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Effectiveness of a Remedial Programme on Grammatical Errors in Writings of Engineering Students

October 12, 2008

Chapter 1

Introduction

The present study is an attempt to find out the factors that mar the ESP students’ use of English language for academic / professional purposes. The study consists of a remedial programme that is designed to rectify some typical grammatical errors in the writings of a group of students learning English for a specific purpose. It aims at providing a specially designed remedial programme to be helpful in making the ESP students more efficient in receiving and reproducing their domain knowledge with the help of accurate and appropriate linguistic expressions.

This introductory chapter opens with a discussion of the present study’s aptness within the contexts of Gujarat and regional students. Basically the whole study aims at discussing the problem in terms of English as a second language. It is followed by definition and division of types of error, the need of error analysis and some basic discussion about remedial programmes in general.

1.1 Problem Statement

The problem statement for this research is: “Effectiveness of a remedial programme on grammatical errors in writings of engineering students”.

1.2 Definition of terms:

a. Effectiveness: It is a qualitative measure of success of a pre decided target.

b. Remedial programme: Remedial programme is a solution to a problem that has been observed and analyzed. A remedial programme is especially designed to correct the very specific drawback which has been recognized during the study. So at the end if the programme achieves the target, i.e. correction of the errors, it is successful.

c. Grammatical errors: Grammatical errors are a specific type of errors where there are problems with the basic structure of sentence formation, or sequence of the words in a sentence, due to which, the communication is marred.

d. Writings: Writing is one of the output skills, and those who learn English as a second language, use this skill as their basic expression of a language. Therefore, here too the source of data would be the writings of students only.

1.3 English in Gujarat

When a foreign language is used in a multilingual country like India, it has a very sensitive and complex role to play. English, being a global language, is an essential part of languages used in Gujarat as well, like any other region in India.

But, in order to recognize the status or role of English language in culture and education exchanges in Gujarat or any other region, first we have to see whether it plays the role of a second language or a foreign language only. In the introduction to “Reading in English Language Teaching in India”, S. Kudchedkar explains the same as under:

“Even when a language does not function as the mother tongue of any section of the population of the country, it may, none the less, fulfill such an important role within the country that it can be termed a second language. When a language has no such role to play, but is studied purely from a cultural or a humanistic point of view by those interested in its literature or culture, or from a utilitarian point of view by those who require it for purposes such as business relations or studies abroad, it may be termed a foreign language. In case of a second language, there is bound to be far more exposure to the language, there is bound to be far more exposure to the language in the environment, greater motivation to learn and greater justification in a compulsory subject of study.” (‘Introduction to Readings in English Language Teaching in India’, page. 3)

In India English is taken more as second language rather than a foreign language. It may be the third or the fourth language introduced to the children in the school. All these considerations affect the English language performance of Gujarati students.

Looking at it from a learner’s point of view, the exposure to English is there to a great extent – Newspapers, Sign boards, Television, Radio, and Internet etc. It acts as a link-language that link us with outside cultures.

All these considerations will affect the proficiency with which Gujarati students use English language.

In a highly culture bound region like Gujarat, where the speakers of other regional language are very less in number, an exposure to any other language but Gujarati doesn’t become a die hard necessity for majority of population. The same is the case with any other traditional sosociety of India. Metropolitan city where all cultures co-exist, the exposure to other languages is easily available and at the same time the degree of necessity also differs. So actually, language learning can’t be totally detached from the surrounding of the learner. When the real exposure is not there we try to compensate this limited exposure with fake classroom situation. However, now it is being thought very seriously to introduce English language to the Gujarati learners at least as a second language through curriculum, so that the use of the English language can become more efficient.

1.4 Error and Mistake

In order to analyze learners’ errors in a proper perspective, it is crucial to make a distinction between a “mistake” and an “error”. According to Brown (2000), a “mistake” refers to a performance error in that it is a failure to utilize a known system correctly, while an “error” is a noticeable deviation from the adult grammar of a native speaker, reflecting the interlanguage competence of the learner. This recognition process is followed by the error description process. We compare learners’ sentences with the correct sentences in target language, and find out the errors. The differences between these two in detailed can be described as under:

  1. Errors are result of ignorance. Whereas mistakes are result of stress.
  2. Errors of a learner have a definite pattern, whereas mistakes do not occur in pattern.
  3. Errors can’t be rectified by its doer, mistakes can be.

