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The Significance of Spelling Skills in Foreign Language Learning and Writing

Common English Spelling Errors by ESL adults from Czech Republic and Slovakia

Abstract

This study focuses on the common English spelling mistakes that Czech and Slovak adults generally do. Previous studies suggest that, omission is one of the most common errors that Czech adults do in L2. Therefore, the prediction in this study was that, Czech will do the most common mistake in omission, as in previous study and the Slovak adults will do the majority errors in missing a letter in word as predicted Czech adults in both countries using the West Slavic language, but the writing system is different. The analyses has shown that, the predictions were correct and that both Czech and Slovak adults did the most mistakes in omission, however the omission of letter was mostly done in double letters.

Introduction

People have the ability to learn a foreign language, however, to learn a new language require listening, writing, reading and speaking skills. According to Al-Oudat (2017), a learner first step to learn a new language should be the knowledge about the new language alphabet so that they would be able to write and spell the characters without mistakes. For example, if a person would like to write a letter to someone and his/her spelling skills are poor then they would not be able to express their thoughts, as they fail to write because of too many spelling mistakes. The words and sentences would not make a sense. Also, Leacock (2002), stated that, in the number of grammatical mistakes that the writers do is spelling the most frequent, regardless of the fact that the writers are native speaker or new language learners. Therefore, spelling is important part of writing (Silliman, Bahr, Nagy & Berninger, 2018).

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The ability to spell correctly is one of the most significant developmental barriers to write text composition in English (Graham, Berninger, Abbott, Abbott, & Whitaker, 1997), and even more important for second language learners (Danzak & Arfe, 2016). Based on Russak& Kahn-Horwitz (2013) study, there are obvious differences in spelling accuracy between good and poor spellers at all grades. They examinate that, there is a difference between good and poor spellers in English language, that is a foreign language (EFL). A total of 233 fifth-grades, eighth grade and 10th-grade Hebrew first-language speakers participated in the study to examine the effects of English orthographic exposure on spelling. The students were divided into group of good and poor spellers based on their first language spelling performance and grades. The participants performed a task administration with half of Hebrew and half of English section to determinate the differences. Overall, they found that, good speller in L1 who practises English language will reach orthographic accuracy threshold by the eighth grade and it will allow them to improve their accuracy levels in spelling. It will take a few years more for the poor spellers to improve their level of accuracy in spelling than for the one with good spelling skills in L1.

There was another study that try to explore the context of the knowledge of text construction. Verhoeven (2000), focused on components in early second language reading and spelling. The aim of the study was to find out, if there are any variance in the early reading and spelling processes of children learning to read in a first language (L1) and children learning to read in a second language (L2). A total of 2,143 children from 118 primary schools were selected for the study prior to school entry. The participants were compared with the Dutch-speaking children and minority children in the first two grades of elementary school. Most of the minority children were from Mediterranean countries. Both the Dutch speaking children and minority children had a parent with socioeconomic background (high vs. low level of schooling). These children need for longitudinal investigation, aimed at the development and validation of a student monitoring system. The children were given a various task to test their vocabulary knowledge and the efficiency of their word decoding (including grapheme knowledge and word blending), word spelling (including cipher knowledge and phonemic segmentation) and reading comprehension processes. After appropriate analyses, the outcomes of the study showed that, the minority children were able to keep up with the native Dutch-speaking children on word blending and word decoding tasks. On reading comprehension and also on word spelling, the minority children were discovered to be less skilful than their monolingual Dutch peers. Minority children acquiring Dutch as an L2 were able to keep up only in word decoding. The minority children have no problems with Dutch word blending after a year of reading but they had a minor problem with the acquisition of Dutch grapheme knowledge. In the second year of formal reading, the minority children were able to catch up with their Dutch speaking peers. However, the minority children were not able to match the same educational level in automating the decoding of more complex orthographic patterns, as they are Dutch peers. In the word spelling task, the minority students clearly struggle more than the Dutch students. According to Verhoeven (2000), second language learners have significant difficulties with the use of orthographic constraints to spell the words. The reason behind it could be “due to less awareness of the phoneme distribution rules in the target language and thus a failure to attain the same degree of automaticity as L1 learners for the phonemic mapping and building of orthographic patterns” Verhoeven (2000). Overall, the results of the study shown that, there are major differences in the vocabulary and knowledge of first language and second language learners as minority children score more than 2 standard deviations below those for their native Dutch students. However, lack of vocabulary knowledge can negatively influence the text comprehension. Overall, the children should be given the chance to read and write from the time, when they enter kindergarten, to develop discourse familiarity in oral and written form in the second language.

