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Error in Foreign Language Learning and the Concept of Interlanguage

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1 Error in Foreign Language Learning and the Concept of Interlanguage
Dávid Gergely

2 Communicative Language Teaching
Extreme view 1: “Is error correction necessary at all?” Indeed, few errors impede communication. According to the CEFR, errors that impede communication are not (should not be) typical above level B1. Many errors simply appear to be “not nice”: no more than deviations from the linguistic norm that is taught. Extreme view 2: “Fluency matters; accuracy is secondary?” – A completely utilitarian point of view … Then why all the fuss? Why bother? Stop teaching grammar!

3 Errors rarely cause miscommunication because language (communication) is redundant.
Why can we understand each other even over a cracking telephone line? Why can we do cloze tests? Why do native speakers „swallow” much grammatical information? Tenses and adverbs reinforce each other Repetition of the same/similar words provide lexical cohesion Context of situation can explain much. Counterexample: No redundancy in Hear-Say cards.

4 Fluency and accuracy Fluency assumes accuracy: no fluency without accurate knowledge of the language systems Some or a degree of fluency and accuracy The case of the baker in Flushing The „lurker” in Sweden The proverbial businessperson Developing underlying competencies (Ági’s lecture) of grammar, vocabulary, phonology, etc. should result in fluent communication. Assumptions of CLT: Why sound discrimination tests are no longer used – sink vs. think

5 More balanced views Accept the need for error correction.
Teachers must have a selective strategy to deal with errors. Must decide whether to do correction, and if so what to correct, when and how to do it. Insights from psychology, motivational studies, linguistics, etc.

6 Teacher’s selective strategy
Whether to deal with the error… Yes, because error is right for the level (syllabus design, acquisition order studies) Or no, because st knows this bit of grammar; it is only a production error (the long process of regularisation, SLA studies, linguistics) No, because st cannot pay attention to it (psychology) No, because immediate corrrection disrupts fluency-focused ecercises. (psychology and motivation studies)

7 Interlanguage (learner language)
Structured systems that learners construct for themselves permeable and dynamic systematic (rules) Hunglish, Spanglish, etc. “elementary Hunglish” “intermediate Hunglish” “advanced Hunglish” And also: Engarian Different labels for (roughly) the same: interlanguage samples and errors

8 The background Two currents of thought
Current 1: Errors are bad habits transferred from the mother tongue. Therefore stigmatised and imply value judgement. Current 2: Errors are considered “stepping stones to learning”. They are useful because they show the language learner as a thinking individual who constructs his-her language towards a system in its own right. useful sources of learning and quite revealing sometimes even funny Errors cannot be fully explained on the basis of only one of these.

9 The Stepping Stones Useful sources of learning:
Engarian *Hogy szereted? Often quite revealing: I'm driving to work at eight tomorrow: to+infinitive or prep.+noun? Engarian *Halnap nyolckor megyek a munkához. Sometimes even funny: Engarian *szóemésztö *Sötét sört kérek!

10 Current 1: Roots in Behaviourism
L1 habits affect L2 habits: transfer Hunglish *I know to ski. vs. I can ski. Angry Engarian speaker: *Nem bírom, amikor nem húzod a súlyodat! Transfer theory: What was learnt earlier is the basis for further learning. Always takes place. Positive and negative transfer. Positive transfer: hétfőn - on Monday Negative transfer: az angol órán *on the English lesson

11 Chief tool: Contrastive Analysis
CA compares L1 and L2. Differences mark the difficulties, where negative transfer will take place. Pedagogical motivation: CA to predict areas of difficulty so that teachers could focus only on them. Strong form of CA: Teachers only have to select these entrenched bad habits for the focus of their teaching and drill students out of them. Problems: Inaccurate predictions by CA.

12 Current 2: Roots in Cognitvism:
The learner is a thinking individual. Processes very similar to the acquisition of L1. Hypothesis testing is the process responsible for the continual revision of the interlanguage system. I’m going to work… Do vs. make Overgeneralisation Engarian *Add ide a késet. Simplification L1: *Én vagyok a jegejősebb!

13 Chief tool: Error Analysis (EA).
To discover and describe learners’ errors with the aim of understanding how learners process the second language. Does not attempt to predict learner errors. Compares the learners’ interlanguage and L2.

14 A modern interlanguage theory
Reappraisal of transfer: Error (or difficulty) as a multi-factor phenomenon. A hierarchy of difficulty may be established on the basis of L1-L2 comparisons. L1 has one form, whereas L2 has two. A category in L2 does not exist in L1. A familiar category in L1 is absent in L2. L1 has two forms and L2 has one. L1 transfer as learner strategy. Results from “borrowing” from L1 resources. Building on previous learning.

15 Transfer as multi-factor phenomenon
Transfer of training Hunglish *I'm ready (with the exercise). vs. I've finished. Engarian *Tegnap el adtam az automat, és meg vetem az ujat. Transfer of strategies of L2 learning Hunglish *We were spending the night there. We were walking around. Transfer of strategies of L2 communication How are you? Hunglish: *Fine, thanks. It was such an awful day...

16 Overview of interlanguage
Current Processes Source Behaviourism Interference from the learner’s mother tongue (L1) transfer, transfer of training, transfer of L2 learning, transfer of strategies to L1 communication „L1 interference” (interlingual) Cognitivism Development of the learner’s foreign language competence Overgeneralisation Simplification Regularisation „developmental” (intralingual) ? Avoidance strategies learners use. Difficulty often results in the avoidance of error rather than the error itself. No easily observable error.

17 Required reading Gass, S.M. and Selinker, L. (1994) The role of the native language: An historical overview (Chapter 3). In: Second Language Acquisition. An introductory course. Hillsdale, NJ. Lawrence Erlbaum, pp Read any 5 (numbered) sections in Doughty, S. and Thompson, G. (1983) Problem English, Tankönyvkiadó.

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