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Jurnal Pendidikan Vol.

15 Nomor 2, Desember 2014

GRAMMAR ERRORS IN INTERLANGUAGE PERFORMED BY


ENGLISH LEARNERS OF INDONESIAN COLLEGE STUDENTS

Iwan Fauzi
Program Studi Pendidikan Bahasa Inggris
FKIP Universitas Palangka Raya

The study is dedicated to the issue of grammar errors in interlanguage while learners
acquire the second language system. The concept of interlanguage views learners having
their own grammatical systems in the progress to a target language. Since interlanguage is
considered as a separate linguistic system which is distinct from a native language system
and a target language one, it is undeniable that interlanguage is, of course, characterized
by the existence of errors. This study looks into the main areas of difficulty in the
acquisition of English grammar faced by college students who are native speakers of
Bahasa Indonesia. There were 30 college students in the first grade of learning English as
a foreign language who were randomly taken at the Study Program of English at Sekolah
Tinggi Agama Islam Negeri (STAIN) Palangkaraya as participants of the study. The data
were taken from students’ written tasks focusing on the analysis of error categories based
on grammatical features. Results indicate that the most frequent deviance of English
grammar are found under categories of verb, article, noun, and preposition. Mostly
students’ difficulties are caused by their insufficient understanding, a lack of experience
and exposure to English grammar, and their reliance on their native language systems.

Many applied linguists viewed errors in second language learning not just a deviation
but rather the source for finding the strategies used by the learner in learning the target
language. An Indonesian proverb says ‘Belajar dari kesalahan’ which means we can learn
through our errors. Making mistakes can indeed be regarded as an essential part of learning
(Norrish 1983). Brown (1987) says that language learning, like any other human learning is a
process that involves the making mistakes.
Learners’ errors today become a trending issue among second language acquisition
researchers since they can be the source for studying the system of learners’ second language
or what the term is so-called interlanguage. Interlanguage has certain features and
characteristics which distinguish it from the language spoken by native speakers of a
language. According to Bialystok and Sharwood Smith (1985:106) interlanguage implies that
the speech of second language (L2) learners is deviant with respect to native-speaker models.
They argue that interlanguage is systematic language performance of L2 speakers who have
not achieved sufficient levels of analysis of linguistic knowledge or sufficient control of
processing to be identified completely with native speakers.
The concept of interlanguage views learners as constructing their own grammatical
systems. Nozadze (2012:42) defines the grammatical systems of L2 learners in interlanguage
are learner-driven rather than teacher-driven. She implies that the learner progresses through
employing a number of different strategies, some of which are based upon the learner’s
native language (L1), some of which are based upon the learner’s desire to communicate, and
some of which may be rooted in the universal grammar.
Many researchers give different definitions and descriptions of interlanguage. Three
scholars of applied linguistics; Selinker (1972), Namser (1971), and Corder (1971) have
different terms used to refer to interlanguage. Selinker (1972), for instance, refers to it as the

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learner’s intermediate language system while Namser (1971) defines it as an ‘approximate’


system. Then, Corder (1971) refers to what he calls an ‘idiosyncratic’ dialect or the learner’s
‘transitional competence’.
Selinker (1972) was the first linguist introducing the term ‘interlanguage’ and he even
is regarded as the father of the term interlanguage though Nemser (1971) and Corder (1971)
wrote about interlanguage earlier. This is due to the interlanguage theory received its full
expression in Selinker’s views.
According to Selinker (1972:214), “the set of utterances for most learners of a second
language is not identical to the hypothesized corresponding set of utterances which would
have been produced by a native speaker of a target language had he attempted to express the
same meaning as the learner”. What Selinker (1972) defined here implies that there are two
sets of utterances proving the existence of a separated linguistic system based on the
utterance of the learner which is so-called interlanguage. Meanwhile, Ellis (1985a:229)
defines interlanguage as “the series of interlocking systems which characterized acquisition”.
Of these, Maliwa (2005:13) deduces Selinker’s and Ellis’s views of interlanguage as “a
conglomeration of the learner’s native language and target language”. These all opinions
argue to one perspectives of the interlanguage which is a language neither like the first
language nor the second language.
Meanwhile, Nemser (1971) refers to the interlanguage system as an ‘approximate
system’. This term to Nemser (p. 116) is “the deviant linguistic system actually employed by
the learner attempting to utilize the target language”. He further argues that such
approximate systems may vary in character in accordance with proficiency level, learning
experience, communication function and personal learning characteristics. In its progress,
according to Nemser, the approximate system develops gradually from the first attempt to use
the target language to the most advanced.
However, Corder (1981: 116) refers to the interlanguage system as an idiosyncratic
dialect of the target language. The concept of idiosyncratic dialect is a development of
Corder’s earlier concept of ‘transitional competence’. Corder argues that the interlanguage of
L2 learners is a special sort of dialect that he describes as follows:
The spontaneous speech of the second language learner is a language and has a
grammar. Secondly, since a number of sentences of that language are
isomorphous with some of the sentences of his target language and have the
same interpretation, then some, at least, of the rules needed to account for the
learner’s language will be the same as those required to account for the target
language. Therefore, the learner’s language is a dialect in the linguistic sense;
two languages which share some rules of grammar are dialects (1981: 14).

