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About the Author................................................................................................... 3
Introduction........................................................................................................... 3
L1 & L2 writing....................................................................................................... 5
Error Analysis......................................................................................................... 7
Transfer.................................................................................................................. 9
Literacy review.................................................................................................... 12
Methodology........................................................................................................ 18
Results and discussion......................................................................................... 23
Transfer hypothesis.............................................................................................. 34
Case studies and suggestions which have or are likely to work..........................37
Conclusion........................................................................................................... 40
Notes................................................................................................................... 40
Bibliography......................................................................................................... 41
Appendix.............................................................................................................. 44


About the Author

I have spent several years teaching Arabic first language speakers at and around
undergraduate level. My experience with these students has seen me teach in the U.K.,
Libya, Saudi Arabia, and at the time of writing this dissertation, Bahrain. During the
journey with them, I have experienced their struggles and tribulation of learning English;
not least their attempts, but often failures, to write with just the most basic proficiency in
English. It is for those students who have shaped me as a teacher that I attempt in this
paper to recognise why it was so tough for us to achieve that which we most desired and
worked so hard for.

Writing holds great significance in the Anglo-American world, and this is evident in its
deep roots in British and American culture and history (Reichelt, et al., 2012). The
influence of these two countries politically, economically, and historically, has created a
need for a world language, and thus, an ability to write in English. However, such a
culture of writing is not a worldwide tradition, and unfortunately for Arabic speakers, one
not prevalent in their civilisation. Arabic speakers are not a pariah in the language world
because of their lack of allegiance to writing; many other nations share a more vocally
orientated language. For example, many North and South American languages make no
use of a written form of their language (Becica, 1969). This, of course, does not help
them when it comes to writing in English, and the lack of experience with writing in their
own language has imperative implications (Nazim & Ahmad, 2012). Nevertheless,
English does have a frequently used system, one that is well developed and complex, and
for a learner to succeed in the acquisition of the language, the writer believes that
mastery of it must be an objective. Moreover, the success of an overall competence in
English is dependent upon a good foundation in writing prowess because of the process
involved in acquiring such skills.
The dissimilarity for Arabic speakers is not just a difference in attitude towards writing. As
the reader is likely to be aware of, on the surface level Arabic and English are not in the
same orthographic neighbourhood (Saigh & Schmitt, n.d.). They do not share similar lines
of thought, or posses the same tense systems, which are also commonly evident in
reading a piece of writing composed by an Arabic speaker. Although such differences are
clearly not unique to Arabic and English, the lack of proficiency in general by Arabic
speakers writing in English is indeed, and quantitative data is available to see the
phenomenon, which compares the writing abilities of Arabic speakers in English with
those from other languages.

My own research into the IELTS test during 2012 shed light on the extremity of Arabic
speakers lack of proficiency in English writing, specifically academic writing. IELTS has
collocated data on all their test takers, and of 40 first language backgrounds recorded,
Arabic has the joint lowest score for writing (4.9 / 9) with Uzbek (IELTS.org, 2011). This
proficiency gap is observable when teaching classes consisting of both Arabic and nonArabic students. As a compliment to the evidence found on the IELTS website and the
background reading for this dissertation, a semi-structured interview has been conducted
with a small group of Bahraini teachers of English; this focussed on the difficulties
students faced with writing, and how these teachers dealt with them. Their feedback has
helped to focus this research and field of literature for this paper, and a closer look at the
qualitative data is presented later with the data from an error analysis conducted for this
Although there is a multitude of research that has been conducted on Arabic students
and their problems with English, there is a compelling lack of theory and agreement in
the field. Moreover, a large proportion of the literature available is based upon old theory,
and much is lacking in academic rigour. Three core areas of agreement seem to be
evident though; that of Arabic speakers weaknesses in writing, teachers inability to
cater for these in the Arabic speaking world, and the idea that practice of writing does not
necessarily equate to improvements in writing adeptness in the case of the Arabic
speaker. Therefore, this paper attempts to bring together research that has been
conducted in the field of second language writing teaching. It looks at previous findings
on the typical writing errors produced by Arabic speakers, and reflects upon language
transfer to see if answers for these inaccuracies lying there. The paper will also look at
strategies employed by Arabic students writing in English. Finally, literature will be used
to form a hypothesis about errors evident in the writers own group of Arabic speakers
essays over a longitudinal study.