These findings and discourses from the previous studies raised the question if second language is really influenced by the first language. Many researchers believe that, first language has interference in second language acquisition (Karim and Nassaji, 2013; Fatemi, Sobhani and Abolhassan 2012; Lord, 2008). For example, Karim and Nassaji (2013), studies if the first language transfer in L2 writing and their result shown that, when L2 learners write in L2, their L1 influences their writing. When you write a text, some people first think what they will write (structure of the sentence in their head) and then write it. Therefore, for second language learners, it could be the same procedure, that they will first think how they would write the text in their language and then try to write the text in second language, but as the two languages are different, it could be more difficult for the L2 learners to write the text with correct spelling and structure the sentence, as they write in L1.

There was a literature review about the Interference of first language and second language acquisition (Derakhshan & Karimi, 2015). In their literature review, they mention that, the researcher believes that, L1 influences L2 and that L1 and L2 depends on differences and connection between the two languages. Therefore, this literature review brings an attention to the differences and similarities between the L1 and L2 acquisition. They review three empirical studies and one of the studies was from Bhela (1999).

Bhela (1999), investigated the learner’s writing. The participants were four young children, who were given a two set of sequential pictures and they had to write a sort of story. The story had to start with the first picture and ending the story with the second picture. They had to use their imagination and creativity to create and write the story. Each of the participant had to write the story alone without interacting with the other children to avoid that the stories would be the same. After completing their write up, they could interact with each other and share they story with others. First, they had to write the story in the second language and then in their native language. Then, a second set of picture was introduced, and the children had to write a story in both the languages, English and native. When the participants finish, they had an individual interview with the researcher. The researcher asks them to give an explanation about the way that they use the type of structure in native language and second language. After analyses, errors were found in both the L1 and L2 text. From the errors in L2 was concluded that, there was not good understanding of second language therefore, the participant uses L1 to write the story in L2 and makes mistakes in second language. The learners used L1 structure to write L2 text. From that, the researchers concluded that, this indicates a direct interference of L1 and L2 (Derakhshan & Karimi, 2015). Background knowledge, differences and similarities within the systems of two languages were considered as the factors that influence the learner’s proficiency on second language. The similarities in L1 and L2 help the learners to make fewer mistakes in L2 and fewer issues in acquisition of L2.

Usually, young children are the target to improve L2 knowledge; however that does not mean that the adults are not able to reach the same level of L2 knowledge, as the adults should be able to learn a second language almost equally well as in their childhood (Chacon, 2018). But many find it more difficult to become proficient in a second language later in life (Dickerson, 2014). Researchers argue that, the adults will not the same level of second language acquisition as brain in adulthood loses its elasticity and reorganizational capacities which are essential for language acquisition (Lennenberg, 1967). According to Tohidian and Tohidian (2009), there is a relationship between age and certain aspects of the second language. And that is suggested to learn both languages from birth (Nemati & Taghizade, 2013). However, according to Dulay at al. (1982), the acquisition of L2 adults and Child L1 is much alike as L1 background of student do not have any outcome on L2. A willingness to learn, the time and effort and the difficulty of the language spoken and writing form can inhibit learning but according to Cmejrkova et al., (1994) “differences in the grammatical and lexical systems of the target language and the learner’s native language, cultural differences, and – especially in acquiring advanced writing skills – differences in stylistic norms” also make a difference. Therefore, the researcher chooses a second language adults' speakers.

