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Variability in Learner Errors as a Reflection of the CLT Paradigm Shift

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Joanna Pfingsthorn

In the last three decades the field of language teaching and learning has undergone a paradigm shift towards Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), which has put an emphasis on meaningful interaction and implied an abrupt departure from an extensive study of learner errors. Although learners in CLT classes are expected to be competent, yet not perfectly accurate communicators, the impact of the CLT paradigm on learner errors has not been investigated thoroughly. This study examines the extent to which the CLT paradigm shift has left its mark on learner errors. Written production is analyzed and compared with learner data recorded in the early stages of the shift to CLT. The data reveal that while morphosyntactic errors have not undergone drastic changes, discourse organization and lexical skills have improved.

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Chapter 2: Learner errors

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Chapter 2 Learner errors 2.1 Defining key terms The most rudimentary definition of a language error would describe the phe- nomenon as an “unsuccessful bit of language” (James, 1998, p. 1). Imprecise as it may be, this account certainly offers a sufficient and safe starting point for any further deliberations on language errors. Especially when we consider the fact that over the years research in the field of language errors has brought about various more and less specific terms relating to language errors, such as gaps, misapplications, flaws, hitches (Austin, 1962); mistakes, slips, errors, attempts (Edge, 1989); distortions, faults (Hammerly, 1991); goofs (Burt & Kiparsky, 1972); deviances, solecisims (Burt & Kiparsky, 1972). The labels often refer to diverse language-related setbacks, caused by faulty teaching, impaired learning, gaps in competence or performance problems. Altogether the terms paint a vague picture of what language errors truly entail. The following sections aim to shed light on the key characteristics of the phenomenon of language errors. 2.1.1 Relativity What seems to be the one undeniable characteristic of language errors is their relational nature. Any given language deviance becomes an error only in the context of a rule of the code that has been broken, or in other words, when “the learners have not yet internalized the formation rules of the code” (Corder, 1973, p.259). As James (1998, ch. 3) points out, the choice of a “code” or a 8 2. Learner errors reference point, such as a particular variety of the...

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