L1 & L2 writing
As mentioned previously, there is still a lack of comprehensive theory based upon L2
writing, which is obvious even more so with the Arabic speaker learning English. Some
researchers fault a belief that first language (L1 from this point on) learning is the same
process as that of second language learning (L2 from this point onwards) (Silva, 1993).
The consequence of such reasoning is that much L2 research which has been used is
highly dependent upon L1 research (Myles, 2002). The writer feels due to the difficulty in
conducting longitudinal comprehensive studies on L2 students, this pattern of L1
dependence is likely to continue for some time in some studies, but already L2 research is
gaining independence, and this study is a key example.
L1 and L2 writing may appear fairly similar on the surface level, like the composing
process, as students writing in L1 and L2 will go through planning, writing and revising
stages. (Silva, 1993) However, if one looks deeper into this process it can be seen that
there is indeed big differences. SS have to work much harder when composing in L2
because they have to deal with linguistic functions which have become automatic in their
L1. Writers tend to get fixated on the local areas of a text like spelling, grammar, and
word order, and as a result, neglect the more global areas of the text like rhetoric,
coherence, and the overall use of cohesive ties (Silva, 1993) (Myles, 2002). They also
tend to take much more time in composing their texts, and produce writings which,
despite the longer times, and shorter than those produced in their L1. Again, this appears
to be due to their fixation on the local areas of their text, but also, perhaps, due to less
planning beforehand (Silva, 1993). When one considers the linguistic complexities of
writing in a second language, it is easy to see how a lack of planning will affect the
students writing ability. Moreover, the reader may agree that such additional focus when
writing in L2 creates a much more arduous task which in contrast to a creative and
expressive undertaking in L1. Therefore, it is clear that L1 and L2 writing are not identical
processes to go through for a learner.
It also appears that the passion for lower level focus by the students may be a direct
result of influence from their teachers. Much has been written about specific grammatical
and lexical areas, but little in field of rhetoric and other global level issues. Moreover, the
writer has experienced, as a teacher of English, that his colleagues are also highly
focused on grammar and spelling areas of students writing. It may be that dealing with
lower level areas of writing are easier for the teacher and student, and much more
objectively recognized. The reader may have also experience that many students are
highly appreciative of grammatical and lexical feedback on their writing, and that such
feedback appears to be more effective than more in depth feedback relating to rhetoric,
coherence, and cohesion. Myles, 2002, also writes that she feels that students appreciate
feedback on their grammar and spelling, but that other researchers like (Robb et al,

1986) feel that is in the students interest not to focus on these areas as these improve
with writing practice. It is the writers opinion that this is also true, but caution must be
raised as there is also the risk or fossilization, the term used when an error has fossilised
in the students production and seems not to be rectifiable, occurring if learners are not
guided away from their mistakes. It is evident, therefore, that the teacher plays a highly
important role in L2 writing, and may even hold the key to success or failure for their
As mentioned previously, the teacher holds some responsibility in developing a students
L2 writing. The teachers role in a class is to foster learning and develop proficiency,
which will both lead to better writers. In this section it was also discussed that L2 writers
perhaps focus too much on their lower level writing areas, but this is inevitable until such
things as grammar and spelling have become more automatic. Automaticity, as the byproduct of higher proficiency, is argued to result in a more fluent and confident writer
who can then turn their attention to the global areas of writing (Myles, 2002).
As has been mentioned in this section, there exist some similarities in L1 and L2 writing
on superficial levels quite commonly. In contrast, there can also be deeper level similarity
on some occasions. For example, a lack of writing proficiency in ones L1 and then cross
over into the L2 and hamper the acquisition of L2 writing skills (Myles, 2002). As a
teacher who has worked with Arab students closely for several years I am well aware that
writing is not a highly developed skill in general in the region of the Gulf, with some
students unable to write well on lower and higher levels of writing. Silva, 1993, also
mentioned a transfer between first and second language writing, and thus this highlights
a key area of research which needs to be explored when dealing with Arabic students
learning English writing; the area of transfer. Current studies in L2 research make much
use of Error Analysis to delve into the world of student produced errors, and try to
distinguish what has gone wrong, and this are of linguistic research will be discussed


