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Source :

European Journal of Social Sciences Volume 10,

Number 2 (2009)

Done by :
School of Language Studies and Linguistics
Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
Educational system in Malaysia based on Razak
Report (1956)
Malaysian educational structure
a) Primary education 6 years
b) Secondary education 5 years
c) Sixth Form education 2 years
Prior to Razak Report, medium of instruction
a) National school Malay
b) National type (Chinese & Tamil) native language
English & Malay compulsory subjects to learn

Secondary level of education
a) Lower secondary level
- - 3 years (Form 1 - Form 3)
b) Upper secondary level
- - 2 years (Form 4 & Form 5)
Secondary level - medium of instruction is Malay
Vernacular students will have to endure effects from
the changes of medium of instruction
Chinese students from vernacular school English
and Malay are taught in primary level as one
subject respectively


When they enter Form One all subjects are taught
in Malay except for English and Mandarin subjects
English has become L2 in Malaysia
From being the medium of instruction in schools
since pre-independence, it has now become a
compulsory subject that students need to take
(Asmah, 1997)
Chitravelu et al. (2004:12) talk about the position of
English as an L2 and its importance to enable
Malaysians to engage meaningfully in local and
international trade and commerce
Thus, students need to be proficient in English and
being able to write well in English is definitely an
advantage for their future

Out of the four skills, writing is the most complex
aspect but it is a crucial skill for students to learn
Students who have the ability and competency in
writing in English will be able to express themselves
Moreover, they will have more privilege when
applying for any job compared to other students
especially in private sectors and companies that
are involved at international level
The Form One Chinese students in vernacular
schools need to master three languages their
native language, Malay and English
Out of these three languages, English is neglected
and not being paid attention to
They are not very much exposed to English and do
not have sufficient training in the language
To investigate errors in essays written in English by
Form One Chinese students in a public school in
What are the four most common errors in their
written English essays?
There can be a huge difference between English
writing by native speakers (NS) and English writing
by English as a second language (ESL) learners
ESL learners have more than one language while
they are composing as compared to NS
Since they have more than one language in hand,
it brings more problems
ESL learners tend to switch those languages
interactively, causing some confusion in the
structure and meaning
As several studies have reported,
a) L2 writers use their L1 to plan their writing for text
generation (Cumming, 1989; Jones & Tetroe,
b) Transfer their L1 knowledge to L2 writing contexts
(Edelsky, 1982; Friedlander, 1990; Lay, 1982), and
c) Develop ideas and produce text content and
organization (Lay, 1982)
In short, L2 writers always make use of their L1 first,
while composing in the L2 before translating it to L2
This shows that L1 influence the L2 writer in their
process of writing in L2 and the influences can be
positive or negative

70 students from two Form One classes in a
selected public school in Perak
They came from Chinese vernacular schools with
Mandarin as the main language of instruction
They scored on average a grade B or C in their
Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and other
monthly English tests

Errors in language learners performance including
writing process have long become the subject of
interest among teachers, linguists and syllabus
According to Corder (1967), error can be defined
as a systematic, consistent deviance characteristic
of the learners linguistic system at a given stage of
Meanwhile, Dulay et al. (1982) define error as :
the flawed side of the learners speech or writing
They are those parts of conversation or composition
that deviates from selected norm of mature
language performance. (Dulay et al., 1982: 138)
All of these students came from Chinese speaking
They write in Mandarin for many occasions
especially in informal situations
They only use English during their English classes or
when needed to

Following Halliday and Hassan (1976) who stated
that writing allows writers to demonstrate their ability
to construct a string of well-connected sentences
that are grammatically and logically correct, the
students were asked to write a short essay
The writing sample for the study - 70 essays written in
English by these 70 students


In order to identify the errors, an error classification
scheme developed by Darus et al. (2007) was
adapted in this study
It consists of 18 types of errors as follows :
a) Tenses
b) Articles
c) Subject verb agreement
d) Other agreement errors
e) Infinitive


f) Gerunds
g) Pronouns
h) Possessive and attributive structures
i) Word order
j) Incomplete structures
k) Negative constructions
l) Lexical categories (preposition)
m) Other lexical categories
n) Mechanics
o) Word choice
p) Word form
q) Verb to be
r) Malaysian typical words

Markin 3.1 software (Holmes, 1996-2004) was used in
the process of identifying the errors in the students
The software was chosen because it enabled
researchers to obtain accurate classification and
statistical analysis of errors


Students were asked to write a short essay (in the
range of 80 300 words)
The topic of the essay was My Family
They were given one week to write their essays
before researchers collected them for text analysis
Essays collected were typed so that they were
computer readable
The errors of each essay were identified using
Markin 3.1 software based on the error classification

Table 1
Table 1 shows the total number of errors for each
category of grammatical errors as well as its
percentage and mean value
10,147 words were analyzed that consist of
approximately 145 words for each essay
The results of the mean values show that four
common errors are mechanics (2.73), tense (1.73),
preposition (1.29) and subject-verb agreement


Subject-Verb Agreement
19.1% of total number of errors
In the area of spelling, punctuation and
Spelling read vs rid (mainly due to phonetics
Punctuation commas (,)
a) I feel happy to have a lovely family, and I hope
my family will always happy
b) There are my father, mother * eldest sister and


a) My mom occupation is a House Wife
b) My brother is a Form two student
12.1 % of total number of errors
English verbs change according to aspect of time
(present, past, future and continuous tense)
For example :

I go to the market Saya pergi ke pasar
I will go to the market Saya akan pergi ke pasar
I went to the market Saya telah pergi ke pasar
I am going to the
Saya sedang pergi ke pasar
The verb pergi in the sentences did not indicate
Time was shown separately by auxiliary verb and
particles such as akan, telah, sedang
- Difficult for students to understand the idea of
tense usage
Errors identified :
a) Every night we watching TV [watch]
b) I study in SMJK Yuk Chong [am studying]
9.0 % of total number of errors
Errors includes omissions, additions and wrong
For example - Chinese and Malay preposition di
refers to in, at and on in English

Dia bekerja di Kuala
He works in Kuala Lumpur
Salmah bekerja di
pejabat pos
Salmah works at the post
Dia letakkan buku itu di
atas meja
He puts the book on the
Therefore students were incapable of choosing the
correct prepositions when more than one English
prepositions corresponds to a single Chinese or
Malay prepositions

8.7% of total number of errors
Errors includes difficulties in distinguishing the verb
is or was with are or were
Confuse with some nouns such as people or

I go to school Saya pergi ke sekolah
She goes to school Dia pergi ke sekolah
They go to school Mereka pergi ke sekolah
Example :
a) My family have five members [has]
b) There is five family members in my house [are]

Errors are caused by :
1) Interference of L1
2) Inadequate understanding of grammatical rules
of English
This study shows that the four most common errors
made by the Chinese students are mechanics of
writing, tenses, preposition and subject-verb
In general, the finding of this study shows that the
Chinese students were very much influenced by the
L1 in their process of learning English
Suggestions :
1) Teacher should emphasize on how the
concepts are handled in English, Malay and
2) Teachers should highlight certain rules in L1 and
Malay that are inappropriate to be used when
they write in English