Knowledge On The Causes And Solution Of Tense Errors In English Essays Of Secondary School Students

Project and Seminar Material for Linguistics and Communication

Knowledge On The Causes And Solution Of Tense Errors In English Essays Of Secondary School Students


This study was carried out on the knowledge on the causes and solution of tense errors in English essays of secondary school students. There is the general perception that the standard of English among students in Nigeria at all levels of education is falling in recent times. Chief examiner’s reports received from the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) from 2005 to 2016 have regularly indicated that most students in the senior high school who fail in English lack in-depth knowledge of the rudiments of the English language. Students’ lackadaisical attitude to the teaching and learning of the language may be a contributory factor. They think that English, like all other languages should not be learnt, but rather it should be spoken. This is of great concern to stakeholders of education in the country, as English is emerging as the lingua franca of the world and it is essential that students graduating from our secondary schools demonstrate solid knowledge of both formal and conversational properties of the English language.

This study seeks to investigate the tense errors that students of Government Day Secondary School make in essay writing in order to establish the actual problem areas for attention and redress. The researcher used qualitative method to analyse the data collected from the 115 essays written by the students and also the information obtained from teachers of English during his interaction with them. The findings of the study disclosed that students of Government Day Secondary School have insufficient knowledge of the English language and therefore, they will not be able to communicate effectively and efficiently with other users of English and this will be a barrier to their interaction with other students and friends. It is hoped that if the recommendations in the study are carefully considered, standard of English will improve.

Table Of Contents

Preliminary Page(s)

  • Title page
  • Certification page
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgement
  • Abstract
  • Table of content

Chapter One


  • 1.1 Background to the Study
  • 1.2 Statement of the Problem
  • 1.3 Objectives of the Study
  • 1.4 Research Questions
  • 1.5 Limitations of the Study
  • 1.6 The Significance of the Study
  • 1.7 Organization of the Study

Chapter Two

Literature Review

  • Introduction
  • 2.1 Writing
  • 2.2 Errors
  • 2.3 Sources/causes of errors
  • 2.4 Tense
  • 2.5 Related Studies
  • 2.6 Error Analysis
  • 2.7 Significance of Error Analysis
  • 2.8 Challenges of Error Analysis
  • 2.9 Conclusion

Chapter Three


  • 3.0 Introduction
  • 3.1 Research Design
  • 3.2 Sources of Data
  • 3.3 Population and sample
  • 3.4 Sample Technique
  • 3.5 Instruments for collecting data
  • 3.6 Data analysis
  • 3.7 Conclusion

Chapter Four

Presentation Of Results

  • 4.0 Introduction
  • 4.1 Categorization of tense errors
  • 4.2 The present tense errors
  • 4.3 The past tense errors
  • 4.4 Summary
  • 4.4.1 Causes of tense errors

Chapter Five

Summary And Implication

  • 5.0 Introduction
  • 5.1 Summary of findings
  • 5.2 The role of tense errors in the teaching and learning English
  • 5.3 Pedagogical implications
  • 5.4 Suggestions for future research
  • 5.5 Conclusion
  • References

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the study

Most parts of Nigeria and indeed the whole world are inhibited by diverse linguistic families and communities. This diversity of language within a given community also means that people have linguistic choices as regard which language to use in a given context. Diversity of a language leads to the unavoidable concept of multilingualism among speech communities. It is expected that people either partially or completely shift in their speech. An individual choice of language is determined by different factors: who is spoken to, what is the topic of discussion, where is the place of discussion, etc. these are some of determining factors for language shift. Language shift refers to a process in which the speakers of one language begin to use a second language for more functions. Anthony (2007) explained that language shift can be understood based on a social strategies through which an individual or group compete for positions of linguistic prestige.

Similarly, Baker (1996) said that language shift is used in the literature to refer to a downward movement. That is, there is lessening of the number of speakers in a population, a loss in language proficiency, or decreasing use of that language in different domains. Whether a language is being shifted or not, one needs to be at least near efficient in order to communicate perform credibly well in the language of instruction. Achieving effectiveness in communication requires communicative competence which is the mastery of the knowledge of language and the ability to use the knowledge in actual communication (Canale, 1983; Canale and Swain, 1980).

