An Investigation on the Relationship between the Language Exposures and Errors in English Essays of High School students

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An Investigation on the Relationship between the Language Exposures and Errors in English Essays of High School students


Elaine M. Masangya and Louella Lozada.



The study investigates the errors committed by sophomore students and its relationship to their English language exposure. A total of one-hundred and sixty high school students answered the checklists for English language exposure and instructed to write an essay on a given topic. The data gathered were analyzed using the two-way chi-square. It was indicated that the students with high exposure have significantly less frequency in their errors in wrong case, fragmentation, parallelism, punctuation, and verb tense. However, some errors such as wrong verb form, preposition and spelling were of higher frequency for students with high English exposure.


A few studies have shown if common errors committed on essays by learners are related to their language exposure. This central issue has a great importance because not only that writing is perhaps the most difficult to teach but it is also often a neglected skill in second language education (Taylor, 1976). As Sperling (1996) notes, writing is imperative because it has a critical link to speaking abilities. La Brant (1946) states that written skills encompasses internal speech. He further adds that standard of satisfaction among language educators on the written works of language learners are good grammatical structures, appropriate punctuation marks, verbs in their right tenses, pronouns in the right case and correct spelling of words.

English Writing Errors  

In an investigation conducted by Chen (2002) sampled freshmen and sophomore Taiwanese students’ recounted vocabulary (60.7%) and grammar (50%) as problem areas in writing. Meanwhile, Al-Hazmi and Scholfield (2007) study on Saudi university students’ enforced revision with checklist and peer feedback in EFL writing indicated that the difficulties their samples experienced in ESL writing were basic English language problems as well as discourse organisation, paragraphing and cohesion. Salem’s (2007) research on student errors lexico-grammatical continuum on the other hand, categorized written difficulties made by Hebrew-speaking EFL learner respondents as word dependent, lexical and grammatical. 

Reviewing the above mentioned researches, Chen’s (2002) study maybe too generalized for both levels. English lessons may vary across stages of learning. Expectations of skills may differ from the samples’ degree of knowledge of the language.  Al-Hazmi and Scholfield (2007) though did not fully explain the “basic English language problems” as stated from their work for comparison on future papers.

It can be noted that most errors as stated from the studies discussed, highlighted grammar as a main concern in writing competency. However, in a study on teaching low – level ESL students’ composition, Taylor (1976) claims that writing abilities does not only include paragraphs that are well defined, brief, sensible and persuasive or may contain good grammatical sentences. Learners should also be informed of standard English rhetoric. He justifies that writing good sentences is not an assurance of a well written work but requires intertwining of these sentences in one cohesive thought. 

Surprisingly enough, such writing problems are not only confined to second language learners. Thomas (1963) observed that American educators in their thrust towards science education, seems to have overlooked some average senior students that cannot correctly spell, put the right punctuation marks and generally shows vague line of though in sentence construction. Taylor (1976) even suggested that practice and training in English sentence writing are not only limited to ESL students but to native speakers as well.

Language Exposure 

It seems that language education may require expansive approach. Tools and techniques beyond classroom teachings perhaps are a possibility. Educators may have an option of tapping viable outputs such as language exposure on good linguistic models at home, media and other forms of literature. This insight may infer to the social – interactionist theory that suggests the importance of social environment interaction in language acquisition and development (Lucas, 2008).   

Al – Ansari (2001) on his case study of undergraduate students’ types of exposure as predictor of their success, affirms that competency in a new language is achieved thru constant exposure of the intended language.  Fathman (1976) seems to be in agreement stating that learning a second language is shaped by many elements that include the learning environment and the student’s attitude. This also supported by Tomasello (2001) in his presentation of the usage – based model of language, wherein he said that language acquisition for children is thru imitation of linguistic expressions that they hear around them. 

Lilu and Yanlong (2005) assess for example that news style on newspapers, television, magazines and radios are good writing models for it encompasses narration, exposition and argumentation. They also attest that media in the form of news presentation and gathering observed the standard rules in English grammar. Therefore exposure to these medium allow students inputs on good writing techniques. They also add that constant reading of newspapers and magazines expands learners’ vocabulary. 