In the current study, the researcher investigates how Czech and Czech Republic neighbour's country Slovak adults are managing to spell in second language, in this case English Language. As the Czech and Slovak languages are closely related and, the persons who are unfamiliar with these languages could be very confused. Czech and Slovak people can understand each other, but if there is another person with them, who do not know these languages can be wondering, how they could understand each other, if both languages sound different. However, it is possible to set them apart when comes to written forms of the two languages even without reading knowledge of them. As the combinations of letter and diacritic in both languages is different. The Czech and Slovak languages are about as different as American English and British English, as they have different vocabulary, false cognates, varied syntax, localized idioms, and different slang. However, they also share characteristics at the grammatical, morphosyntactic, phonological, and orthographic levels (Sokolova et al., 2005). Also, the phonemes in the second language (L2), which do not exist in the L1 phonemic inventory, will be more difficult to process than phonemes that are familiar from the L1 inventory, which could lead to more errors.

Background

Czech and Slovak writing/language system

Czechs speak the Czech language that exists in two forms, the literary and colloquial. Slovaks speak the Slovak language, which is a similar version of the Czech language. For example, the word ‘wise’ in Czech translation and spelling is ‘moudry’ and in Slovak is ‘mudry’, both the words have the same meaning but slightly different spelling, and different pronunciation. In the Czech Republic growing number of people are learning the English language. A high percentage of Czech people are thus able to express themselves in English, regardless of their age or level of education, as basic knowledge of the language is required in a majority of the schools and work positions. Nowadays, the technology improves is easier for Czech and Slovak people to learn English language, from TV, computers or at primary schools. In Slovakia the level of knowledge of English language starts to be similar as in Czech Republic.

Writing is for some ESL adults more difficult than speaking (Bourdin & Fayol 1994, 2000, 2002). Therefore, this study will investigate the errors that Czech and Slovak adults make in their English spellings. Unlike English, Czech, and Slovak words are pronounced the way they are written which could be challenging to learn and that’s where spelling errors occur.

the Czech and Slovak language have only 5 vowels while the English language has 20 different vowel sounds represented by 5 written vowels. This may cause confusion and difficulties for Czech and Slovak learners. But not only vowels are different, but also to distinguish the pronunciation of the word could be challenging, e.g., bad/bed. For Czech and Slovak people, these words sound the same and that’s why they could do mistake when they write the word, leading to error. Another example of errors that Slovak and Czech adults could do in English spelling is missing a letter or addition of extra letter in word.

Research examining a group of Czech students between ages 15 and 19. Learning to write in English, divided their spelling all the mistakes into four major classes, the classes contain grammar, spelling, using wrong word and wrong word order (Ganev, 2012). Students had to write a formal and informal letter and tried to respond to an advertisement published in the newspaper. Especially in spelling, they found that students made common errors in missing letter in a word (middle, final), doubled or extra letters, scrambled letters and capital letters (Ganev,2012). According to Ganev (2012), most errors in the spelling category were the missing letters.

The purpose of this study

Therefore, the researcher’s prediction in this study is that, the adults from Czech Republic will do the majority of spelling errors in missing a letter in the word as in Ganev study. However, it would be also interesting to find out if Slovak adults would do the same majority of spelling errors in missing a letter in the word as Czech, or if they will do better. Therefore, the researcher investigated, if also adults from Slovakia did the majority errors in missing a letter in word as predicted Czech adults as both the countries are using the West Slavic language and the knowledge of English should be on the similar level.

This research can give us the opportunity to see where the problem lies in, when West Slavic people spell in English. However, it is probably easier to learn an English language for West Slavic native speaker than for example Chinese or Japanese. As Slavic languages are closely related to each other, but they are also related to the Germanic languages, including English, and Chinese and Japanese language are Asian languages with very different and complicated writing system, thus will be more difficult to learn them.

According to Cook (1999), the similarity of sounds and letters are the crucial aspects of English spelling for many students. Therefore, for Czech and Slovak people could be very difficult to spell words in correct order as Czech and Slovak in their language usually spell words as they hear them. Ganev (2012) reported in his study that, the most frequent mistake that Czech people do is omission (missing letter in the word). Therefore, the aim of the research is to investigate the common English spelling mistakes that ESL adults from the Czech Republic and Slovakia make in their spelling and compare them to see if they reflect the linguistic differences stablished in the literature.

Common types of spelling mistakes

The most common mistakes that second language learners do in English spelling are omission, transposition, substitution, insertion (Cook 1999; Aloudat, 2017).

