Teaching Material | Teaching English Better

Using L2 Errors as a Guide to Progress

An inescapable, inasmuch as an eye-opening part of teaching and learning is error-making. Understanding errors upgrades teaching, timely input and appropriate redress. Errors occur, signifying on appropriacy of selected methods and teaching practice, sometimes even on the effectiveness of the preferred educative materials input, implemented approach. Often upon a specific error occurrence, teachers are relieved: those errors signify that the learner is on the right track- and will eventually internalize the entity. Errors run through different stages among native speakers of a specific language. Others seem attached to English -as they are observed to learners from different L1 backgrounds.

Text By Marin Siskou,  EFL Teacher, Translator

Types of Errors

  • Performance errors- competence errors (mistakes which are lapses in performance & errors which reflect inadequate competence): Corder (1974: 24) states that "errors of performance (mistakes) will be characteristically unsystematic and errors of competence, systematic". Learners are unable to correct it by themselves (self-correction), while mistakes are usually slips and lapses in performance. Learners know the right form but commit mistakes due to nervousness, tiredness or fatigue […] According to Brown, (1980:165), a mistake is a performance error “that is either a random guess or a slip in that. It is a failure to utilize a known system correctly” (Yaghi, 2017).
  • Local errors-global errors. Local errors do not hinder communication and understanding, whereas global interfere with communication & disrupt meaning (Touchie, 1986). As concluded by Burt & Kiparsky (1974), local errors involve noun and verb inflections, the use of articles, prepositions and auxiliaries. Global errors, for example, include wrong order in a sentence.
  • Rather than settling on the discomfort errors generate, observe and address them in a scientific approach.
  • Errors are effortlessly telling of L2 learners’ comprehension, progress and teaching.
  • For instance, according to their classification and manner of occurrence (setting) errors deepen understanding about L2 learners’ misconceptions: Commonly, errors in morphology flag misunderstanding of the word’s meaning or/and its semantic associations (where & how the word is used, e.g. along Vs among).

Addressing Errors

  • Designate space for more errors to surface; open-ended exercises: filling-gaps, open-close, small-scale free (written /oral) production. Those will provide the teacher with as much feedback (i.e. errors) as possible.
  • Differentiate input. Repetition is integral in teaching. Other times, sheer reiteration of the same pattern is fruitless. Change the perspective instead.
  • Differentiate the frame of reference (i.e. contextualize or de-contextualize the erroneous utterance).
  • If appropriate, utilize L1.Integrate genuine communication patterns.
  • Make sure it is an error: Sometimes L2 learners, observing rules they have been taught so far, invent non-existent terms or formulae, e.g. trying to derive word forms which are, “accidental gaps” -because the lexicon does not include every potential grammatical structure (Wilson, Gallagher, 2018). This process typically classifies the outcome as being a mistake, but the L2 learner’s thought was on the right track.

Re-occurring Errors among Greek L2 learners of English

  • Processing & activating aspects (continuous-simple).
  • Misplacement-confusion of modal verbs and modality (in Greek modality is heavily dependent on adverbs).
  • Failure to differentiate all different functions of a gerund (possible to lead to omission).
  • Constant regress to the use of the infinitive form (omitting declension of the verb -this maybe attributed to L1 grammar framing, but all errors are not ascribed to SL interference).


Shaffer, D. (2005). Classifying Language Learning Errors. The Internet TEFL Journal, Sept,2005, Vol. 58 https://www.academia.edu/12197473/Classifying_Language_Learning_Errors [last accessed 27-05-2020].
Yaghi, E, T. (2017) Review of Leaners’ Errors: An Error Analysis Perspective https://www.academia.edu/16990144/REVIEW_OF_LEARNERS_ERRORS_AN_ERROR_ANALYSIS_PERSPECTIVE [last accessed: 28-05-2020].