However, Harper and de Jong (2004) argue that language exposure is not enough to attain language competency and thinks it maybe a strategy considered lacking. They cite that older students require a good grasp of abstract ideas and complex lexical structures that maybe best learned thru textbooks and traditional classroom discussions.  Steinberg, Nagata and Aline (2001) certifies children that are left to the confines of a television or by just hearing conversation made by adults as a form of  language learning did not progress into language acquisition.  In fact alternative forms of language exposure such as music, movies and leisure reading materials may contain grammatically incorrect sentences and wrong usage of words. This may disrupt or perhaps confuse the student on the standard lexical format and basic grammar rules. 

There may be contrasting views on the merits of language exposure.  Though, it seems that one cannot debunk the related literatures affirmation to the effectiveness of exposure on language competency. Language learners as well are besieged with writing problems as reviewed by previous studies. This then lead to speculate if increased exposure of the intended language will result to fewer mistakes on written works of the language learners. This research is informed by Mojica’s (2007) paper on the self–reported writing problems and actual writing deficiencies of EFL learners in the beginner’s level and of Magno, de Carvalho, Lajom, Bunagan, and Regodon’s (2009) study on the level of English language exposure of Taiwanese students. In the mentioned study, Mojica (2007) administered a questionnaire that required the 26 EFL participants to write two or three paragraphs on the subject of witting difficulties. Rating the data collected from the samples, she identified frequency of errors on vocabulary (61.4%) and grammar (69.2%). Grammar, in the paper was collectively coded errors on articles, determiners, number verb tense and prepositions. 

Magno, de Carvalho, Lajom, Bunagan, and Regodon’s (2009) study on the level of English language exposure of Taiwanese students, suggest that the more the learners are exposed to English, enables them to facilitate the language better. This was concluded after the findings showed that Taiwanese student participants in the Philippines have higher level of English exposure than the Taiwanese respondents in Taiwan. These samples were administered with a checklist for English language exposure to gauge the frequency of the samples contact with the targeted language. 

These studies will then be the framework where the researchers will derive their investigation. This paper will employ Mojica’s (2007) collection and analysis errors of data from the student respondents. Although instead of using Ashwell’s (2000) list as the basis of coding, the investigators will use a proofreaders’ mark as guide. Ashwell’s (2000) list were categories of errors done by his students on their written works.  The researchers will also duplicate the language exposure survey administered by Magno de Carvalho, Lajom, Bunagan, and Regodon’s (2009). Though, the investigators reduced it to 21 questions applicable to the samples.    

In this paper the researchers hypothesize that students with high exposure in the English language commit less grammatical errors in their written essays. Following are the questions that the study would like to address: (1) What are the common errors committed by the students on their essays? (2) Do students with high language exposure commit less grammatical errors in their written essays?



Participants were 160 second year high school students from a private school in southern Luzon. At this year level, they are expected to develop their writing skills. Writing essays is part of the macro-skill that learners should develop. The participants represent a broad range of their understanding in essay writing and English language exposure. There are equal number of participants between male (n=80) and female (n=80). The participants average age is 13.44 (SD= 0.58). All participants received credit for participation and were informed that the result of their responses will be dealt with highest confidentiality.


Instruments used for the investigation are a checklist and an essay test. The checklist includes the profile of the student respondent’s gender and age. It identifies their English language exposure in home (H), peers (P), school(S), and media, literature and others (MLO). This form was adapted from Magno’s et al, (2009) checklist form that has been used in the assessment of the level of English language exposure of Taiwanese college students in Taiwan and the Philippines. The twenty-one situations from the checklist described the different language exposure and were reviewed by experts for its significance on the targeted respondents. Responses were coded accordingly to the frequency of the sample’s exposure. The codes were five for Always, four for Often, three for Sometimes, Two for Rarely, and One for Never.  The students’ response were tallied and validated on its computed mean. Thus, computed mean will identify whether the students has low or high exposure on the English language. Cronbach’s alpha and discriminant validit of the English exposure scale used for the participant’s reliability has a value of .91 as similarly shown in Magno, de Carvalho, Lajom, Bunagan and Regodon’s (2009) study. 

