The Effect of L1 and CAI on Grammar Learning: An Error Analysis of Taiwanese Beginning EFL Learners’ English Essays

| January 5, 2006
    The purpose of this study was to examine whether the CAI (computer assisted instruction) tutorial program had an impact on the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) grammar skills of the beginning EFL language learners. A quasi-experimental research design was conducted at a private college located in southern Taiwan. A post-writing assessment was administered for both the control group and the experimental group after the treatment. One hundred written essays were analyzed through error analysis and data were computed through a one-way ANOVA on overall error rates. The major finding on overall error rates demonstrates that there was no statistical difference between the control group and the experimental group.
    Although the supplemental CAI program in this study did not produce a statistically significant effect on reducing beginning EFL learners’ overall written error rates, evidence provided by the written samples suggest that L1 played a role in the process of beginning EFL learners’ writing in English. Understanding linguistic differences between students’ L1 and English may help the learners reduce interference from their first language.

    Key Words: L1, CAI, error analysis, EFL writing, beginning EFL grammar learningIntroduction
    Writing is a complex process even in the first language. It is even more complicated to write in a foreign language. Many studies indicate that beginning EFL students tend to be interfered by their first language in the process of writing in English (Benson, 2002; Cedar, 2004; Chen & Huang, 2003; Collins, 2002; Jarvis, 2000; Jiang, 1995; Lado, 1957; Liu, 1998; Mori, 1998; Yu, 1996). 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.

    In addition to an awareness of the L1 influence, the use of technology is another issue that has been widely discussed in language instruction. A number of research studies confirm the advantages of integrating technology into language instruction (Cheng, 2003; Gonzalez-Bueno & Perez, 2000; Jan, 2000, 2002; Lin, 2003; Liou & Yeh, 2000; Shih & Cifuentes, 2003; Sotillo, 2000; Sun, 2000; Wei, 2002). This paper reports the results of a study examining whether grammar instruction with the addition of CAI as an instructional support tool can help beginning level Taiwanese EFL students reduce their written grammar error rates. It also discusses how L1-related errors occurred in students’ written essays.

    Literature Review
    The Role of L1 in EFL Writing
    To investigate the relationship between students’ L1 and EFL writing, Chan (2004) examined English writing samples from 710 Hong Kong ESL college students. The findings reveal that, in all of the five error types investigated, most errors were closely related to the subjects’ L1. The data from interviews with the students also confirm that EFL students first called upon their L1 before producing their English writings. The use of the language transfer was even more obvious among the learners of a lower English proficiency level.

    Along the same lines, Liu, Sung, and Chien (1998) also concluded that the less English proficiency learners possess, the more L1 interference was found in their English writings. In the study of Liu, et al, the authors applied a think-aloud method to detect how Taiwanese EFL students generated notes in the process of writing in English. The findings reveal that beginning EFL learners relied on their L1 to retrieve words more than advanced EFL learners.

    Errors in Taiwanese EFL Learners’ Writings
    To understand what errors Taiwanese EFL students tend to make, investigations have been done over the years. Analyzing the errors made by Taiwanese EFL college students, Chen (1998) reported that most Taiwanese students have difficulties in the use of English tenses due to the absence of verb conjugation in Mandarin. Since Mandarin is not an inflected language, Fang (1999) highlighted the teaching of English verb tenses to prevent Taiwanese EFL students from misusing English tenses due to the linguistic difference.

    Another grammatical error that is frequently found in Taiwanese EFL students’ compositions is the misuse of English articles. Chen (2000) considered that English articles could be one of the most difficult grammatical parts for Taiwanese EFL students as there is not an equivalent syntactical device to the English article system. Master (1988) further indicated that beginning level EFL learners tend to be more interfered by such a linguistic difference between Mandarin and English.

    Likewise, Hsin (2003) scrutinized the run-on sentences in Taiwanese EFL students’ writings and identified the possible causes using contrastive analysis between English and Mandarin. The researcher observed that English is a subject-prominent language, in which a subject in a sentence is always required. In contrast to subject-oriented structures, Mandarin tends to be a topic-comment language. Such a linguistic difference between Mandarin and English creates learning difficulties for Taiwanese EFL learners and results in errors in their EFL writings.