Richard’s (1974: 161) interpretation of Corder’s view above is that the speech of learners of a
second language is regular, systematic, meaningful; that is it has a grammar and is
describable in terms of a set of rules which is a subset of the rules of the target language. The
alternative name for idiosyncratic dialect is transitional dialect, a name emphasizing its
unstable nature.
Of all these, the writer summarizes that interlanguage is a language system that is
neither the L1 nor the L2. Since interlanguage is considered as a separate linguistic system

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which is distinct from native language system and target language one, it is undeniable that
interlanguage is, of course, characterized by the existence of errors.
The primary goal of this study is to determine the main areas of difficulty in the
acquisition of English grammar faced by college students who are native speakers of
Indonesian. For this purpose, an analysis of students’ errors was selected since errors provide
evidence of the processes involved in interlanguage development.

METHOD
The present study was conducted at the Study Program of English at Sekolah Tinggi
Agama Islam Negeri (STAIN) Palangkaraya. There were 30 college students in the first grade
of learning English as a foreign language who were randomly taken and equal by number of
15 males and 15 females to be the participants of this study. They were assigned to write a
free composition entitled About Myself of about 200 to 250 words. To get a similar result on
the assignment, they were given clues to tell about such as introducing name, age, place of
origin, native language, hobbies, reasoning why to choose English program, and the future
dream.
In the procedure of data selecting, the researcher listed all sentences written by
learners. Then, he coded the sentences containing errors and separating them. An error
analysis technique was carried out on those sentences to identify grammatical deviant
categories. The data analysis was processed through the following steps. First, the
accumulated data were classified and coded in two major parts; idiosyncratic and non-
idiosyncratic sentence where the former is error and the later is not or normal. Second, each
idiosyncratic sentence was identified types of error and they were coded and calculated based
on grammatical categories to find out the percentage and the frequency. Finally, the causes of
errors were discussed.
The focus of the analysis was types of error in grammatical features. Therefore, errors
concerning organization (i.e., thesis statement, conclusion or transition, etc.), content (i.e.,
whether the issue was addressed or whether irrelevant material was included, etc.), and
mechanics (i.e., punctuation, capitalization, spelling, etc.,) were disregarded.

RESULT
This study has succeeded to build a mini corpus of idiosyncratic dialects performed
by Indonesian college students. Of 30 students distributed composition sheets, 27 students
resubmitted the sheets to the researcher and three students did not do so. These 27 students
(14 females and 13 males) produced 362 sentences on their writing in which 261 sentences or
72% were categorized idiosyncratic, and only 101 sentences (28%) were non-idiosyncratic or
correct in term of their grammatical forms. Figure 1 below shows the number of idiosyncratic
and non-idiosyncratic sentences fulfilling the data corpus.

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101; 28%

261; 72%

Non-idiosyncratic Idiosyncratic

Figure 1. Number of sentences fulfilling data corpus


The 261 sentences categorized as interlanguage errors represent 11 grammatical
categories of error which have a sum 525 tokens of error in frequency. Those eleven
categories are article, preposition, pronoun, verb, noun, infinitive, gerund, adjective and
adverb, relative clause, redundant sentence, and unclear meaning. Table 1 below presents the
number of frequency of all grammar errors marked in the students’ compositions. The second
column lists the error categories, and the rest of the columns show the actual number of errors
and the percentage of the total number of errors per category.
Table 1. Errors marked in the students’ compositions
No. Error categories Frequencies Percentages
1. Article 117 22,3 %
2. Preposition 53 10,1 %
3. Pronoun 19 3,6 %
4. Verb 149 28,4 %
5. Noun 103 19,6 %
6. Infinitive 18 3,4 %
7. Gerund or -ing form 22 4,2 %
8. Adjective and adverb 22 4,2 %
9. Relative clause 6 1,1 %
10. Redundant sentence 11 2,1 %
11. Unclear meaning 5 1,0 %
Total errors 525 100,0 %

