Lost in Translation: Grammatical Errors of Non-Native English Writers in First-Year Composition


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Presented at The University of Akron, April 2013.
Awarded "Best Oral Presentation"

Research conducted on the grammatical errors of non-native English speakers in First-Year Composition portfolios.

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  • Lost in Translation: Grammatical Errors of Non-Native English Writers in First-Year Composition

    1. 1. Lost in Translation: Grammatical Errors of Non-Native English Writers in First-Year Composition Kristina Floyd Dawn Lombardi Tabitha Martin University of Akron Student Innovation Symposium April 11, 2013
    2. 2. The Students’ Writing 6 portfolios: Students from English as a Second Language (ESL) English Composition I classes All had the same instructor 4-5 essays in each portfolio 1-5 pages each Total of 28 essays; 67 pages
    3. 3. Students Student A – China Student B – Korea Student C – China Student D – ? ? Student E – China Student F – Saudi Arabia We were able to glean nationality information from the content of the papers; all identities were protected.
    4. 4. Methodology Replicated a study done by Lunsford & Lunsford: “‘Mistakes are a Fact of Life’: A National Comparative Study” Examine one essay from each portfolio (the reflective essay) closely Mark all errors Top 5 errors from sample set and apply to the remainder of essays
    5. 5. Reflective Essays Misplaced modifier Word Order Run-on Unclear Antecedent Comma Splice Capitalization Unnecessary Comma Mechanical Missing Word Unnecessary Word Wrong Word Noun Agreement Preposition Article problems Missing Comma Word Choice Wrong Tense 1 2 2 3 6 6 8 9 9 12 14 15 19 21 23 31 42 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45
    6. 6. Top Five Errors 106 13% 206 26% Word Choice Tense Missing Comma 108 14% Article Prepositions 179 23% 185 24% 784 “Top-Five” Errors In 67 pages
    7. 7. Verb Tenses # 2 {of the Top 5} in our study (24%) “Shift in tense”: #12 in Lunsford study (3.8% of total errors) *…one’s professor will understands that. Differs from Lunsford study "Shift in tense" (often more of a function of lack of proofreading) Particular problem of ESL students Especially if L1 doesn't change verb for tense
    8. 8. Missing Commas # 3 in our study (23% of Top 5 errors) #2, #11, #13 in Lunsford study Lunsford study broke out separate categories for different reasons: Introductory element (2: 9.6% of total) Non-restrictive element (11: 3.8% of total) Compound sentence (13: 3.6% of total) Our examples correspond closely with the Lunsford study Indicates this is a common (larger than ESL) problem with FYC writers
    9. 9. Articles # 4 in our study (14% of Top 5 errors) Didn’t make the top 20 in Lunsford study *…Chinese is __ hardest language in the world... Generally not an issue for native speakers 2 “a/an” errors in 50-page sample of Lunsford study Problematic for ESL students Especially if L1 doesn't use articles (Chinese, Korean, etc.)
    10. 10. Prepositions # 5 in our study (13% of Top 5 errors) Didn’t make the top 20 in Lunsford study *Respecting society’s elders is a prime example in how Americans... If there were these kinds of errors in Lunsford, they were not significant enough to be mentioned. Not many other languages have as elaborate a preposition system as English Difficult for many students to “internalize” them
    11. 11. "Word Choice" # 1 in our study Not included as such in Lunsford study *…the capability to get a higher education… Lunsford study attributed many "wrong word" errors to computer spell-check and/or thesaurus use + lack of proofreading Some of ours could likely be thesaurus use Often, we found just awkward phrasing "Faulty sentence structure": students trying to write complex ideas Similar problems in our study But a number were surely a product of L2 issues
    12. 12. Comparison of the two studies Our study Lunsford study 1. Word Choice None, as such: “faulty sentence structure” is #10 2. Verb Tense “Unnecessary shift in verb tense”: #12 3. Missing Comma Various breakdowns: #2 - #11 - #13 4. Article problems (missing, unnecessary, or wrong one n/a 5. Prepositions (missing, unnecessary, or wrong one) n/a
    13. 13. Implications for Composition The number of non-native English speakers is increasing in American colleges/universities Many students are strong enough in English to be "mainstreamed“ It can be useful for comp instructors to know what kinds of errors tend to be L2-based Versus what errors students across the board make
    14. 14. Revision Correlation? We are exploring a possible correlation between frequency of mistakes and probable revision attempts This would support the idea that multiple drafts give students the chance to overcome/identify usage errors Time to focus on idea construction, before language editing Important for all students, not just ESL
    15. 15. Thank you Questions?