Error Analysis
Error analysis, from now on EA, is a method of categorizing and analysing errors which
have been made. It is a tool which can shed light on important learner problems, and help
to formulate theories about addressing the errors which learners make. Ellis states that
EA is concerned more with learner language as opposed to native or target language (NL
& TL). EA can be classified as either in strong form, where one can predict errors which a
student will make based upon previous EA, or it can be regarded as the weak form, where
one can explain the reason of errors postmortem. However, the latter form of EA cannot
predict what errors will occur from certain learners, just state reasons why they have
occurred (Abushihab, et al., 2011). Both the strong and weak versions can also be
classified as either theoretical or practical, with the latter being used for remedial work,
and the former for research purposes (Abushihab, et al., 2011).
With such a big area of research as error analysis, it is important to clarify what is meant
by an error, and additionally what is generally not considered an error. An error can be
regarded as a deviation, as Ellis puts it, from the norms of the TL. An error is something,
which is likely to reoccur in the learners production, as they do not have the capabilities,
or knowledge, to be able to correct them. Sometimes these errors can be produced in an
overt manner, where it is easy to see the fault, but it may not be as easy to notice what
Ellis, 1994, calls covert errors; an error which is only noticeable within a given context.
Moreover, these errors are more likely to be missed by students when reviewing their
work. In such a case, it would be extremely difficult for an error analyst to distinguish
whether the covert error is an error or just a mistake- discussed later- which has not been
noticed (AbiSamra, 2003). In contrast to errors, we have mistakes, which can also be due
to many reasons, but are usually the result of carelessness or lack of attention. These
mistakes can typically be rectified by the producer, and are often termed as a slip of the
tongue. With reference to writing, a mistake can be corrected if the writer has the time
and skills to review his or her work (Abushihab, et al., 2011).
Now that an error has been defined in contrast with a mistake, it is important to break
down the types of errors, which may be found. Many error analysts recognize that errors
are the consequence of two main categories, however, there is not a definite general
consensus; Intralingual, or sometimes termed developmental are one type, which can be
defined as an error resulting from rule learning, or to put it another way, the incorrect
learning or over generalising of rules. Interlingual, or sometimes referred to as
interferences are another, which occurs from one language to another, but does not
always equate an error. In such a case, it would be regarded as a positive transfer (Ellis,
1994) (Johnson, 2008) (AbiSamra, 2003), and this will be discussed in more depth in the
next section. These two cases for errors are expanded in Dulay and Burt in AbiSamra,
2003, where they add a third category of ambiguous and a fourth of unique, which caters