    Similarly, Li and Thompson (1981) agreed that the concept of subject in Mandarin is less significant than the concept of topic. To help Taiwanese EFL students avoid making such errors, Hsin (2003) suggested that language teachers emphasize the necessity of subjects in English sentences even if the sentence subjects are clear to speakers and listeners.

    Likewise, Jiang (1995) analyzed Taiwanese EFL learners’ errors in English prepositions and found that a great number of errors derive from language transfer. The researcher stated that compared to English speakers, Mandarin speakers use fewer prepositions for more concepts, therefore increasing difficulties in learning English prepositions.

    In addition, some researchers employed error analysis to examine the error types in Taiwanese EFL students’ English writings (Horney, 1998; Kao, 1999; Lin, 2002; Tseng, 1980; Ying, 1987). Horney (1998) investigated compositions written by 80 Taiwanese EFL students. The results revealed that errors in the use of articles had the highest error percentage (11%). Both errors in the use of prepositions and errors in the use of verbs had the same error rate 9% and were considered the second highest. By contrasting Mandarin and English, the researcher confirmed that L1 related errors were the largest portion of the total errors.

    Lin (2002) examined 26 essays from Taiwanese EFL students at the college level. The results of this study indicated that the four highest error frequencies were sentence structures (30.43 %), wrong verb forms (21.01%), sentence fragments (15.94%), and wrong use of words (15.94%), respectively.

    Also, to discover learning deficiencies in writing English, Kao (1999) scrutinized 169 compositions from 53 Taiwanese college students who were English major students. Twenty-two of them came from Soochow University and 31 were from Fu Hsing Kang College. A total of 928 errors were found, among which grammatical errors occurred with the greatest frequency, 66%, Semantic errors occurred 18% of the time, and Lexical errors occurred with the least frequency, 16%.

    Ying (1987) examined 120 Taiwanese EFL learners’ compositions and sorted errors on the basis of three criterions: overgeneralization, simplification, and language transfer. A total of 1,250 errors were detected in the 120 compositions, among which 78.9% of the errors were a result of language transfer, 13.6% were overgeneralization of the target language, and 7.5% were forms of simplification.

    Computer Technology in EFL Education
    The advent of technology has found a welcome home in foreign language education. Language instruction that combines technology has become popular and has had a tremendous impact on language education. Numerous EFL research studies (Blake, 2000; Cheng, 2003; Cheng & Liou, 2000; Egbert, 2002; Higgins, 1993; Kramsch & Andersen, 1999; LeLoup & Ponterio, 2003; Skinner & Austin, 1999; Strambi & Bouvet, 2003; Willetts; 1992; Williams & Williams, 2000) suggest that integration of technology can improve academic performance, enhance motivation, and promote learning. To examine how technology supports teaching and learning, Chatel (2002) conducted interviews and observations with eight classroom teachers and four ESL teachers. One of the participants in the interview indicated that she chose appropriate software and websites, which enabled ESL learners to learn and apply English. Lasagabaster and Sierra (2003) conducted a similar research study to examine the attitude of 59 undergraduate students toward Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) software programs. The findings revealed that the students had a positive attitude toward learning language with computers.

    Also, results from some research studies suggest the value of incorporating technology into EFL instruction (Carey & Gregory, 2002; Cheng, 2003; Godwin-Jones, 2002; Gonzalez-Bueno & Perez, 2000; LeLoup & Ponterio, 2003). Liu, Moore, Graham, and Lee (2002) investigated the literature relating to how computer-based technology had been used in language instruction during the past decade (1990 – 2002) and found a shift in research focus. Current research, unlike that conducted in the early 1990s when the value of technology was still questioned, is now centered on how to integrate technology into language instruction to make teaching and learning more effective.

    This study was un

    Category: Teaching Articles, Volume 9