Common Errors in English Language Learning and Use - the Philippine Context

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For half a decade, I have spent significant time working with and studying English as Second Language (ESL) learners in several contexts – online, corporate, and academic. In the course of interfacing with these different types of students, several interesting features arise in the study of the learners’ language, most especially errors in writing.

In this article, I will give a brief background of the errors of the learners. I will also try to encapsulate some of my observations and experiences in dealing with language errors and probably suggest ways on how to appropriately address them. Hopefully, this will be an eye opener to a lot of English language teachers and practitioners that errors are important in both learning and teaching ESL.

The Context

The influence of mass media, which use English as a medium for communication has greatly contributed in the development of the English language in the Philippines. Several broadsheets and magazines, FM radio shows and late night newscasts in English are just a few manifestations that the language is indeed alive in the local media scene. Furthermore, the prevalence of business process outsourcing (BPO) industries is also a validation that the country is home to thousands of bilingual customer service representatives who deliver quality customer service to English-speaking clients.

Philippine education, however, does not have the same story. Through the years, teachers and school administrators have tried different strategies to improve the English language proficiency of their students. But based on observation and research, there is incongruence between the strategies and the language practices in Philippine schools ; for instance, “most colleges and universities claim that their medium of instruction (MOI) is English but there is often no explicit school policy articulating this (Bernardo and Gaerlan, 2006:21).” This, in return, results in the decline of English proficiency, leaving educators and teachers with unresolved problems regarding standard policies and procedures in using the English language in the academe.

On Errors and the Learners’ Language (Interlanguage)

Errors are considered significant features in acquiring, learning, and teaching a second language. It has been customary for students and teachers to talk about errors in the language classroom, most especially in writing classes. Teaching professionals often feel frustrated with the quality of the language of their students’ essays., For some, errors are signs of failure while others believe that they are indications of and opportunities to understand the very complex process of learning to communicate in a second language. One methodology in studying the learner’s error is by doing Error Analysis (EA) or “the process of determining the incidence, nature, causes and consequences of unsuccessful language” (James, 1998:1).

Brown (2000:218) states that errors may result from several sources, two of which are: “interlingual errors of interference from the native language and intralingual errors within the target language, context of learning and communication strategies.” To simply put it, the first kind refers to the second language errors that reflect native language structure while the second one, results in faulty structures that do not follow the standards of the target language.

It is also a must to acknowledge the kind of language that learners produce in order to come up with a holistic study of the learners’ errors. Larry Selinker labels this as interlanguage or “the separateness of a second language learners’ system, a system that has a structurally intermediate status between the native and target languages” (1972 in Richards, 1974:31). With this, it will be easier for teachers to understand where learners are coming from and also for them to come up with possible solutions to address these errors.

The Classroom Experience

In the English classroom, where formal...
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