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  • Background of the Study

The importance of writing has been realised by the English language teaching practitioners. Good language users are supposed to be able to express themselves in both spoken and written language. As an attempt to increase the proficiency of learners in written production of English, Writing has been widely taught as a discrete subject in various foreign language teaching programs.

Writing is a difficult process even in the first language. It is even more complicated to write in a foreign language. Many studies indicate for the beginning English Foreign Language (EFL) students, there tends to be interference from their first language in the process of writing in English (Benson, 2002; Cedar, 2004; Chen & Huang, 2003; Collins, 2002; Jarvis, 2000; Jiang, 2005; Lado, 2007; Liu, 2008; Mori, 2008; Yu, 2006). Writing in a foreign language often presents the greatest challenge to the students at all stages, particularly essay writing because in this activity, writing is usually extended and therefore it becomes more demanding than in the case of writing a short paragraph.

Writing in general and essays in particular form problems to secondary students in Nigeria. Teachers of composition or writing classes in Nigerian secondary state schools are generally faced with students who have memorized a good amount of English vocabulary and grammar rules, but have seldom put that knowledge to practical use (Wachs, 2003). In many cases, the majority of these students are still translating words, phrases, and sentences from their mother tongue to English with often very strange results. The challenge for the composition teacher is to find methods to activate in a meaningful way the passive knowledge the students possess in terms of the writing skill, as well as to help the students become more proficient while working to eliminate some of their common errors. A better understanding of the L1 influence in the process of EFL writing will help teachers know students’ difficulties in learning English. It will also aid in the adoption of appropriate teaching strategies to help beginning EFL students learn English writing skills better. As Richards & Renandya (2002:303) claim; “there is no doubt that writing is the most difficult skill for L2 learners to master. The difficulty lies not only in generating and organizing ideas, but also in translating these notions into legible text”. Yet, it is very necessary to look into the dynamics of writing and its teaching, as writing is a skill that not only is tested in every valid language examination, but also a skill that learners should possess and demonstrate in academic contexts. Writing includes numerous considerations and choices to be made regarding “higher level skills”, such as content, structure and organization, and “lower level skills”, such as punctuation and choice of appropriate vocabulary items and grammatical structures, which are the terms used by Richards & Renandya (2002). Moreover, writing skills must be practiced and learned through experience. By putting together concepts and solving problems, the writer engages in “a two-way interaction between continuously developing knowledge and continuously developing text” (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2007). Indeed, academic writing demands conscious effort and practice in composing, developing, and analyzing ideas. Compared to students writing in their native language (L1), however, students writing in their L2 have to also acquire proficiency in the use of the language as well as writing strategies, techniques and skills, they want to write close to error-free texts and they enter language courses with the expectations of becoming more proficient writers in the L2.

However, most secondary school students find it difficult to write essays free of errors of various types. Therefore, teachers of essay writing need to anticipate certain common types of errors. They may also find other types of errors, which can be revealed by analyzing the written products or essays of students. These are the conventions, which are usually followed by the teachers of writing when analyzing students’ errors.

As mentioned above writing is a complex task; it is the “most difficult of the language abilities and skills to acquire (Allen & Corder, 2004). Its level of difficulty varies between native speakers (NS) who think in the language used, in this case it will be English, and non-native speakers (NNS) who think in their own native language. While writing, non-native speakers have to think of all those rules they need to apply or use, rules that native speakers are expected to have automatically.

Harold (2009) points out the difficult situation in which a writer can find him/herself:

The writer is a lonely figure cut off from the stimulus and corrective of listeners. He must be a predictor of reactions and act on his predictions. He writes with one hand tied behind his back, being robbed of gesture. He is robbed too of the tone of his voice and the aid of clues the environment provides. He is condemned to monologue; there is no one to help, to fill the silences put words in his mouth, or make encouraging noises. (5)

Tricia Hedge elaborates on the requirements of effective writing:

Effective writing requires a number of things: a high degree of development in the organization of ideas and information; a high degree of accuracy so there is no ambiguity of meaning; the use of complex grammatical devices for focus and emphasis; and careful choice of vocabulary, grammatical patterns, and sentence structures to create a style which is appropriate to the subject matter and the eventual readers. (Hedge, 2008:5)

The writing skill involves many other sub-skills like the general knowledge about the subject in question and the ability to translate ideas into grammatical sentences. Rivers (2008:243) argues that any academic writer must meet four major conditions:

The student must learn: 1- the graphic systems of the foreign language; 2- he must learn to spell according to the conventions of the language; 3- he must learn to control the structure of the language so that what he writes is comprehensible to his reader; and 4- he must learn to select from among possible combinations of words and phrases those which will convey the nuances he has in mind in the register which is most appropriate.