The second is an essay type of test lifted from their lesson in English. Checking of written works of the participants has three stages. The revising stage checks on the ideas presented and it’s supporting details. Second is editing stage which looks for faulty sentences, misspellings, misused punctuation and capitalization. The last stage is proofreading using a proofreaders’ mark which checks the careless errors, missing words, erroneously repeated letters or words. 

The researchers limited the number of marks to be developed and used on this research to sixteen. These marks were based from the works of Briones (2008), Jennett (1967), Lee (1979) and The Chicago Manual of Style (2003). Bear (n.d.) reiterated that the use of a proofreaders mark lessens miscommunication and presents accuracy.


The survey on the English language exposure and essay test was administered by one of the researchers. Instructions were carefully read and explained.  Students have to check the frequency of the language exposure situations listed. They may choose from the frequency choices Always, Often, Sometimes, Rarely, or Never that they had experienced the language exposure situations. 

The essay test was given during their English class. Students were provided with a topic on world peace which was in line with their English lesson. Students were given a standard answer sheet for their essay. The essay test was answered in almost 30 to 40 minutes.

Data Analysis

The two-way chi-square was used to identify the relationship of the students’ English language exposure and errors on their essay. Obtained chi-square was compared to its critical value to identify if the hypothesis is significant or not.

Each committed errors were tabulated together with the students’ exposure. The overall mean of the English language exposure was computed by adding the total coded responses of all samples divided by the number of respondents (N=160). Individual mean scores of the samples on the other hand were computed as total responses divided by the 21 checklists. Individual mean lower than the average mean of the total sample were classified as low exposure while individual mean higher that the average mean were coded as high exposure.


It was hypothesized in the study that students with high exposure in the English language commit less grammatical errors in their written essays. This hypothesis was supported by the results of the study using the chi-square test for independence. It was found that students high in exposure had significantly less frequency in their errors in wrong case (f=3), fragmentation (f=2), parallelism (f=4), punctuation (f=4) and verb tense (4) with χ2 (15, 319) = 26.3, p<.05. Although some errors are higher for students with high English exposure such as wrong verb form (f=16), preposition (f=18) and spelling (f=18), it still shows significant relationship between the errors committed and language exposure of the students because the obtained Chi value 26.3 is greater than critical value 25. 

The language exposure survey had a mean of (M=3.59). The obtained result was taken from the sum of 21 checklists divided by the number of student respondents (Appendix). Eighty seven out of the 160 students were classified as learners with high exposure. Highest frequency of exposure from the checklist came from the MLO (media, literature and others) category (M=41.6). The big frequency from the MLO (media, literature and others) category indicates that English is made available in all forms of media for the respondents. Websites and web pages for instance use the language as its medium. ALEXA rankings, the portal for top websites around the world listed ten English websites as popular sites for Filipinos. English music pervades as well in the Filipino lifestyle.           

            As identified thru their essays the common errors committed by second year high school students on their essays are presented on Table 1.

No cap


































Table 1 

Common Error’s Committed on Student’s Essay

Note. See Appendix C for the meaning of the proofreaders mark.      

The common errors below are the unedited sample passages from the students 

(F means, and M means Male)

A. Use of capitalization:

M8. Well i guess….. 

M12.  NO, BECause  up to this time.

B. Subject and verb agreement  ( number, form, tense, verb used):

F1. Peace are good for the people.

M11…. Parents have broke….. 

F90. I was their child

M5…. I can’t  talk anything

C. Sentence construction (poor and run-on sentences):

M45… I agree sometimes, because all of us have our god image we should be at peace so that all people will be happy…..

F6. …. Politics always corrupting to people

D. Choice of word:

F78…. There is no more colonizing…. and worrying states.

E. Article:

M 63… Because of an state……..

F. Spelling:

M1. …. most of their joks….. [ ….most of their jokes]

M18….. it so sad  coz….. [ it so sad because…]

F9…. At the deggre …[ ……degree..]

G. Case:

B18 they taught their respect for piece.

H. Faulty parallelism

F16…. People are not good, and neither their attitude to world peace

I. Prepositions

G 8…. Most of the people on the world today are in  peace

M 5……. goes.. on class

M16…..people have to go here…..

M90….there in the riverbanks.


