Error Analysis: Activity 2

An Error in Verb Marking

What is an error?

An error is something that is different from your reconstruction of the utterances as you think an equivalent native speaker would have produced it. Fragments or colloquial expressions are not errors if an equivalent native speaker would use them. Here we analyze errors made by our Spanish learner, Henry, specifically with verbs.

Analysis A:

In the following excerpt from Henry’s Interview, he is telling the Interviewer about his experiences in his high school Spanish classes. Read the excerpt and then answer questions 1, 2 and 3 below.

Excerpt A
Description: LL spn EA activity2 shot.png

1. How would you describe an overall problem Henry is having in using Spanish verbs here?  Why do you think he is having this problem? Please type your answer in the box below. 

When you have finished typing your answer, click to compare your response with the Learner Language staff response.

In line 36 we think Henry gets rattled when he forgets the vocabulary word for “(black)board,” while also trying to mark his verbs for past tense. Although the Interviewer uses past tense in her questions,  and Henry starts out marking the (erroneous) verb “ser” for past in line 33, he is not able to sustain his past tense verb marking. Instead, in line 36 he starts using simple present tense, though sporadically).


Analysis B:

Choose one or two errors that Henry makes in lines 36-38 in verb marking. In the box below, answer these two questions:
  1. For each error, provide at least one reformulation (that is, write out what else you think he could or should have said).
  2. Why do you think Henry made that particular error? How might you respond to each one?

When you have finished typing your answer, click to compare your response with the Learner Language staff response.

Line 36-37: “ella necesita que los estudiantes repita …”
  1. If present time, then:  “necesita que los estudiantes repitan…”
  2. Should be past time, then: “necesitaba que los estudiantes repitieran…”

Our explanations of these errors:

  1. If present tense, it is correctly subjunctive but doesn’t agree with the plural subject
  2. If past tense, then the verb should appear in past subjunctive, which is rarely used.

The error could be due to frequency in the L2 input Henry has probably received; his teacher probably says “repita” a lot in instructions to her class, while “repitieran” is infrequent. Of course, the subjunctive is rare in both modern Spanish and modern English; this could also contribute to Henry’s error.

Line 37: “... repita que ella dije er dijo”
Ella dije” is an error of person, which Henry successfully corrects to “dijo.
The error could be caused by transfer from English; Henry uses the pronoun “ella” (required in English but not Spanish), and so his attention to the ending on the verb (required in Spanish but not English) may have suffered. He chose the first person singular form initially -- it’s not clear why -- but it’s an error he detected and corrected immediately.

(Although it is not an error in verb marking, we note “que” should be “lo que.”  This could be transfer from English “what”)


Analysis C:

In lines 36-38, Henry surprises us by an error he does NOT make in verb marking. Why do you think this is so?

When you have finished typing your answer, click to compare your response with the Learner Language staff response.

We were surprised, in the context of the preceding difficulties with verb marking, that in line 38, Henry correctly marked the verb “necesitábamos” for both tense and aspect, and also correctly followed it with an infinitive verb “hacer”. Perhaps by that time he was less rattled. Perhaps he had begun monitoring for accuracy in a more systematic way.
(Of course he did fail to add a required object for this transitive verb - “necesitábamos hacer ALGO”).


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