The knowledge of the language or linguistic competence encompasses mastery of lexis, grammar and the sound system of language. While linguistic competence needs to be complemented by sociolinguistic strategy and discourse competencies for effective communication to take place. A search of literature on error analysis of spoken texts in English indicated a near-absence of attention in this domain. Studies on spoken English tend to deal with areas such as speaking skills (Lourdunathan and Menon, 2005; Ramesh et al., 2006), student‟s reluctance to speak in English classes (Jassem and Jassem, 1997). Linguistic accuracy of spoken language may be more difficult to study because of the nature of speech. McCarthy (1998) wrote about real dialogues which do not look neat with well-formed sentences. According to Bartram and Walton (2002) accuracy in spoken English refers to “utterances as near to a native speaker’s as possible”. Brumfit (1984) referred to the accuracy of the language content to include: grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary.

However, the grammatical accuracy in spoken language is different from written language. Beattie (1983) stated that “spontaneous speech is unlike written text; it contains many mistakes, sentences are usually brief” cited in Halliday (1986). Brown (2003) highlighted the inappropriateness of requiring students to use complete sentences when they speak and points out why the notion of utterances rather than sentences are used for describing spoken discourse. Brown (ibid) went on to stress that the grammar of spoken colloquial English does not impose the use of complete sentences, making utterances such as “Your family?” and “Ya wanna come along?” appropriate. Despite the adjustments which need to be made in studies in grammatical and social causes of errors in spoken language, such research would serve a pedagogic purpose by showing educators what learners have learned and what they have not yet mastered in spoken English. Similarly, this research will be a source of counseling to many Nigerian students especially those with negative attitude towards English since failure to communicate efficiently in the language of science and technology is tantamount to a total failure in other areas of human endeavor.

1.2 Statement of the problem

English plays an important role in the educational system of Nigeria and it is crucial at the level of learning. It is the language of formal instruction in schools. Therefore, an individual who wishes to reach the peak of his/her educational career in Nigeria needs to have proper knowledge of English language. Yet a look at the performance in the written English by the students in higher institutions in Nigeria has been rated low. In most developing nations in general, and Nigeria in particular, the educational system is not well developed as to ensure that students are properly trained to use the language appropriately with regards to their ability to accomplish intelligibility from primary to even secondary school level. It is obvious to hear in their conversations being characterized by a lot of problems in the use of grammar, thereby affecting their overall performance in school. If the quality of English spoken by students is still poor, there will be a downfall in the scientific and technological development of the country. To this extend, this work will examine the particular problem of misuse of grammar emerging from inadequacies of English language acquisition.

1.3 Objective of the study

The general objective of this was to determine the knowledge on the causes and solution of tense errors in English essays of secondary school students

Specific objectives were:

  1. To determine the errors in students communicative genre typical of English as second language users.
  2. To identify factors that supports the choice of indigenous language and English.
  3. To addresses language proficiencies with regards to English grammatical categories, that is nouns, verbs forms and preposition which are the important aspects of communicative genre.
  4. To provide some of the social, cultural, and historical causes of errors among many students despite the significant role English plays in Nigeria.
  5. To provide solutions to the causes of the errors.

1.4 Research questions

  1. What are the errors in student’s communicative genre typical of English as second language users?
  2. What are factors that support the choice of indigenous language and English?
  3. To addresses language proficiencies with regards to English grammatical categories, that is nouns, verbs forms and preposition which are the important aspects of communicative genre.
  4. What are some of the social, cultural, and historical causes of errors among many students despite the significant role English plays in Nigeria?
  5. What are the solutions to the causes of the errors?

1.5 Significance of the Study

By the end of the research work, we shall be able to determine the errors in student’s communicative genre typical of English as second language users in Gombe State. The study will also addresses language proficiencies with regards to English grammatical categories that is nouns, verbs forms and preposition which are the important aspects of communicative genre of students and also offers the best possible solutions to tense error in English essay writing among the secondary school students in Gombe State.

1.6 Scope of the study

The study covers various areas of the responses of some respondents on the topic tense error in English essays of secondary school Gombe State. It made use of primary data gotten from the distribution of questionnaire to some of the areas in Gombe State. The study also brings out the common errors made by English language students in essay writing.

1.7 Justification of the Study

This study is important as, it attempts to highlight the major tense errors committed by the students in their speaking and writing, and to provide the lasting solution on how to correct the errors.

