Are your language errors fossilized?

Your language slips may be relics from the beginning stages of your learning, lurking like some ancient fossils. Have no fear, because language science has an explanation. Fossilized errors are quite common: they are incorrect forms that you have learned, if native speaker, probably as a child, or, if English is your foreign language, during the language acquisition.

To illustrate one fossilized error, I will give you an example from my beginning stages of learning English. I (wrongly, mind you!) memorized that in order to make Past Simple question one uses “Did + participle”. Instead of the infinitive, of course. That became my automated process for making the questions, and I managed to go unnoticed (it was a big class) until we had a test consisting entirely of Simple Past. Well, you might imagine the result.

“Fossilized error” is common in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) studies because it helps address the problem of errors, that is, mistakes that learners make without being aware of the possible correct form. Wolfgang Klein in Second Language Acquisition mentions some of the reasons related to the pronunciation. As summarized by Klein, and considerably simplified by the author of this blog:

  1. People may simply stop improving because they feel they do not need to know more in order to communicate.
  2. Learners feel they will lose their identity if they master the language too much and thus become different from their social environment.
  3. Chances for successful language acquisition differ from learner to learner, in terms of critical period for language acquisition.
  4. Learners are not in such surroundings that stimulate improvement by noticing differences in the level of language proficiency between speakers.

Next time you are corrected because of your bad spelling or grammar, ask yourself if you constantly make that mistake; the label for the mistake might be “error”, or precisely, fossilized error. Correcting such an error is, very often, demanding task. Nonetheless, it is possible to, if not correct it in short time, become aware of the problem. Excellent approach to this issue is “drilling“, an activity in which the aim is to create automatic, habitual answer by working on activities that require precision, predictable answers and, above all, repetition.

What mistakes do you make in your mother tongue, and what in foreign language? How do you cope with your errors?

Buy on Amazon: Second Language Acquisition by Wolfgang Klein.

3 responses to “Are your language errors fossilized?”

  1. you are right . but what about different language domain that can be fossilized?
    are there different kinds of language fossilization?

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