Table 1 shows that there are four grammatical categories which are major-classified errors;
those categories are verb, article, noun, and preposition. These four grammatical categories
had more than 10% respectively of total errors.
It is important to note that errors in these four categories constitute more than two-
third of the total number of errors the students made in all categories where they reach 80.4%.
This tells us that interlanguage errors are mostly occurred in the categories of verb, article,
noun, and preposition (respectively from the highest to the least). To view precisely problems

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faced by the college students in those four grammatical categories, it is elaborated in the sub-
category below.
Table 2. Four major-classified errors performed by the college students

No. Category Sub-category Freq.

1. VERB  Subject-Verb agreement 29


 Wrong verb and tenses 53
 Verb missing 29
 Double verb 19
 Auxiliaries 18
 Wrong causative forms 1
Sum total (1) 149
2. ARTICLE  Missing article 94
 Wrong article 10
 Unnecessary article 13
Sum total (2) 117
3. NOUN  Missing subjects 28
 Double subjects 7
 Pluralization 36
 Wrong proper noun forms 7
 Wrong order of NPs or 19
missing head of NPs
 Missing objects of verb 3
 Numbers 3
Sum total (3) 103
4. PREPOSITION  Missing preposition 15
 Wrong preposition 21
 Unnecessary preposition 17
Sum total (4) 53
Total in summary 422

Consider the following idiosyncratic sentences notified from the category of verb in the data
findings.
(1) *My father work as an employee in a wood factory.
(2) *My mother was just a housewife.
(3) *My name Ø Dewi Kurniawati.
(4) *I want the girl is have an external beauty.
(5) *I ought to can speak English well.
(6) * they make English to become so easy to understand.

Of these six deviant forms in verb, the students mostly did not obey the rules of using
verb tenses. They tend to use other English tenses instead of using simple present to tell an
activity in general as in sentence (2) where this sub-category reached 35,6% (more than one-
third) of total errors under the verb category. Then, errors made in SV agreement was equal

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in number to verb missing in which they covered 19,5% for each. The typical errors of SV
agreement pertained sentences having subjects and verbs did not agree in grammar with one
another. In this case, the subject in singular should follow the verb in singular as well. It may
be seen in the sentence (1). In spite of SV agreement, the students also missed verbs in their
sentences. It might be influenced by a native language transfer where Bahasa Indonesia do
not need be in its sentence rule. Consider the sentence (3) where the student did not put be
following the subject. The other wrong verb forms are under sub-categories of using double
verbs and misuse of auxiliary having 12,8% and 12,1% respectively. Sentence (4) shows the
former that there are two verbs (be preceeding lexical verb) in one sentence; and sentence (5)
is the later that the sentence contains an unnecessary auxiliary ought to. For the last sub-
category of error in verbs is the wrong causative form as seen in sentence (6) where the verb
following the causative never changes into to infinitive or gerund. This sub-category of verbs
only has 0,7% of total errors in verb forms.
Then the second rank of interlanguage errors was occupied by article covering three
sub-categories, i.e.: missing article, wrong article, and unnecessary article. The following
idiosyncratic sentences are notified from the data findings.
(7) *... and my mother is Ø house wife.
(8) *After completing my study, I want to be a English teacher someday.
(9) * in the my house usually we speak Javanese.
The incorrect use of articles in the three sentences exemplified above mostly happen in the
sub-category of missing articles where 80,3% sentences made have no article to define nouns
as in sentence (7). Besides misssing articles students also used unnecessary articles in their
sentences where it covered 11,1% of errors pertaining to this sub-category as seen in sentence
(9). Then, 8,5% rest of errors in article were categorized as an incorrect form of article as
shown in sentence (8).
Meanwhile, the deviant grammatical use of nouns is also high in number. There are
seven sub-categories of noun functions which are incorrect in students’ composition. Those
are missing subjects, double subjects, pluralization, wrong proper noun forms, wrong order
of NPs or missing head of NPs, missing objects of verb, and numbers. Consider the following
idiosyncratic sentences pertaining to noun in the data findings.
(9) *I hope after finishing my study Ø become a professional teacher.
(10) *the reason I choose English because I want to master...
(11) *My parents also agree with me.
(12) *... because I want to go to Inggris, Amerika, etc.
(13) *My parent is a trader cake.
(14) *I want to help Ø who are sickness.
(15) *I am 19th years old.
The most deviant grammatical use of noun is laid on the sub-category of pluralizaton. It is
about 35% errors under the noun category made by learners through ignoring plural markers.
As the noun should be plural in context, the learners tend to overgeneralize the plural marker
–s to noun when its form in singular as seen on sentence (11). Besides, students also did not
know irregular plural forms to certain nouns. The second and the third highest ranks of error
under the category of noun are missing subject and wrong NP forms respetively. Under the