for those which do not fit the other categories. In an intro to foreign language learning
and teaching, Keith Johnson gives us one further, and interesting, error category, which is
the learner created error. He states in his creative construction theory that some errors
can neither be attributed to intra or interlingual roots, and must have, in fact, been
created wholly in the mind of the student. A final and perhaps controversial error, to be
discussed in this section is that generated by the teacher. Such an error can be fossilized
within a student should their teacher, or course, provide them incorrect, or unclear
tuition. Although only brief in context, the errors laid out here represent the most
common categories in current times.
Having so many categories for errors make them appear to be some kind of sickness for a
student, and may give the impression that they are to be avoided at all costs. This,
however, is not the case as they can prove to be one of the most useful resources one
could use to help students develop their language (Ellis, 1994). One of the main reasons
that errors can prove to be useful is that they are rich in information about the learner
and their language proficiency (Nazim & Ahmad, 2012). They can be used as tools to help
us determine what needs more practice, what needs more teaching, and what has not
been learned. In a sense, they are a window into how a language is being learned by the
writer, and what is going on inside their mind (AbiSamra, 2003) (Johnson, 2008). Once a
taxonomy has been created for a group of learners, it can then be used as a method of
heightening students awareness of their own errors, and then be used during revising and
redrafting phases to facilitate learning (Tahaineh, 2010)


The concept of errors has been discussed, and what is more , it appears that the first
language of a learner has a huge role to play by form of interference. Researchers such
as (Tahaineh, 2010)claim that such interference from the mother tongue is the most
frequent origin of errors produced by learners when they write. Khaldieh, 2000, also
supports this idea and directly relates transfer to developmental problems in writing due
to the variations between ones L1 and L2. Therefore, for the benefit of this paper it is
important to explore what this term transfer actually is, and how it relates to the errors
it is blamed for fostering. In this section the writer will attempt to lay forth his
understanding of the concept and its implications.
In an attempt to help clarify the definition of transfer, the writer points to (Ellis, 1994)who
brings us to the understanding that transfer cannot be looked at as simply the transfer
from the mother tongue to the TL. He states that there are other factors involved, such as
any other language the learner may have encountered in their life. Other terms are given
by various researchers in the field, but for the sake of this paper the term transfer will
be used, but this is in reference to any transfer, back and forth, between the TL and other
languages at play. Much is focused on the negative aspects of transfer, which can often
result in errors, as mentioned previously. However, there is also the possibility positive
transfer or sometimes referred to as facilitation where transfer from one language
actually helps in producing accurate utterances in another (Ellis, 1994). In addition to
positive and negative transfer is transfer, which results due to over use of rule, usually
because the student has learned something which is similar to a rule in another
experienced language, so they purposely apply it to more that it can cater for in the TL
(Ellis, 1994). The final area of transfer often discussed is that of avoidance, where a
student finds some complexity in the differences between words or structures in the TL
and known languages. As a result, they tend to shun efforts to use the complicated
structures or words in the TG altogether (Ellis, 1994).
Transfer can be caused by other factors than simply a difference between the TL and
other known languages. A key example of this is developmental factors, which have been
proven to explain why different proficiencies of learners from the same language
background have show signs of different transfer activities occurring. Therefore, a learner
who is writing in English will only transfer certain elements into the TL when they are at a
stage of acquisition, which allows for its use. A simple exam encountered such grammar
in the TL. Ellis continues this point by describing this process as a restructuring of
interlangauge within the student. Klien in Ellis, 1994, adds a more negative look on this
incremental transfer process by stating that in such a theory, the more a students
proficiency increases the more likelihood there is for transfer to occur. In fact, some
studies have even found evidence that transfer can exist even in the most advanced of

