Writing can be considered as one of the most challenging skills that teachers need to cultivate for their students. Most students are often perplexed about how to address all the aspects of the required tasks effectively. As a result, they turn to their teachers for proper guidance and constructive feedback with the aim of improving their performance
By Konstantina Alevizou, teacher of English, MA in Applied Linguistics TESOL
How can we prepare our C2 students effectively to meet the requirements of the complexity not only of the writing tasks but also of the elevated level of language which is expected to be used? How can Error Analysis (EA) as a teaching technique be of service?
“Why do students sometimes underperform in their writing tasks? Could it be due to difficulties in applying grammar rules, a limited vocabulary, or struggles in understanding the task requirements?
Furthermore, it is essential to note that the vast majority of educators are adept at identifying issues in students' essays. However, a significant challenge remains: how can we provide constructive feedback that students not only accept and comprehend but also apply to enhance their essay writing skills, commensurate with their proficiency level?
Research has demonstrated that even at higher levels, such as C2 proficiency, students make mistakes in fundamental aspects of the English language. These errors often relate to linguistic competence and grammatical knowledge, including issues with prepositions, verb tense, subject-verb agreement, and pronoun usage. Additionally, there are cases of incorrect comma usage and the improper use of articles, both definite and indefinite. Spelling errors are also occasionally observed.
Other challenges emerge in terms of rhetorical organization and paragraph structure, falling under the umbrella of discourse competence and textual knowledge. Problems may arise when students fail to transition between paragraphs effectively when there is a change in the thematic order of their ideas. Sociolinguistic competence and social-pragmatic knowledge also come into play, with occasional instances of incorrect word choice in students' assignments.
Error analysis serves as a crucial tool for improving both students' and teachers' standards. It helps identify areas where both instructors and learners need to improve, allowing teachers to better cater to their students' needs (Corder, 1974). Cross-linguistic influence, which encompasses transfer, avoidance, language loss, and learning rate, must also be considered (Kellerman & Smith, 1986).
Expanding the scope of Error Analysis (EA) has become increasingly necessary in our multicultural society, where teachers often instruct students from diverse linguistic backgrounds. Detecting errors and their sources enables teachers to understand their students better and design lessons tailored to their needs.
If learners can be directed towards unfamiliar or partially known linguistic structures, they can focus on those forms and learn them more rapidly. This can be achieved through noticing related language items, a process that demands the learner's focal attention and awareness (Schmidt, 1993). The Noticing Hypothesis emphasizes the role of output in recognizing interlanguage issues and facilitating language acquisition (Schmidt, 1994).
In conclusion, learner errors offer insights into their internal processes. As illustrated above, learners often rely on their native language as a reference point and may switch between it and the target language while constructing their language skills. Consequently, instructors may choose to provide corrective feedback on writing assignments to help students track their progress and decide where to focus their efforts.
For students to develop their writing skills, teachers must both teach and assess writing regularly, providing feedback so that students can identify their strengths and weaknesses. Writing skills can also be assessed in exams or incorporated into grading, reinforcing the value of written work and motivating students to improve.
Lastly, feedback is of utmost importance, especially in an English-speaking world where cultural and mindset differences may exist. It's crucial for students to understand that teachers do not judge their thoughts and opinions but offer suggestions and comments to help them meet task requirements and elevate their English language proficiency.
In conclusion, writing is a captivating skill with limitless potential. Both teachers and students can gain more insight and expertise by identifying and addressing issues such as grammatical errors, vocabulary choices, and mechanics. Error analysis can be a valuable tool for instructors to enhance students' writing skills, while constructive feedback aids in applying knowledge effectively. As teachers, it is our duty to guide students toward a positive mindset regarding the English language, enabling them to achieve the complexity required for C2 proficiency."
Corder, S. P. (1967). The significance of learners’ errors. In J.C. Richards (ed.) 1984 Error Analysis: Perspectives on second language acquisition, pp 19 – 27. London: Longman.
Corder, S. P. (1974). Error analysis. The Edinburgh Course in Applied Linguistics, 3, 122-131.
Corder, S. P. (1981). Error Analysis and Interlanguage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Richards, J. C., and Schmidt, R. (2002). Dictionary of Language Teaching Applied Linguistics. Pearson Education Limited. London: Longman.