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sub-category of missing subject, most sentences made by the learners had no subject as seen
on sentence (9). Then, when the learners made sentences containing NP, they mostly tend to
mention the head of NP before its modifier instead of putting the modifier before the head, as
seen on sentence (13). Some other wrong forms under this sub-category were filled by the
missing head of NPs. The other sub-categories such as double subject, missing object of verb,
wrong proper nouns and numbers also contributed errors under the category of noun. Under
the sub-category of double subject, for instance, the learners made a sentence as seen on (10)
by putting two subjects on it regardless of a noun clause. In other case of errors, the learners
left objects of verb in few sentences, as seen on (14); and they seemed not know the correct
form of proper nouns to name countries such as England, United States, etc., as seen on
sentence (12). Then, the learners also ignored the rule of number such as using cardinal
numbers instead of using ordinal numbers, as seen on sentence (15).
Further, the fourth highest of grammar errors in interlanguage is the use of
preposition. There are three sub-categories of preposition classified incorrect in the students’
composition. Those are missing preposition, wrong preposition, and unnecessary preposition.
The following idiosyncratic sentences are notified from those three sub-categories in the data
findings.
(16) *... and I study Ø English Departement now.
(17) * I want to continue my study on Korea.
(18) *... but in my family calls me Wawah.

The deviant grammatical use of preposition is not dominant to one another. Under this
category of errors, the learners mostly used wrong prepositions as seen on sentence (17)
covering almost 40%; and the learners also left prepositions in their sentences as seen on (16)
which was about 28%. Even they put unnecessary prepositions before nouns as seen on
sentence (18) which was about 32% of contributing errors under this sub-category.

DISCUSSION
In addition to four errors in grammar categories mentioned previously named verb,
article, noun, and preposition, there are still other categories contributing 19.6% of
idiosyncratic sentences composed by the college students. Those categories are gerund,
adjective & adverb, pronoun, infinitive, redundant sentence, relative clause, and sentences in
unclear meaning. Table 4 below shows the 19.6% grammar errors marked in the students’
compositions.
Table 3. Minor grammar errors marked in the students’ compositions
General
Examples of Errors Freq. %
categories

Gerund After graduate from the college ... 22 4.2%

Adj. and Adv. I still confuse now. 22 4.2%


... and I very like with my English teacher.
I adore a responsibility person in my life.
and very important I want to be an English teacher.

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Pronoun My father job's is a farmer. 19 3.6%


I hobbies cooking, reading, and watching TV.
Ok now, let's introduce myself.

Infinitive I want introduce myself 18 3.4%


I choose study English because English is fun.

Redundant sentence Dream life partner have figure patient, kind, and 11 2.1%
understanding my family.

Relative clause I have some criteria for a person will be my husband. 6 1.1%

Unclear meaning I want to be a snare for the tourist that there in my city. 5 1.0%
It’s not obbession or a wish that will be lost as my age.