1.4.1 Significance of Error Analysis in Language Teaching and Learning

In order to teach a language, it is necessary to understand the process that goes on in the mind of the learner. Error analysis is a part of this process.

Significance

As Corder has pointed out, there is a vital difference between ‘errors’ and ‘mistakes’. He labels ‘mistakes’ as ‘performance errors’, which are like slip of pen. The learner himself can correct it later on, because they are not the results of unawareness, whereas, genuine errors are due to ignorance of rules. The learner can’t correct it by himself. They show the learner’s “transitional Competence”.

Error analysis is essentially significant because, as Jack Richards refers to Corder’s observation: “Learner’s correct sentences do not necessarily give evidence of the rules of the new language and the rules he has developed at given stages of his language development”. This can be done only by the errors he makes. And after knowing this only one can proceed in teaching. So, errors, and its analysis both are an inevitable part of teaching & learning.

1.4.2 Types of Errors

The errors can be divided as under:

1. Area: This means an error related to some specific area of language. It can be subdivided into:

a. Phonological error: These are the errors related to pronunciation. E.g. in a word like ‘river’ the last ‘r’ should not be pronounced fully. If this is done, it’s a phonological error.

b. Lexical error: These are the errors related to words. E.g. ‘air-conditioned room’. Here, ‘ed’ is not required. So this is a lexical error. It’s a use of wrong lexical items.

c. Grammatical error: These are errors due to problem with syntax. It is related to the sentence structure. E.g. “I prefer tea than coffee.” Here, underlined part is incorrect. There should be ‘to’ instead. So there is a grammatical error.

d. Semantical error : These errors are due to the ambiguity of meaning. E.g. “She is like ice-cream.”Here, meaning is not clear. This is called Semantical error.

e. Spellings: Due to incorrect spellings, the meaning is either not clear or is totally changed. E.g. “He is my sun.

2. Form: These errors can be subdivided into:

a. Error of addition: When there is unnecessary addition of characters or items, this type of error arises. E.g.” He faced a one problem.” Here the word ‘one’ is added unnecessarily.

b. Error of omission: This occurs due to dropping the necessary items. E.g. “My father name is XYZ.” Here an apostrophe to the word ‘father’ is dropped though required in order to clarify the meaning.

c. Error of selection: An improper selection from the existing options is the cause of such errors. E.g. “One day the king is going for hunting.” Here, from all existing tenses, only present progressive is selected, which is an improper selection in this contexts.

d. Error of order.: These errors occur due to incorrect order of words. E.g.”When

I shall meet you?’” here, the underlined parts have been placed in an incorrect order.

3. There can be interlingual error that arises due to L1 influence. E.g. a Gujarati learner of ESL would ask: “Where going you are?’ instead of “ Where are you going?”

4. Similarly, there can be intralingual errors that occur within the target language due to incomplete knowledge of rules, or ignorance of exceptions. E.g. “Does she still sings?”

5. Comprehensibility: These errors can be subdivided into:

a. Global error – in which meaning is not clear at all. E.g. “I hope you won’t mind if I sit here.” “Yes yes.”

b. Local error – where meaning is clear, but still it is an incorrect expression. E.g. “My girlfriend is a beautiful.”

The treatments to the errors made by learners may take many different shapes. However, remedial teaching is the most appropriate and widely used treatment.

1.5 Remedial Teaching

A remedial programme is a specially designed alternative strategy based on the need analysis carried out by observing the learner’s deviated behaviour, in order to put it on a right track.

The concept of remedial teaching is not new in the history of teaching – learning.

