Error Analysis of Present Simple and Present Continuous Tenses in the
Interlanguage of Bulgarian Learners of English
Terlemezian Hilda Nishan
PU ‘Paisiy Hilendarski’, Pedagogical Faculty
One of the basic shifts of interest in Applied Linguistics in the last years is from
the teacher as a main controller of the educational process towards the learner and
his abilities to make hypotheses on his way towards that linguistic competence that
can fully meet his communicative needs. Every person always speaks and
communicates in a specific way in the different linguistic contexts which
demonstrates an ability to use different grammatical elements. It is important to
make the point that certain errors are a result of the method of instruction, or the
unfavorable organization of the teaching materials, the textbooks or syllabuses. For
example, in the older syllabuses the teaching material was distributed in a linear
way – i.e., the whole information concerning a certain grammatical unit was taught
thoroughly and completely and then the attention was centered onto a new
grammatical unit. Quite contrary to this method now the Foreign Language
Teaching ensures a systematic repetition of all the grammatical units that are to be
taught in the course of education. In this respect the Present Continuous Tense is
introduced consistently several times and different new aspects of its use are
presented each time.
It must be admitted that the learner himself is a potential source of errors. Even
when maximum good conditions are ensured a perfect learning of the material is
not possible. Therefore it can be concluded that errors are unavoidable. Hence the
term ‘interlanguage’ was introduced to describe the permanent presence of
irregular elements in the otherwise regular language.
Two contrary opinions exist – whether errors are something positive or negative in
the process of education. First they were considered as an indicator of an
ineffective educational process. . Later the mentalist opinion appeared that
errors are a necessary and inevitable part of the educational process and even an
indicator for the acquisition of the foreign language . Because errors that are
made by learners on their way from elementary to advanced levels illustrate the
achievements in the educational process.
Despite all this errors are definitely a deviation from the language norm. Therefore
they should be avoided and corrected. They have to be planned throughout the
whole course of education. Another fact must also be mentioned – errors are made
for two more very essential reasons – because of the interference of the first
language and because of the poor acquisition of the second. Some unsystematic
errors appear as well with a psychological, psycholinguistic or some other kind of
Since errors are inseparable part of the process of second language acquisition the
teacher’s strategy for the successful overcoming of errors should combine the best
parts of the two contrary opinions .
The importance of errors can be observed in three directions.
First, they are important for the teacher because after a systematic analysis he can
determine the level of every learner and the knowledge that is still to be taught.
Secondly, errors provide information about the way a language is learnt and
acquired, what strategies and procedures the learner undertakes so as to discover
the new language.
Thirdly, they are important for the learner himself because through errors the
learner can make hypothesis about the nature of the language he learns.
Those errors that are a result of the interference of the first language or the so-
called ‘interlingual interference’ can be qualified as interlingual. But there are
many more errors that are not connected with the first language and are similar for
all the learners irrespective of their first language. Errors of this kind have
acquired the name intralingual – reflecting the specifics of the process of language
acquisition, the order of this process and therefore they are often called
“developmental errors”. So errors are a strategy employed both by the children
acquiring their first language and by the second language learners as well.
The errors of the interlingual interference are described in detail in many
publications. The classifications offered are a product of the linguistic analysis, the
kinds of speech, etc. The description of these errors enables the recognition of the
different strategies used by second language learners for reducing the burden of
acquisition. Jack Richards  classifies the errors as follows:
According to Jakobovits what can be classified as an overgeneralization is “the use
of previously available strategies in new situations. In second language learning…
some of these strategies will prove helpful in organizing the facts about the second
language, but others, perhaps due to superficial similarities, will be misleading and
Overgeneralisation can be a result of a incorrectly constructed structures in the
target language (as: she can swims); or it can be a result of the learner’s desire to
simplify his language task (the –ed marker for past tense may seem an excessive
burden because pastness is already expressed lexically).
Sometimes due to overlearning a structure and when the exercises are made of
utterances that can interfere with each other hybrid structures can appear as: She is
2. Ignorance of rule restrictions
Both the overgeneralization and the ignorance of rule restrictions are very similar
because they both ignore the limitations of the existing structures and apply these
structures in contexts where this is impossible. Some of these errors can be
accounted for in terms of analogy (for example: ask him to do it produces: make
him to do it) or in terms of rote learning of rules.
