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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 3: Errors and communicative competence

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Chapter 3 Errors and communicative competence In order for any examination of learner errors to be conducted in an objective and reliable way, a model of communicative competence has to be used as its theoretical background. In this sense one of the most rudimentary steps that precede the analysis of learners’ errors is the analysis of language competences. The interpretation of the notion of language competence has varied in the last few decades. While in the 1960s and early 1970s it was frequently equated with nothing more than the ability to produce grammatically and phonologically error- free sentences with a reasonable degree of fluency (Multhaup, 1979), the 1970s and 1980s, marked a turning point in the field of language learning and teaching. Language competence began to be synonymous with the ability to communicate, which became the goal of modern language classes (Neuner & Hunfeld, 1993; Celce- Murcia, 1991; Larsen-Freeman, 1986; K. Johnson, 1982; Neuner et al., 1981; Canale & Swain, 1980; Stern, 1983). Most current models of language ability have three underlying dimensions. They describe what it means to know a language, how we understand actual language use and the underlying factors that relate to performance (McNamara, 1996). Undoubtedly, such information has the potential to scaffold the opera- tionalization of language constructs relevant to the study of errors. This in turn can lead to the re-evaluation of the chosen data collection or testing method and an increase in its validity, reliability and objectivity. 54 3. Errors and communicative competence Virtually all...

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