Learner Errors

Describing errors….explaining errors….evaluate errors.

Second language learner speech and writing is not simply an incorrect version of English, but a linguistic system in its own right. Learner errors are therefore systematic and, to an extent, predictable. They are not wild and haphazard.

Errors can be explained because learners have constructed some sort of rule in their interlanguage which is different from the target language (i.e. the rule is wrong).

BUT ME: do learners know the rule is wrong? I say things in Russian that I know are wrong (especially endings of nouns), but I say them anyway hoping I will be understood despite the error. The error isn’t in my interlanguage – I’m not making an inference about how Russian works because I know it’s wrong. I just don’t know enough yet to make an IL rule. (does IL apply more to more advanced learners than with beginners?) So maybe learners omit ‘s’ from the 3rd person singular because they’re not sure what the ending is, but they know ‘I paint’ is ok, so they have a go using that even though they know it’s wrong. They’re using their limited knowledge of the TL in order to communicate meaning in the hope of being understood. Learners know ‘me no blue’ isn’t the correct way of saying ‘I don’t have a blue crayon’ but it’s the best they can do when trying to communicate meaning.

Many errors are common to all learners (e.g. substituting present simple for past).

Error analysis tells us what learners do, but not why they do it.

Typical learner errors include:

  • omission: e.g. of articles, ‘s’ of 3rd person present
  • overgeneralization (e.g. ‘eated’ instead of ‘ate’: overgeneralizing rule of adding -ed for past tense verbs)
  • L1 interference



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