Chapter Five

Summary And Implication

5.0 Introduction

This chapter discusses the summary of the findings. The summary gives a brief account of all the tense error types identified in the study and some causes of these errors. The chapter also includes a brief discussion on the role of tense error in teaching and learning English as a second language, and pedagogical implications. The pedagogical implications also highlight some ways of minimizing tense errors in students’ written essays. The chapter finally ends the discussion with suggestions for future research and conclusions.

5.1 Summary of findings

The objectives of the research were to find out the types of tense errors commonly committed by students in their writings, identify the sources and causes of these errors, and how to reduce these errors. Data for the research were gathered from Government Day Secondary School in the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolis of the Western Region, Nigeria. The data were gathered from students’ written essays, and interview of some teachers and students. The first research question sought to find out the types of tense errors commonly committed by students in essay writing. In line with the Taxonomy of Error Analysis designed by James (1998, p. 304), grammatical (tense) categories were used for this research to record all the errors made by the students. Based on the discussion of the findings and the examples given, it is concluded that the students in this study committed tense errors which were categorized into present tense and past tense.

The highest number of tense errors recorded was present tense (60.4%) and the least was the past tense errors (39.6%). Most of the students’ errors of tense in essay writing can be attributed to poor reading habits and their inability to communicate in the English Language.

These situations imply that teachers need to emphasize and inculcate reading habits in students to overcome the challenges of tenses. The results of the study indicate that teachers need to adopt different strategies when responding to errors found in students’ writing (Ferris, 2002).

Also, learners’ errors which are repetitive should be used as samples in class and then students should be asked to correct the errors.

The alarming thing about the results is that students do not appear to have enough knowledge in how to use the appropriate tense in writing. This phenomenon found in Pomeyie’s (2007) study on tense. Her study confirms that indeed students in Senior High Schools have serious problems with tense and surprisingly, many teachers are not aware of it. This means that these problems have occurred for a long time. Something has to be done about this and one way of solving the problem is to teach grammar explicitly. This suggestion is affirmed by Hedge (2000, p. 171) who claims that there is no way that one can know a language without knowing its grammatical basis. The importance of teaching grammar explicitly has been forgotten by many English teachers. The teachers mainly concentrate on trying to teach the students to communicate, but communication requires knowledge of grammar. It is of great importance that the message is grammatically correct, otherwise both the messenger and the message run the risk of being misunderstood and not being taken seriously.

There must also be a balance between grammar and the other skills. A balance between the different skills would be the most ultimate way of teaching English as a second language.

The students’ needs must be the central point in the teaching and tendencies from the study indicate that the students need more grammar teaching. The teacher’s role is essential in providing an environment in which students will learn about writing, see models of good writing, get lots of practice writing, and receive help during the writing process. This is supported by Hedge (1988) who argues that it is dangerous to focus a student’s attention on only highly controlled writing exercises whose primary aim is mastering form, rather than the construction of meaning.

5.2 The role of tense errors in the teaching and learning English

The primary aim of this study was to investigate tense errors committed by students learning English so as to understand the strategies and techniques used in the process of second language learning. Error analysis is a very important area of applied linguistics as well as of second and foreign language learning. It is also a systematic method used to analyse learners’ errors. Errors are not always bad, rather, they are crucial parts in the process of learning a language. They may provide insights into the complicated processes of language development and also serve as a systematic way for identifying, describing and explaining students’ errors. Errors may also help to better understand the process of second and foreign language acquisition. This study tried to investigate the errors that students of Government Day Secondary School consistently and persistently commit in their writings, though English is a compulsory subject at all levels in their schools.

In the present study, the written essays of students were analysed for the purpose of error analysis. Results of the analysis suggest that students lack grammatical accuracy in their writing and are not sure of the grammatical rules that may apply in their English writing. The study revealed that students’ writings are highly influenced by poor reading habits and communication deficiencies. A study of error analysis helps teachers to identify the problematic areas of teaching language at different levels of instruction. Through errors, teachers are able to understand the nature of the learner’s knowledge at a given stage in his/her learning and discover what he still has to learn.
In addition, Fallahi (1991, p. 25) notes that “error analysis is a clue for the teacher to pinpoint the learning problems which can rarely be predicted by contrastive analysis”. In view of this, a course based on error analysis will enable the teacher to teach the point of error and to emphasize more on these errors where the error frequency is higher. For instance, students in this study need more attention on the application of present tense since it is the highest type of error they committed. Errors provide feedback to the teacher; they inform teachers about the effectiveness of their teaching strategies. Errors show teachers what parts of the syllabus they have been using, what they have inadequately taught and need further attention. This enables teachers to do remedial teaching for students and pay attention to special needs.

