (I was born)
·        My mother was already slaughtered a bull. (has already slaughtered)

8.    Lack of Agreement of the Subject and Verb

·        All of them was imagining about the ceremony. (All of them were)
·        The owner of the house were crying. (was)

9.    Attachment of the Past Marker to an Infinitive

·        Jane went to the teacher to asked for permission. (to ask)

10. Mother Tongue Influence

·        At the game park we walk with legs. (on foot)
·        The teacher told us to go and eat our money. (spend)

11. Spelling Errors

In words that have silent letters in English; these are letters that are not pronounced, learners leave out these letters in their spellings. (i) nocked-knocked. There are other misspellings where the learners interchange letters while writing certain words. (i) Strat – start , (ii) thier – Their. Omissions of letters in certain words are also noted. (i) brige – bridge (ii) kichen – kitchen

12. The Cell Phone Errors

·         I luv them very much. (love)
·         We were there on tym. (time)
·         Every learner must get gud marks. (good)

Traditionally, the above-mentioned errors are summed up into four major classes:

     1.    Omission: Boys played badly in the last match. (Here ‘the’ has been omitted)

2.    Addition: Ahmed he is my best friend. (‘he’ is an extra elements)

3.    Substitution: He did not wrote a letter. (‘wrote’ for ‘write’)

4.    Mis-ordering: Why you are making noise?, (HV after Subj. in interrogative)

Errors can also be divided as related to some specific area of language.

1.    Phonological Error: These are the errors related to pronunciation, e.g. in a word like ‘river’ the last ‘r’ should not be pronounced fully. If this is done, it’s a phonological error.

2.    Lexical Error: These are the errors related to words, e.g. ‘an educate man’. Here,‘d’ is required. So this is a lexical error. It’s a use of wrong lexical items.

3.    Grammatical Error: These are errors due to problem with syntax. It is related to the sentence structure e.g. ‘I prefer tea than coffee’. Here, underlined part is incorrect. There should be ‘to’ instead. So there is a grammatical error.

4.    Semantical Error: These errors are due to the ambiguity of meaning, e.g. ‘She is like ice-cream’. Here, meaning is not clear. This is called Semantical error.

5.    Spellings: Due to incorrect spellings, the meaning is either not clear or is totally changed, e.g. ‘He is my sun’.

Now, we deal with Corder's three types of classification.

1.    Pre-systematic Errors

During this period, the students don't realize the existence of some rules. They have not mastered them. The students themselves can't explain how the errors take place. They can't correct them even if the teachers point them out. So teachers don't need to correct every error. Even if they do, the students don't understand the reasons.

2.    Systematic Errors

The learners have formed some rules, but not complete. For example, when a student has learned the past tense and its form which is a verb plus -ed, he doesn't know there are some irregular verbs. So come such errors as "comed", "goed", etc. If you ask him why, he can explain. But he can't correct them, for he lacks the knowledge. To these questions, teachers need to make some explanations, and give the correct forms, which will help him to build up the complete knowledge.

3.    Post-systematic Errors

The learners have learned comparatively com­plete knowledge. For example, they know the past form of the verb "go" is "went". At this stage they don't often make errors. They can correct them themselves even if the errors appear. Teachers don't need to point out the errors and their task is to provide the students with more opportunities to practice.

Interlingual errors arise due to L1 influence whereas Intralingual errors occur within the target language due to incomplete knowledge of rules, or ignorance of exceptions. In case of Global errors the meaning is not clear at all whereas in Local errors the meaning is clear, but still it is an incorrect expression.


1. Mother tongue interference

It's very important for English teachers to know the various sources of errors. The traditional idea about the sources of errors is that a great number of errors are caused by mother tongue interference. According to Corder (1967) when people are learning a second language, they already have a first language. The first language has rules that the learners have learnt and understood and they therefore tend to use the rules of the first language on the second language and end up creating errors.

2. Over-generalization

Overgeneralization covers instances where the learner creates a deviant structure on the basis of his experience of the other structures in the foreign lan­guage. For example, from: (A) Jane advised me to give up drinking. The students may infer: (B) Jane asked me to give up drinking. But due to overgener­alization of language rules, it will be misleading, as in: (C) Jane suggested me to give up drinking.

Clearly the learners are guided here not by the grammar of their native language, but by what they already know of English, and by their intuitions.

3. Induced errors / Faulty teaching method

Very often we find that some errors come from the state of learning itself, that is, from the way in which an item is explained, the order of presentation, the lack of context or the failure of distinguishing dif­ferent varieties. For example: ‘I want to do some recordings’. might come from teaching "do" without clear distinguishing with the use of "make".

Poorly trained and incompetent teachers are bound to cause many harms in this respect. If much emphasis is laid on one tense, the learners may over-use it. Much drilling of “I am…ing” structure is quite likely to produce the sentence ‘I am go to school every day’.

4. Performance errors

Take the indefinite article deletion for example. When a learn­er says, ‘Behind the lens is little screen’. He omits the indefinite article. What does this error really rep-resent? One possibility is that he doesn't know when to use the indefinite article. The other is that the speaker realized the error as he said it but forgot to correct it; that he would have corrected it if he had had more time to think about it.

So the error is related not only to competence, but to performance. Performance errors are quite nor­mal aspects of language use. Teachers should not correct every performance error, or it will interrupt the students' language performance and dispel the students' interest of learning English.

What should be the teacher’s attitude towards Errors?

Since the errors of performance are known to be unsystematic, but the errors of competence systematic, the teachers of English should be aware of the system of errors. It is not sufficient merely to study learners’ errors and to classify them in different groups. Only when the teachers of English know why an error has been produced they can set about correcting in a systematic way. It is one of the most important tasks of the teacher in the language classroom to decide when correction is necessary.

Benefits of Error Analysis

In his article ‘The Significance of Learners' Errors’, Corder emphasizes the importance of studying errors made by second language learners:
The study of error is part of the investigation of the process of language learning. It provides us with a picture of the linguistic development of a learner and may give us indications as to the learning process.

Error analysis is not only beneficial to teachers, syllabus designers and textbook writers by showing them a student’s progress, but it is also significant to researchers and to the learners. It can show researchers what strategies learners use to learn a second language and also indicate the type of errors learners make and why. Error analysis is conducted not only in order to understand errors but also in order to use what is learned from error analysis and apply it to improve language competence.

In conclusion, error analysis helps linguists realize that although errors sometimes obstruct communication, they can often facilitate second language learning, and they play a significant role in training teachers and helping them identify and classify learners' errors, as well as helping them construct correction techniques.


  1. All second language teachers should receive training in the structure of English.
  2. Subject advisors should conduct capacity empowerment workshops for teachers who have not been exposed to the structure of English.
  3. After the learners’ writing, teachers should identify and record errors and discuss them with learners.
  4. Teachers should pay more attention to writing to help learners to develop skills in producing standard language.
  5. Teachers should use English as a medium of instruction instead of code switching.
  6. Teachers should expose learners to English through newspapers, magazines, and school radio programs.
  7. Teachers should upgrade their qualifications in English.
  8. Teachers should introduce competitions in both writing and reading among different grades so as to improve writing and reading skills.
  9. Learners should use most of their spare time in reading English books and newspapers.
  10. Learners should make sure that they use English as a medium of communication, especially in the classroom as well as inside the school/college premises.
  11. Learners should listen to English news both in the radio and television.
  12. Learners should participate in debates and symposia.

No comments:

Post a Comment