3. Incomplete application of rules
These errors reflect the degree of rule acquisition and the ability correct utterances
to be produced. In this respect the production of negative and interrogative
sentences reflects most successfully the difficulties in this direction. Usually either
an auxiliary verb is omitted or inversion is forgotten. If the L2 learner is interested
only in the successful communication , his language development can cease and
4. False concepts hypothesized
In addition to the above mentioned errors some originate from the incorrect or
incomplete understanding of rules. Such mistakes can be a result from a poor rule
presentation, based on a contrastive analysis between the Bulgarian and the
English language or contrasts within the English language itself. But the constant
comparing of relating areas of the languages can prove less effective that some
other approach. Usually practice and common sense teach us that minimizing the
problematic areas and opportunities for confusion is always safer.
Appendix - Tables 1 – 4 Typical Intralingual and Developmental Errors
Table 1 – Errors in the Production of Verb Groups
1. be + infinitive for infinitive
We are live in this house We live in this house.
He is speaks German He speaks German.
We are walk to school every day. We walk to school every day.
2. Wrong form after ‘do’
The boy does not likes ice-cream. The boy does not like ice-cream
Mary does not has a bicycle. Mary does not have a bicycle.
3. Wrong form after modal verb
She cannot to come She cannot come.
We can to draw. We can draw.
I can cooking very well. I can cook very well.
4. be omitted before verb+ing)
She running very fast. She is running very fast.
Ann going to the cinema with me. Ann is going to the cinema with me.
5. infinitive for infinitive+s
She always talk a lot. She always talks a lot.
She come from Spain. She comes from Spain.
Table 2 - Errors in the distribution of verb groups
1. be + verb + ing for infinitive
She is coming from Spain. She comes from Spain.
I am getting up at 7 every morning. I get up at 7 every morning.
2. be + not + verb +ing for do + not + infinitive
She isn’t working for IBM. She doesn’t work for IBM.
Small babies are not walking Small babies don’t walk.
Table 3 – Miscellaneous Errors
1. Wrong verb form in adverb clause of time
I will come before he will leave I will come before he leaves.
We will be here until you will phone us. We will be here until you phone us.
2. Errors in tense sequence
He said that there is a ball in the water. He said that there was a ball in the water.
Table 4 – Errors in the Use of Questions
1. Omission of inversion.
Why this cup is empty? Why is this cup empty?
What they are looking for? What are they looking for?
Where they live? Where do they live?
2 be omitted before infinitive + ing
When the children coming? When are the children coming?
What you doing? What are you doing?
3. Omission of do
How much it costs? How much does it cost?
What you prefer? What do you prefer?
4. Wrong form of auxiliary, or wrong form after auxiliary.
Where do he live? Where does he live?
Do he like my new car? Does he like my new car?
5. Inversion rеtained in embedded sentences
Tell me what is his name Tell me what his name is.
I don’t know where does he live. I don’t know where he lives.
The analysis of these main types of errors of the interlanguage and development
helps us to revise the teaching materials and understand what hides behind the
learner’s language hypothesis. A lot of the contemporary teaching practices are
centered upon the belief that the learner will memorize everything with his
photographic memory and if he or she fails it is no fault of the teacher or the
course book. But the teaching techniques and procedures must be in accordance
with the structural and developmental conflicts that are characteristic of the
1. Corder S., 1967. The significance of learner’s errors, Cambridge 1967
2. Brouhton G. et.al. 1978. Teaching English as a foreign language, Routledge and
KeganPaul, London 1978
3. Бенатова П. 1981. Контрастивен анализ на предлозите FOR и ЗА и
приложението му в обучението по английски език. СДК
4. . Савова Л. 1991. Помагало за семинарни упражнения по методика на
английския език и педагогическа практика, Св. Климент Охридски, София
5. Richards J. C.,1984. Error Analysis, Longman, London and New York, p.
6. Jacobovitz, Leon A. ‘A Pchycholinguistic analysis of Second-Language
Learning and Billingualism’, Illinois, 1969, p.55