TENSE ERROR PATTERN AMONG SENIOR SECONDARY SCHOOLS
TENSE ERROR PATTERN AMONG SENIOR SECONDARY SCHOOLS
1.1. Background of the Study
Fluency and correctness of language expression can be fully detected in a composition, which represents one’s English ability (Hong, 2007) .The ability to write effectively in English is becoming increasingly important in the global community as communication across language becomes even more essential. Good English writing competence is widely recognized as an important skill for educational, business and personal reasons. Writing is a complex process which demands cognitive analysis and linguistic synthesis. It is even harder to learn to write in a foreign language, and it takes considerable time and effort to become a skillful writer. English writing instruction is thus assuming an increasing role in foreign language education (Tan, 2001)
The errors and mistakes committed by foreign language learners in the course of writing are a universal concern of linguists and teachers of foreign languages (Duan, 2011). Writing is a difficult process even in the first language. It is even more complicated to write in a foreign language. Many studies have indicated that for beginners English Foreign Language (EFL) students, there tends to be interference from their first language in the process of writing in English (Huang, 2003). Writing in a foreign language like English 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.
The English language is used and studied as a second language in Nigeria. This implies that it is neither the mother tongue nor the first language of any of the over four hundred and fifty ethnic groups in Nigeria. According to Uzoezie (2002), the English language is indigenous to Britain and the first contact by Nigerians with the English language dates back to the coming of the British to the West African coast in the 18th century as traders.
The Europeans discovered that their main purpose of coming which was mainly for the commercial exploitation of the region was made a little difficult because of the absence of a language of communication with the natives. This was because they considered the indigenous languages as primitive and had no interest in learning any of them. Baldeh (2000) records that they taught the coastal middle men the type of English related to buying and selling. The language progressed with the Europeans coming as colonial masters and making Lagos a colony of Britain in 1862.
According to Uzoezi (2002) English later assumed an important position in Nigeria as the official language and the language of wider communication. In the absence of a national language, the English language was accepted as the language of government, education, commerce, mass media and, above all, a language for international interaction and communication. Other aspects of the relevance of English such as the language for national development, educational advancement, social mobility, technological acquisition, etc, have also been highlighted by many writers.
The study of English becomes more important as its roles and relevance expand. In the language, efforts have been made to improve the students’ mastery of it, especially in the area of the basic language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. Among these four skills, achieving the goal of effective writing competence seems to be far from being realized. Evidence of this abounds in the type of errors committed by students in their written works. In Opata (2003), samples of undergraduates answer scripts were published. The scripts not only manifest the students’ errors, but they also reflect the level of incompetence. Ibileye (2007) also exposes some letters badly written by first year students of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, as he laments over the inadequate knowledge of the use of English by the students. As offensive as the errors may be, what is more important and beneficial to the students is how these errors should be corrected and be avoided in future and how to get communicative ability of students enhanced.
In the Nigerian school system, the English language is both a teaching subject and a language of instruction at the primary and post primary levels. In the university, an English language course is usually organized by the General Studies Unit. The course is mandatory for every first year student in all the departments of the university. One of the aims of this course, according to Ibileye (2007), is to impart the necessary language skills which the students need throughout the duration of their courses in the university. It is also the expectation of the universities and the Nigerian society that a graduate should be able to perform in the English language with competence and even teach others.
Christopher (1987: 2) discusses the relationship between the acquisition of particular languages and their tense organizing principles and argues that the development of interlanguage syntax is constrained by three factors. These are the “general organizing principles common to all languages, the selective and focusing influences of mother tongue and target language, and the exploratory processes of learners’ cognition.” The second of these three factors – the influence of native and target language – bears directly on analysis of error patterns in samples of student writing. Some patterns originate in the students’ first language and are the result of negative transfer, while others are the product of general misuse or over-generalization of learning strategies within the target language itself. Error patterns and teaching procedures devised to assist students with such errors will be discussed.
Vacide (2009) states that some errors seem to take a universal pattern, reflecting learners’ attempt to make the task of learning easy. The use of the past tense suffix ‘ed’ for all verbs is an example of simplification and overgeneralization. These errors are common in the speech of second language learners irrespective of the Mother Tongue.
Expressions that carry tenses in English language might tend to vary in meaning when they are directly translated: this is the case with most of the secondary school students especially those in rural areas.
The categories for description of errors cited by Brown (2000: 222-3) and others helps to distinguish between writing errors originating in a student’s first language and others within the target language itself. In general, errors can be categorized as ones of addition, omission, substitution and ordering at either the sentence or discourse level. Within these, different levels of language can be considered including phonology, orthography, lexicon, grammar and discourse. In addition, errors can be classified as either those which hinder communication (global) or those which do not (local).
This research work sets to investigate the tense errors of secondary school learners and how it affects their essay writings.