As they say, “To err is human…”, errors are considered to be a natural human behaviour. However, as far as the teaching of any domain is taken into account, the earlier remedial programmes do not show the same gentle attitude as the saying towards the error done by learners. Earlier, it was believed that errors are like diseases, which need to be cured. So, the remedial programmes that people like T. Wood prepared for their students were nothing but a tedious series of mechanical practice. These programmes treated errors as sins, and as a result, the doer of the sin i.e. the learner, was insulted.

This attitude to the errors was built up on the basis of structural approach to language teaching that projected the process of teaching merely a matter of habit formation. So, they insisted upon drilling and mechanical practice, which they thought would solve the problem. But as we now know, learning – whether it be language learning or anything else – is more of a trial and error, as suggested by the cognitive school of teaching. Unlike the behaviouristic school, they said that drilling is not ALWAYS a strategy that can lead to correct learning. From this came into existence the functional approach, that projected the use-oriented teaching. They emphasized the practical implementation of the learning items. Under the influence of this approach, the concept of errors, treatment to it, the nature of remedial programmes, everything went under a drastic change.

Later on, however it was realized that errors are not essentially useless. Even they can be exploited in order to learn correct things. A positive connotation to the term ‘error’ came into existence and that played a role in redefining the remedial programmes. They are no longer a set for practicing correct behaviour; they are now different, alternative strategies to teach. Earlier remedial classes meant the same for all who err. Hundred students can sit and practice the correct behaviour at a time. But now it has become more individualistic in nature. Today’s remedial programmes are specially designed keeping in mind the needs, abilities and weaknesses of individual learner.

Thus the base of remedial programmes is in need-analysis. The learners’ scope of using the taught item, his ability, his requirement etc. would define the course of remedial programme. This leads to the fact that the factors mentioned above may vary from learner to learner. If we consider the issue in terms of language teaching, it becomes more vital, because language is a medium to express the thoughts and knowledge that an individual possesses.

When we talk of need-analysis, one more thing that comes to the mind is ESP (English for Specific Purposes) which also has its base in need-analysis. English language, when learnt for a specific purpose, is more important as a medium of receiving and reproducing the knowledge of the other domains of curriculum under study, than a separate subject to study. So, its role in curriculum is important and at the same time, a crucial one. Unlike those who learn a language with a view to study the linguistic features and literary values, the others – i.e. Students learning English for a specific purpose – are many, and increasing rapidly in numbers. To them language is primarily and basically, a tool to use for the sake of communication. They need to learn it in order to exploit and express something altogether different from linguistic features of language.

As a teacher in English, for the students of technical education, namely Engineering discipline the researcher observes that the students who learn English for a specific purpose are almost poor at receiving and reproducing their domain subject knowledge through English; though the same process can be done in a brilliant way if they use their vernacular language. Sometimes their use of English language is so poor that they are not able to fulfill even the basic purpose of communication. This leads to a complete failure as a professional.

This research work aims at identifying and rectifying the errors in the use of English language by the students of Engineering discipline for whom English is a tool / medium. Here, the writing has been focused, because they are the students for whom English is a second language. So, their first output of learning a language would be in the form of written answers. And if they err here, the error would be fossilized and transferred to their speech, too. In order to solve the problem from the grass root level, an extensive remedial programme to correct errors has been implemented.

Since language is more of a medium and less of content for them, they need to pay special attention to the basic structures of language which can provide them with a format in which they may put the content they have. So, for them the most appropriate and accurate language structures are as important as specific terminology at their field in order to communicate effectively. So, this research has focused only basic grammatical errors in their writing, which, if corrected, can provide them with an accurate frame to their domain knowledge. In grammar, too, the chunks that are of frequent use to the discipline in which the students are pursuing their degree in Engineering, have been taken up for the remedial teaching content, So that it can be directly helpful to them.

Conclusion

Thus, it takes a shape of an experimental research in which the grammatical errors in the writing of the Engineering students have been identified, treated and tested in order to rectify through the remedial programme.

The research is divided into five major chapters. Apart from the first introductory chapter, the other chapters are as under:

2. Review of related literature

3. Research design, tools and procedures

4. Observations / findings / analysis

5. Conclusion

- References

- Appendix.