It can be noted that students’ top four errors committed on essay are in preposition (prep), spelling (sp) punctuation (punc) and verb form (vf). Total of forty-six errors were committed in the use of prepositions. It supports Blake’s (1906) study that Filipino writers find difficulty in the use of English prepositions because there is only the Tagalog preposition sa in the Filipino language; Thus the confusion of the students to the number of prepositions available in the English language. This then limits acquisition thru language exposure due to something cultural.

Thirty-two is the total error in spelling. It is not unusual that a writer commits error in spelling. Spelling is one of the most sensitive aspects of language development because the students need more exposure to the language before decoding the correct spelling (Head-Taylor, 1998). It suggests that the students who got high errors need to be more exposed and familiar with more words adding to their vocabulary. 

In addition, Adelstein & Pival (1984) argues that spelling started to become conventionalized over the years. Since then all languages undergo changes, especially in pronunciation, these conventions do not always reflect in present-day pronunciation (p.105). As a result, mispronounce word will lead to misspelling. Incorrect uses in both punctuation and forms of verb have been committed twenty-seven times. The former, suggests that students do not emphasize the use of punctuation because they fail to differentiate its uses.  

Using more than one kind of punctuation in a sentence is hard to discern since punctuation is used in a particular situation according to Adelsein and Pival (1984). The later, focus on the subject and verb agreement particularly in its forms, like in punctuation it’s also troublesome in which subject and verb agreement rule has to be followed. Fromkin and Rodman (1998) states that in English and in every language, every sentence is a sequence words, but not in every sequence of the words is a sentence. Thus, one has to follow such agreement as syntax to form grammatical sentence.

Identified error supports the differences in the use of oral and written English Adelstein and Pival (1984) emphasized that one of the reasons they committed errors in writing sentences is that students employ the same grammatical structure both written and oral.  Grammatical structures differs, oral language or spoken language is characterized by  short sentences, fragments, and often single words  and sometimes omits  structural clues such as prepositions and other subject parts. On the other hand writing needs to be formal and should follow more sophisticated grammar structure.  Students’ error in their composition implies the required facility of the syntax rule in writing compositions.          

It can be noted that the results from this paper is different from Mojica’s (2007) findings. In her paper, the EFL student respondents reported difficulties on vocabulary and grammar. However, the same research participants recounted verb tense and punctuation as least of their writing problems which is similar to the result of this paper’ exposed high school respondents. 

Overall students who have more exposure in the language committed fewer mistakes in their essays. This outcome is perhaps parallel to Magno, de Carvalho, Lajom, Bunagan and Regodon’s (2009) findings that acquisition is further intensified thru language exposure. Lilu and Yanlong (2005) cites that media types such as the news styles seen on newspaper, magazines, radios, TVs and Internet, etc. follow the accepted rules of English and exposure of students to these forms allows students to pick up grammar and sentence structure. Such mediums observe punctuations and continuity which manifested on the results of the student participants. 

Another consideration is the use of the language at school and at home will help students to brush up on their vocabulary words and make them conscious of their grammatical lapses. Teachers, parents and even peers may correct them on their mistakes. This maybe observed on the few mistakes that the highly exposed students made on verb tenses. 

The information that encompasses the medium of exposure such as internet, movies, television programs etc.exhibit parallel construction. Parallelism on sentence construction refers to balance in the syntactical structure. Respondents that were exposed are likewise to have achieved fewer mistakes from this area.

The results have indicated that the English language often possesses difficulties for many people especially for the young learners. Mastery of the basic rules in writing takes time. Despite of the resources made available for exposure of the language intended, errors or mistakes are still bound to happen. However such instances are not a clear indication of failure to language acquisition but learning should be constant and must seek other tools for improvement.     


There is much to be regarded with the writing skills of secondary learners. The errors that were acquired by the respondents on their essays show how this skill at times maybe overlooked. English grammar often possesses difficulties for many people especially for the young learners. Mastery of the grammar rule takes time. However, little did we disregard that acquisition maybe exhibited in other forms beyond classroom instructions. The results manifested that as language learners expose themselves on other mediums of language (media, literature and technology) and active participation from teachers, parents as well as peers will help them in sentence formation and standard structure thus lessening errors on their written works.


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