It’s true that non-native speakers are more prone to committing errors. Teachers of English in Nigeria are currently facing the challenge of adopting and developing a wide range of methods to accomplish effective teaching of English writing. This, of course, is not an easy task. A large number of students in Nigeria continue to fail to master the basics of the English writing even after long years of formal education. Teachers of English feel satisfied to have a student who speaks and writes correct English. This has been the ambition of all EFL teachers. Students in government schools in Nigeria start learning English from the first primary, and by the end of the secondary stage of education, the pupils have spent more than twelve years of learning EFL. At the end of this period, they are expected to understand advanced English, to communicate with an English speaking person within certain reasonable areas, to read simple English with ease, fluency and understanding, and to write a paragraph in English using basic structures of the language. However, during my long experience as a teacher of English at government schools in Nigeria, research has indicated that the majority of students at the end of their secondary cycle have great difficulties in reading with comprehension and that very few of them are able to write meaningful and error-free English sentences. In spite of the fact that they have studied English for more than twelve years and that their vocabulary repertoire is expected to be massive and their knowledge of grammar rules and the mechanics of writing is satisfying, most of the students are still not able to write a correct paragraph using adequately the basic structures of the English language they have learnt. However, why do students still find difficulties in writing in English when their teachers do their best to help them to achieve good results? The answer to this question might be that learning English or any other foreign language is difficult, for all non-native speakers. The main problem is that, even in their very first lesson, the learners of a foreign language do not start learning this new language from zero or a neutral point (Hwang, 2000). Instead, they interpret the new phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic patterns through those of their native language.

What finally matters, I believe, is that we encourage our students to write. Lynn Holaday (in Stephen Tchudi, 2007: 35) points out “the way to become a better writer is to write”. She remarks “students who feel incompetent at writing avoid writing. They do not practice. They do not get better.”

In the light of this introduction the main aim of this study is to explore and analyze the common errors in Secondary students’ English essay writing in Mangu LGA of Plateau State.

  • Statement of the Problem

The rate of failure in English language has become a source of concern to all educational stakeholders viz-a-viz students, teachers, parents, government and curriculum planners.

Gone are the days when the graduate of a secondary school was regarded as an intelligent person and fit for teaching other learners as well. Today, reverse is the case. Even graduates of tertiary institutions fail to express themselves grammatically in terms of writing.

  • Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of this study is to determine the common errors found in written essays of secondary school students. Other purposes include:

  1. To find out the causes of these common errors in the written essays of students
  2. To provide information on types of grammatical errors students make
  • To identify the extent to which meaning and intelligibility is distorted in students’ writing as a result of spelling errors
  1. To proffer solutions to the causes and effect of these error found in the essay writing of students
    • Research Questions

In order for the researcher to have a sense of guide in carrying out the researcher, the following questions are formulated with the intention of providing answers to them at the end of the research:

  1. What are the causes of errors in the written essays of students?
  2. What are the types of grammatical errors students make?
  • To what extent do errors committed by the students inhibit the intelligibility in their writing?
  1. What are the solutions to the causes and effect of these error found in the essay writing of students?
    • Significance of the Study

The significance of this study cannot be overemphasized. The study shall be of benefit to the all the educational stakeholders which comprise of the students, teachers, parents, curriculum planners and the government as well.

To the students, they will get to know the areas that contribute to their errors in written essays and they will work towards surmounting these obstacles.

Some of these errors committed by students, can be corrected by the teachers via instructional materials, structuring of lesson, etc. in the light of this, the teachers will get to know where they are lacking in terms of proper usage of instructional materials and other areas concern with language teaching-learning.

Parents sometimes contribute unknowingly to the failure of students in academics. Therefore, the parents would get to know areas that they help in contributing to the common errors made by their children in school.

Curriculum planners will as well benefit from this study because no man is an island. The recommendations made as a result of the findings, will help them in structuring learning experiences which will meet the needs of the students in terms of correcting these common errors made by students in essay writing.

To the government, they will see the adequate need to provide instructional materials, textbooks and other learning materials that will enable the smooth teaching-learning of English language as a subject in the secondary school.

  • Scope and Delimitation of the Study

This study is limited to common errors in essay writings of secondary school students. The research will cover Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau State. Despite the fact that the study is restricted to Mangu LGA, its findings will be generic – it can be generalized to other parts of the country as well.

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