5.3 Pedagogical implications

Language learning is a gradual process during which errors or mistakes are to be expected. Visibility of errors attest to the fact that learning is taking place. Error Analysis is a valuable aid to identify and explain difficulties faced by learners. Candling (2001, p. 69) considers English language learners’ errors as potentially important for the understanding of the processes of language learning. Findings on error analyses can be used to determine what a learner still needs to be taught. They provide the necessary information about what is lacking in his or her competence.

The findings of the present study point out the significance of learners’ tense errors as they provide evidence of how language is learned and what strategies the learners are employing in learning the different language. For instance, this study shows that present tense and past tense errors are the most common for the students in the study. It was realized that some students still have difficulties in sentence construction. Since grammar plays an important role in writing, teachers should pay attention to this problem. With these results, teachers should assist students to become more aware by establishing “a comprehensive taxonomy of the learners’ errors” (Husada, 2007, p. 103) and their sources. Therefore, teachers should train and guide the learners to apply the right strategies to become better language users.

Findings from this study have provided feedback and they also tell the teachers something about the effectiveness of their teaching. Error Analysis serves as a reliable feedback to design remedial teaching methods and materials. Michaud, McCoy and Stark (2001) observe that teachers need to view students’ errors positively and should not regard them as the learners’ failure to grasp the rules and structures of English, but they should view the errors as a process of learning. Errors, if studied systematically, can provide significant insights into how a second language is actually learned. Through Error Analysis, educators are informed about devising appropriate materials and effective teaching techniques, and constructing tests suitable for different levels and needs of learners. If English language teachers/ instructors know about all these, there is the likelihood that the learning of English language will be enhanced in this country.

To help students overcome tense errors and improve their writing in English language, the classroom teacher should adopt specific teaching and learning strategies that would assist students. Teacher intervention in this instance is crucial because it can provide learners with specific information and strategies aimed at overcoming these writing problems. In order to minimise the students’ tense errors in producing sentences, teachers need to give them more exercises in writing. It would be better if teachers also give some feedback and consultation, especially in grammar for the students when they are writing. By giving feedback and providing consultation for the students, it will make them notice whether they may commit some errors in their writing. After knowing the errors and having feedback from the teacher, they would correct their errors and improve on their writing. This process of writing may be one of the considerations to make students usual to produce a well formed sentences.

Teachers also need to be aware of the inconsistency of the English language. Carney (1994) maintains that phonological awareness is essential in that it makes learners aware of underlying phonological rules. Again, to reduce tense errors in students’ writing, the students should develop extensive reading habits and devote more time for tense. For English language teachers, they should improve the way they teach. This, they can do by improving their techniques in teaching by preparing relevant materials to help reduce learners’ tense errors. Teachers need to emphasize that it is only through practice that students make the errors and learn to engage in the process of negotiating meaning through different stages. Involving learners in their own writing assessment would be motivating for them and will increase learner involvement in learning. Teachers need to take their students through the process of writing. They need to help them practice more and constant composition writing to develop their confidence level.

Teaching writing needs devoted and selfless teachers. Teachers must commit sufficient time to reading and writing. In this case, teachers should train and guide learners to apply the right strategies to become better English language users. As much as possible, teachers should organise enough individual class exercises and assignments on essays. Thus, teachers should give students adequate writing practice. As Mooko (1996) notes, the problems encountered in the ways composition writing is taught in schools include the fact that students are not given enough writing practice. This is supported by Fuller and Snyder (1990) who examined writing in Botswana schools and concluded that less time is allocated to English writing essays in primary and secondary classrooms. They also note that although teachers consistently assigned written work, only a small proportion was devoted to writing short essays in class. In addition, Rowell (1991) concludes that students are not given adequate instruction on composition writing and her study revealed that instances where students were given the opportunity to write paragraphs and compositions were quite rare.

