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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 6: Error categorization

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Chapter 6 Error categorization Although error analysis has gone down in history as unreliable, unscientific, and difficult to interpret, its significance has never been called into question. Since the phenomenon of errors remains an integral, and potentially highly informative part of learner language, the study of learner errors, as R. Ellis (1994, p. 20) notes, “can still serve as a useful tool and is still undertaken”. This statement also seems to capture the reality many foreign language teachers face. German teachers, for instance, are expected to develop performance assessment skills over the course of their training, which implies developing the ability to choose appropriate testing methods and performance indicators dictated by the modern communicative approach to foreign language teaching (Niedersa¨chsisches Kultusministerium, 2006a). It is safe to assume that accuracy is one of such indicators. It also stands to reason that specific types and distributions of learner errors constitute a factor that interacts with other performance measures. Therefore, in order for any performance analysis to be complete and to contribute to a more thorough understanding of language learning, proper error analysis has to be conducted. Many teachers (at least in Germany) seem to believe in the power of error treatment or may often feel the pressure to provide their learners with an appropriate error feedback, even though they occasionally express skepticism as to the potential negative affective reactions correction causes in their students (Kleppin & Ko¨nigs, 1991; Schulz, 2001). The majority of second language learners,...

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