1.2. Statement of the Problem
The errors committed by secondary school students in writing have become a major source of concern to both the learners, parents and educational stakeholders. It is surprising to see someone who has passed through the four corners of the secondary school, struggling to write a good composition piece. Most often, they are found mixing both past and present tense – this blunder, ends up distorting the message they are trying to put across. This situation is alarming because these students are on their way to the tertiary institutions and most of them cannot construct an error-free paragraph. If their foundation is cracked, then there is definitely going to be a massive crash ahead. This is the more reason why some graduates who cannot write a common letter.
1.3. Purpose of the Study
The main objective of this research is to find out how tense errors affect the essay writing of secondary school students in Mangu Local Government Area.
Other objectives include to:
1. Determine the causes of tense errors among secondary school students.
2. Discover the problems faced by students in the teaching-learning process of tenses.
3. Find out the effects of tense errors on the students’ writings.
4. Proffer solutions accordingly to the problems identified.
1.4. Research Questions
1. What are the causes of tense errors among secondary school students?
2. What are the problems faced by secondary school students in the teaching-learning process of tenses?
3. What are the effects of tense errors on the students’ essay writings?
4. What are the solutions to these problems?
1.5. Significance of the Study
The significance of this study cannot be overemphasized. It is relevant because it will provide a feedback to the students in their performance in essay writing. Awareness of these errors will eventually empower them in making serious efforts to learn the correct usage.
The study will be a valuable tool in the hands of curriculum planners. It will give them an insight into the areas of difficulty that obstruct the students’ progress and guide them in adjusting their curriculum contents for better results. It will be a source of information for the teachers on the places to lay emphasis on, in the course of the students’ study. Text book writers in English will find the research useful because it will help them to identify areas of problem for students and to focus attention on these areas in their publications.
It is strongly expected that the students, the teachers, the curriculum designers and the textbook writers will benefit immensely from the findings and recommendations of this work. This will go a long way to enhance the English expressions of our secondary school learners.
1.6. Delimitation of the Study
To every research, there is a scope and delimitation. This study is limited to tense errors and its effect on the essay writing of students in secondary schools in Mangu. This is to say that there are a lot of errors in the aspect of language skills. Even though the research is limited to Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau State, its findings may be generic, that is to say that the findings of this research might be generalized to other parts of the country as well.
1.7. Theoretical Framework
The theoretical framework of this research is social cognitive theory of writing by Flower. It was propounded in 1994.
Social Cognitive Theory of Writing (Flower, 1994)
Flower (1994) called for an integration, especially in education, of social and cognitive theory in her book The construction of negotiated meaning: A social cognitive theory of writing because “neither social nor cognitive theory makes genuine sense without the other” (Flower, p. 33). Writing is a constructive process often shaped and carried out in a complex environment guided by the attitudes and feelings of not only the writer, but also the society and people who surround him or her (Flower). “The forces clustered around the poles of self and society, public and private, convention and invention, social and cognitive, are all forces that can give structure to a writer’s meaning, guide composing, or set criteria …” (Flower, p. 34). This construction becomes moments of active meaning negotiation that causes the writer to deal with multiple forces while bringing meaning to a situation (Flower).
Flower (1994) contended that meaning is socially shaped through reproduction, conversation, and negotiation. Reproduction is one-way communication; whereas, conversation and negotiation are both dialogic processes. Knowledge production using reproduction is an unconscious process of text production (Flower). “New texts can be defined as a reconfiguration of prior texts” (Flower, p. 56) through the process of connecting previous meaning with new information to develop new meaning, which is an example of knowledge transformation (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987).
Constructing meaning in written conversation is shared knowledge with a community (Clark, 1990). Conversation is involvement (Brandt, 1990) that occurs through interaction (Flower, 1994). Partners in conversation use discussion and dialogue to construct meaning—at points clarifying where the conversation stands and agreeing to move forward. Meaning by conversation “draw[s] attention to a relatively undirected process, in which meaning is nourished, shaped, and expanded by existing within a stream of possibilities” (Flower, p. 65).
However, Flower (1994) postulated that meaning is best shaped through negotiation, and writers internally and externally negotiate meaning. “Negotiation draws our gaze to a dilemma-driven and goal[-]directed effort to construct meaning in the face of forces” (Flower, p. 66). In the presence of negotiated meaning, individuals are ready-to-share freethinkers with a unique understanding and conceptualization of information (Flower). The process of constructing negotiated meaning is influenced by outside forces (e.g., language, teachers, collaborators, discourse convention) and voices or knowledge (e.g., goals, constraints, opportunities, experiences, wisdom, conflict; Flower).
The researcher uses this theory because in writing, meaning in communication is the goal. However, when a piece of writing is full of tense errors, meaning is distorted and communication cannot take place in a situation like this.
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