Sum Total 103/525 19.6%

Of these minor-classified errors, most idiosyncratic sentences are equally found in the sub-
categories of gerund, adjective & adverb. Under the category of gerund, for instance, errors
commonly happened by omiting –ing to verbs following prepositions and by ignoring the rule
of which verbs should be followed by gerunds. Meanwhile, errors performed under the
category of adjective & adverb were classified into incomplete forms of adjective and adverb,
wrong forms of adjective and adverb, and incorrect structure of comparative and superlative
forms of adjective and adverb.
Under the category of pronoun, the incorrect position of genitive ‘s to denote a
possessive pronoun and the incorrect use of personal pronouns instead of using possessive
pronouns were very common errors made by students. The use of infinitive and relative
clause also contributed few errors on students’ compositions. In this case, students mostly
omitted ‘to’ after verbs which should be followed by infinives. However, under the category
of relative clause the students had lack of knowledge in sentences which should be
coordinated with the relative clause. This is to say that both errors in the infinitive and the
relative clause are caused by insufficient exposures of grammar to the learners.
Two other categories of idiosyncratic sentences performed by the students are termed
as redundant sentence and unclear meaning. It is named redundant due to the fact that
sentences are semantically understandable but grammatically impossible in English language
(as shown on Table 4). In relation to this, students seem transfer their native language to the
grammatical system of English. To categorize errors by the term of unclear meaning is that
sentences or phrases for which the researcher could not find a plausible interpretation to the
sentences or phrases in spite of the fact that he is a native speaker of the learners’ L1 (this
case is also shown on Table 4). The cause of error in this category is unpredicatable because
only the learners by themselves understood what they wrote on their composition.
To sum, those seven categories of deviant English grammar discussed above have not
reached yet one-third in number of total errors made by the students. As discussed previously
on finding, there are four major errors mostly happened to the college students, i.e., verb,
article, noun, and preposition.

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Verb, in this study, is the highest problem and it seems to be more troublesome for the
students. Most errors under the verb category are in the forms of tense and concord. In other
words, students seem to have trouble with more types of tenses especially when they expreess
general activities or express something done in the past. Then, errors in concord or SV-
agreement are a common phenomenon performed by the students. The basic rule that states
that a singular noun is followed by the singular form of verb and a plural noun is followed by
the plural form of the verb is difficult to implement among the students. It shows that the
students’ interlanguage grammar have not yet developed.
The second highest rank of errors of interlanguage grammar is under the category of
article. Students mostly omit articles to singular count nouns or include them in contexts
where they are unnecessary or grammatically incorrect. This is in line with Wissing
(1988:58) that notes there are problems in the use of the definite and in the indefinite article
and that this kind of problem is typical of the kind of language error made by almost any
learner of English.
The third major-classified error is under the category of noun. Errors pertaining to
nouns in the context of this study entail missing nouns as subjects of sentences; using
incorrect forms of noun phrases where learners directly transfer NP forms of L1 system; and
using plural markers to unnecessary plural noun, e.g., noncount nouns, collective nouns, etc.
The last major deviant grammar belongs to the category of preposition. Students seem
to have serious problems in using preposition of English. They mostly used incorrect
preposition or they sometimes put unnecessary prepositions to the contexts. Wissing
(1988:108) states that most errors with prepositions pertain to incorrect choice, omission and
redundancy.
To end this discussion, it is important to note that errors in these four categories i.e.,
verb, article, noun, and preposition constitute more than two-third of the total number of
errors the students made. Another interesting finding is the fact that those highest percentages
of errors include article and preposition. Both elements are the most frequent errors
performed by second language learners. The article, for instance, several researchers consider
the article system to be unlearnable and therefore unteachable, because it can only be
acquired through natural exposure to the language (Dulay, Burt, and Krashen 1982; Master
1994:229). In relation to prepositions, Finn (1996:6) contends that prepositions are a problem
even to L1 speakers of English.

CONCLUSION
This study arrives at its conclusion that there are two classifications of interlingual
errors found in this study which is so-called major-classified errors and minor-classified
errors. The former is the most frequent errors and the highest performed by the learners, and
the later is the least frequent and the lowest. This study found that there are 261 idiosyncratic
sentences or 72% of 362 sentences performed by the students in their written tasks. Of the
261 sentences it is identified 525 grammar errors and the most frequent deviance of English
grammar are found under categories of verb, article, noun, and preposition. The result on
major-classified errors shows that the students’ difficulties seem mostly to be caused by

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students’ insufficient understanding, their lack of experience and exposure to English


grammar, and students’ reliance on their native language systems.
Interestingly, what have been found in this study is in line with several other studies
which have shown that the use of prepositions (Hasbun, 2007) and articles (Muto, 2012) are
the main problems in mastering English. The difficulty of both types of error showed that
students could not avoid such mistakes relying on their knowledge of grammar alone. They
need practice in writing at the discourse-level. The experimental error correction exercises
also, for instance, could decrease errors in students’ written tasks.

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