Omission - omission occurs, when the letter is missing out of a word. This mistakes usually happens when the words contain a double letter and the deletion of the letter cause that the word is misspell.

Transposition - is a type of error when the position of the letters is reverse or miss ordering (e.g., lable for label).

Substitution – occurs when one letter is replaced by another (e.g., definate for definite).

Insertion – can occur when adding an extra letter that is not supposed to be in that word (e.g., fuz for fuzz).

METHOD

Participants

A total of 308 participants were opportunistically recruited by posting an advert on the researchers personal Facebook page, email and WhatsApp invitations, and posts on Facebook page for Czech and Slovakia people in UK. All participants stated they had at least a basic knowledge of English language in order to understand and reply the questions in the questionnaire.

However, only 201 participant responses were complete and suitable for use. A 48 Slovak adults participated in the study from which were 40 females and 8 males with a mean age 36.02 (SD= 6.065 ranging in age from 23 to 50 years) and 154 Czech adults with 131 females and 22 males with a mean age 33.76 (SD=7.948 ranging in age from 19 to 57 years). The descriptive statistic shown that the number of Czech adults' participation was greater compared to Slovak adults.

Descriptive statistics were used to analyse all demographic questions. There were 7 demographics questions but only 4 were recorded, age, gender, country, and length in United Kingdom (years/months). The analyses show that Czech adults' length in UK (years/months) was the shortest time 4 months and longest 35 years (M=13.01 with SD=7.59). Slovak adults' length in UK (years/months) the shortest time was 3 years and longest 29 years (M=12.83, SD=7.27).

Frequencies were used to determine which spelling type mistakes were most frequent. Below the figure 3 presents a bar chart and table that show what type of spelling mistakes Czech and Slovak adult made in English spelling in first, second and third set of survey question. Omission was the most frequent spelling mistake in all three sets. In the first set of multiple-choice questions were 88% of omission mistakes were made. The second highest mistakes that Czech and Slovak adults did was insertion 67%, as third was substitution 11% and the least frequent was transposition with only 1%. The second set of survey questions contained three possible answer and participant had to write in the box the one with correct spelling and a 95% of omission spelling errors were made in this set, second was transposition of 35%, third insertion 22% and only 14% of substitution. The third set contained again a multiple-choice question and omission leads by 62%, insertion 58%, transposition 19% and substitution 18% Section 4?

A Participant information sheet and consent form was on the first page on the online questionnaire to ensure that the participants understand the aim of the research and the procedure. In order to carry on this research, first it had to be approved by the psychology Research Ethnics Committee of Oxford Brookes and then the participant recruitment started.

Materials

The online survey was administrated on researcher computer using Qualtrics software. A total of 40 spelling questions were presented in four parts. The most common mistakes in English spelling are omission, substitution, transposition and insertion, therefore all 40 questions in the survey, the multiple-choice questions and type in text answers were based on these common spelling errors. The participant needed a computer, phone or tablet and online connection as a WIFI or data to access to the online survey. And at least basic skill to operate these electronic devices. A participant information sheet and consent form were created to ensure that the participant understood the aims of the study and that they information were keep safe and that they could leave the experiment at any time during the questionnaire. A pilot study was created in SPSS software to gather information prior to a larger study for improving the quality and efficiency for the final questionnaire.

Procedure

A pilot study was conducted to improve the quality and efficiency for the final questionnaire. The study was piloted with one Czech and one Slovak adult, who know the researcher. Only grammar and demographic questions were changed to improve the survey.

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Ethical approval was granted by the psychology Research Ethnics Committee of Oxford Brookes.

The spelling task was about English spelling, and it took approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete. It consisted of 40 questions containing 20 multiple choice questions and 20 write in text answers follow by the demographic questions. The spelling questions were based on four common spelling mistakes (omission, substitution, insertion, transposition) to determine what type of mistakes the participants make in L2. The spell check was switched off to make sure that the participants answers are based only on their own knowledge. However, the researcher found out that if the survey was done on mobile the spell checker must be switching off on mobile by the participant otherwise the questions would not be truthful. Therefore, in the recruitment, advert was also mentioned that, if anyone would like to participate and do the survey through mobile phone to switch off the spell checker.