students (Tahaineh, 2010). However, there are some claims against this, which suggest
that negative transfer will only exist until the TL forms have become normalized within
the students repertoire of language (Saigh & Schmitt, n.d.).
One would be incorrect to assume that only structures and lexis can be the subject of
transfer as it has also been shown that more cognitive entities can also be seen
transferring into the TL. An interesting transfer occurrence is that of attitudes towards
writing in ones mother tongue being observed in learners opinions of writing in the TL
(Lee, 2005). This point is further expanded by Dr. Ruwaida when he states that a persons
behaviour is affected by their first culture. In addition to the transfer of cultural and
attitudes one can encounter, it is commonly noted that writers will transfer processing
routines from a learned language into their TL (Saigh & Schmitt, n.d.). An example of such
a situation, which I have experienced, is when Arabic students write English letters, and
sometimes whole words, from right to left. In this situation, they have transferred the
processing of right to left from Arabic into their production of English. The same can also
be seen in the way they approach a reading task in class. Other researchers have claimed
that some students use their L1 understanding of overall coherence to help them
organize their writing in the TL. (Khaldieh, 2000)
It appears that a transfer of cognitive processing or transfer of more structural and lexical
parts of language may be the result of a lack of knowledge, and in such a case, this would
equate to more difficulty for the student (Myles, 2002). The question of difficulty and its
relation to transfer will now be explored. In general terms, the difficulty of the TL appears
to depend on the differences between it and any language which the user has learned
before (Ellis, 1994). There are two interesting areas of expansion to this theory which
focus more on a languages grammatical structures, but can also be used to describe
morphology; the first deals with the observable differences between languages, and
focuses on markedness, and the second concerns more psychological factors.
Markedness is the term, which is based upon Kranschens UG theory. From markedness
we can hypothesize that most languages share a core grammar which can be referred to
has unmarked grammar. We use the term unmarked because it has not had any
additional, or unique, rules applied to it. However, when a language does make special
exceptions and use of exclusive rules, which are dissimilar to what we consider the core
grammar, then we class this as marked language. Eckman, 1977, relates this idea of
markedness and relates it to the difficulty aspect we mentioned earlier by stating that the
more marked a rule is, the more difficult it will be for a learner to acquire it, which is also
an idea shared and proven by other researchers (Al-Khresheh, 2010) (Johnson, 2008)
(Tahaineh, 2010). The writer feels this is an interesting idea as from this theory one could
start to predict which parts of writing are likely to pose more problems for students, and
which can be focused on more lightly.
The psychological factors play an important part in understanding the writers situation in
Bahrain, and the subjects, which will be looked at later in this paper. According to this

hypothesis, the closer a language is perceived to be, the easier is to learn. This
psychological distance, as Kellerman, 1977 puts it, affects the amount of transferring
which can occur, and not, as one would assume, the actual distance of a language, an
idea shared by Huxley (Huxley, 1986). However, in the case of the Arabic speaker there
appears to be both an actual distance and a psychological distance at play. However, this
distance is relative to the mentality of the student, and the more comfortable he or she is
with a language, and the more proficient they become, the more they may associate with
it, and as a result the psychological distance is likely to change (Ellis, 1994).
We have discussed that there appears to be an element of difficulty and ease with which
students can learn a language and this leads us into the theory of contrastive analysis
(CA) to look at making predictions. One can hypothesise, as many contrastive analysts
do, that by checking the markedness and transfer patterns of the two languages, one can
make predictions as to the ease with which students will learn an element of language
(Dr. Khan, 2011) (Johnson, 2008) (Ellis, 1994). This type of thinking is referred to as the
strong CA theory. However, such a theory seems not to hold water as learners still make
errors with items, which would be deemed easy, and deal with ease items, which would
otherwise be classed as more difficult (Johnson, 2008). Therefore, an alternative has
emerged which is the weak version of CA and a way of looking retrospectively at the
causes of errors. However, CA has not had an easy ride in the linguistics circle with many
linguists questioning the factual basis of the strong versions, and the time spent on the
weak version. It appears, nevertheless, that CA in some form has made a comeback in
modern times.
The prospect of using CA to help build predictions about errors students make is an
important prospect. It is widely accepted that of all the errors affected by transfer,
phonological and lexical are the most prone (Ellis, 1994) (Johnson, 2008). Furthermore, for
the linguist in an Arabic setting, where phonological and lexical problems appear to be
one of the most common areas of problems for students, such predictions could help to
design courses to help the students steer away from their problem of L1 thinking in L2
production (Khaldieh, 2000).