Again, for effective teaching of essay writing in schools, headmasters and other stakeholders should help create enabling environment particularly through the provision of teaching and learning materials and the creation of relatively small class sizes. As this study has also revealed, some of the writing errors are pedagogical in nature. The failure of many students to use standard rules in writing implies a failure of the school and the education system at large. It is the role of the teacher as well as the school to develop and extend the skills of the students in academic writing. Likewise, it is the responsibility of curriculum developers to carry out regular evaluations of the English syllabus and teaching method to check whether they reflect the objectives of teaching. In line with this, it is recommended, as observed by OwuEwie (2006), that a National Language Advisory Board should be constituted to advise government on language planning and policy implementation.

Also, measures should be taken to improve writing instruction in schools such as the provision of better-equipped libraries, relevant textbooks and materials for teaching English language. It can also include writing workshops, refresher courses, and remedial teaching to students with severe cases of writing difficulties. An important aim of literacy is to develop individual abilities to communicate effectively in national and global contexts. For instance, Gyasi (1990) counts among these causes, scarcity of qualified teachers and textbooks together with absence of a reading culture. Moreover, teachers’ attempt to teach a composition topic in a day should be discouraged in all levels of schools in Nigeria. The effective teaching of a composition topic should take a longer time and allow for enough practice by learners.

It should be known to teachers that error analysis has been employed to draw a picture of the learners’ learning strategies and never meant to eliminate or even reduce them. Rather, it is intended to help teachers adjust their teaching methods and understand their students’ learning strategies. However, errors, regardless of the teaching methods employed in the classroom, exist and will stay as long as English language teaching is practiced. Therefore, teachers should not be so worried about them. Teachers should encourage students to develop the habit of extensive reading to improve both written and spoken communication. When teaching writing, we must look for ways to help students learn how to express themselves clearly and how to organize their ideas logically. We must show them how to make their writing vivid and interesting. Writing a composition necessarily involves the dual task of deciding what to say and how to say it.

Moreover, in other to improve students writing, especially in grammar, students need to pay attention to their grammar when they are writing. They cannot only focus on the context of their writing because when they want to write something, grammar is very important. It values the writing to readers. Besides receiving feedback from the teacher, students also need to do self-correction to their writing. It is important for the students because realizing that the teacher may not correct every sentence students made. Encouraging self to be better and always want to learn more is also important. That is one of the keys to be a better English language learner.

5.4 Suggestions for future research

Considering the results of this study, a number of recommendations for future research are suggested. First, it is suggested that a more comprehensive study of the English language writings of students may be conducted by other researchers to extend the results of the study. This is to investigate the errors committed by students in other senior high schools across the country and compare these errors in the various schools. Again, the study focused on the types of errors made by students in the tenses but in the process of analyzing the data, the researcher found that errors also occurred in other types of grammatical errors. The researcher also found that most of the students arranged their sentences with a lot of syntactic errors. Considering this, further investigation of other types of errors in students’ essays is strongly recommended. Thus, future researchers may enlarge the focus analysis by analyzing all the error types in students writing, not only focusing on the tense errors so that other types of errors can be revealed and both teachers and students can cooperate with each other to improve students skill in producing correct grammar, especially in writing.

Finally, students’ tense errors are also influenced by poor reading habits and communication deficiencies. This affects their application of appropriate tenses in their verbal and written communication. The researcher therefore suggests that potential researchers should delve into the errors caused by poor reading habits in students writing and the way forward.

5.5 Conclusion

The primary aim of this research work was to evaluate the knowledge on the causes and solution of tense errors in English essays of secondary school students and the scripts of Government Day Secondary School students were examined for the purpose. The field notes made during interviews and examination of students’ written essays, notes and students’ exercise books were categorized for analysis in line with the research questions from which conclusions were drawn for discussion and recommendations. The study identified errors committed in the writing were limited to only tense and were categorised as present and past tenses. The study also revealed that the most frequently committed error was present tense errors followed by past tense errors. Based on the results, teachers are encouraged to lay more emphasis on reading, written exercises and enforce the speaking of English Language in school to minimise tense errors in their writing.

This study adds to existing knowledge on students’ errors. It is therefore hoped that more research may be undertaken to expand the current study to cover other areas of English language writing.

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