The online survey had four parts. The first part had 10 multiple choice questions, asking the participant to choose the word with correct spelling for each sentence (e.g., it's Kim's birthday___.) and choose the correct answer (tomorrow or tommorrow). The second part consisted of 10 questions asking participants to choose from three choices and type in the word in the text box with correct spelling (e.g., necessary - neccessary – neccassary). The third part had again multiple-choice questions. In total 12 multiple choice questions were created in the third part (e.g., Maria's got a really good ___ of humour) and choose the correct answer (sense or sence). The last part of the survey consisted of 8 type in box answer questions. Each of the words were spelled incorrectly. The participants were asked if they know the correct spelling and type the correct spelling into the text box (e.g., pinapple and the correct spelling would be pineapple). All 32 questions about English spelling were derived from: https://www.englishclub.com/esl-quizzes/spelling/ website apart from the last set of write in text answer questions as these were created by the researcher.

The manual check of spelling Errors

According to Cook (1999), English spelling errors could be classified into four main types of spelling errors. These errors are omission, substitution, transposition and insertion. Therefore, the manual check of spelling errors in this study were done based on Cook (1999) classification. The data were carefully checked by the researcher and based on these spelling errors: 1 Omission (deletion of letters), 2 Substitutions (replacing one letter with another), 3 Insertions (adding extra letters), and 5 Transpositions (reversing the position of letters) and divided into categories in SPSS software. As it was mentioned above that, the survey was design based on these categories; however some of the participant’s answers did not fall in these categories and were labelled as an “other unclassified error”.

Discussion

The current study focused on second language learners and tried to find out what are the common English spelling mistakes that L2 do. For this study the adults from Czech Republic and Slovakia are the participants, who had at least basic knowledge of English language. It is good to acknowledge that English language and Czech and Slovakia languages have a completely different style of writing. Therefore, the results of this study could contribute to the understanding of what types of spelling mistakes that the adults of Slavic language have, who also have a similar native language do, when spell in English.

There are four-common type of English spelling errors that second language learners frequently do, omission, substitution, transposition, and insertion (OSIT). These types of spelling mistakes were recognized by Cook (1999), who studied spelling errors committed by L2 students. This is an example of Cook (1999), four types of spelling errors: (1) Insertion: to add one letter as in ‘phictures’ for ‘pictures’, (2) Omission: to delete one letter, as in ‘pleas’ for ‘please’, (3) Substitution: to replace one letter, as in ‘accident’ for ‘accident’, and (4) Transposition: two adjacent letters transposed, as in ‘firend’ for ‘friend’.

Therefore, the data in this study were mainly analysed based on these type of spelling errors. The prediction was that, the Czech adults would do the most spelling mistakes in omission as in Ganev (2012) study. The results have shown that, the predictions were correct as omission (missing letter out of the word) was the most frequent type of spelling mistake. In all parts of the survey, the majority of spelling mistakes was made by missing a letter in the word for both Czech and Slovak adults. It seems that, there was a lack of knowledge of rules of English spelling and the participants probably do not how to write the word and in multiple choice questions to choose the word with correct spelling. There were many errors especially in double letter words, as the participant omitted a letter or in some cases replace the letter with another letter. Bhela (1999) found that, the learners feel gasps in their second language writing than syntactical structures of their first language.

The reason behind why Czech and Slovak adults did so many spelling mistakes in omission in double letter words could be that in Czech and Slovak writing do not have a double letter word. However, it seems that, in this case there should be added the lack of knowledge as well. The study also analysed if Slovak would do the same type of spelling error as Czech adults. The results shown that, even Slovak adults did the most spelling mistake in omission. Overall, the result shown that, the most common mistakes that ESL adults from Czech Republic and Slovakia did are in this order: omission, insertion, substitution and the least spelling mistakes was transposition. The results from demographic questions shown that Czech adults participation number was much larger than a participation of Slovak adults. Also, interesting finding were that, the number of female participants from both the countries were much greater than of male participants. However, there were few limitations in this research. For future research, it would be suggested to hire an English teacher or a professional as the researcher was an also L2 learner.


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