Literacy review
From our previous insight into transfer, we were able to see that the tool of CA may prove
useful, and in this section, the writer attempts to contrast English and Arabic while
combining this with other researchers error analysis findings (Becica, 1969). This will
form a backdrop for the study, and will show what research has been carried out via EA
and CA, and will draw ideas from the hypothesis of transfer to explain some of them.
Despite the arguments against using CA in both the strong and weak form, the writer
feels there is enough evidence in the case of the Arabic speaker to justify using such an
approach to reflect upon (Becica, 1969) (Abushihab, et al., 2011) (Johnson, 2008)
(Johnson, 2008). According to the papers looked at for this report the errors observed can
be classified into three kinds of errors; those of Omission, Substitution and Addition
(Tahaineh, 2010). The writer will now attempt to bring together much of the research into
the most common types of errors Arabic speakers will encounter when writing in English.
One of the most problematic areas of writing in English for Arabic students is the grasp of
rhetoric and global level skills. In his study of coherence and cohesion of Arabic students
in Egypt, Ahmed 2012, found that rhetoric was difficult for the students in the study. He
further expands this by claiming that from his results the most problematic areas were
those of the topic sentence, concluding sentence, introductions and conclusions (Ahmed,
2010). One of the reasons that Arabic students find such difficulty in writing using English
rhetorical norms is that the two languages make use of very different styles. English is a
language, which emphasises analysis and subordination, and makes use of subordination
conjunctions to express time, place, cause etc. In such sentences, there is a main clause
and a subordinate clause, which one could say, has lost some of its energy. Whereas,
Arabic uses synthesis and coordination, where two clauses can be expressed in the same
sentence with equal emphasis; the idea being that no energy is lost on the second clause
of the sentence (Scott, n.d.) (Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983). A further aspect to
English style in writing is the use of linear ideas, which have a start middle and end. This
is in contrasts to that of Arabic writing, which makes use of a parallel system where ideas
intermingle and spiral throughout the entire piece of writing (Silva, 1993) (Cheng &
Steffensen, 1996) (Alsamadani, 2010) (Mourtaga, n.d.) (Alsamadani, 2010). This approach
used by Arabic speakers in their language is often seen in the form of repetition
(Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983) which is an intentional technique to reinforce
the ideas being expressed in the piece of writing (Koch, 1984). In English, such a style of
writing would be regarded as negative and would be considered to be not considering the
reader. In conjunction with the use of reiteration, Arabic writers tend to employ extensive
exaggeration in their writing to sway the reader to their viewpoint (Rass, 2011). This is in
contrasts to the more Aristotelian approach used in the many western languages to bring
the reader to understand the writers argument by form of logic and examples.

Another, more global orientated, area of writing research looks at the organization of a
text, and this is an area where most Arabic writers of English fail to fulfil the typical
requirements. Coherence, in English writing terms, is used by linguistics to describe the
overall organization of a text. It is concerned with having topic, supporting and
concluding sentences to form a logical paragraph of the same topic. Moreover, each
paragraph must be an introduction, a supporting idea, or a concluding paragraph of the
text or chapter it is in. Good use of such coherence gives the text linear progression, and
as mentioned in the previous paragraph, is essential to English writing. Cohesion, on the
other hand is used to describe the ties between sentences and phrases, and helps to hold
a paragraph, and inevitably the text as a whole, together (Smith, 1984). One of the key
aspects to Arabic cohesion, on the other hand, is that it is context based, as in it relies on
the text as a whole to make sense. Moreover, it makes use of repetition to keep the flow
of ideas going through the text, and uses more non-additive cohesion than English does
(Ahmed, 2010). Arabic also makes use of coordinating conjunctive ties instead of lexical
ties, which are more common in advanced level English writing (Silva, 1993). The result of
the differences can very easily lead to the inability to organize texts in a way, which
represents normality for English writing, and it appears that this is an all too common
occurrence with Arabic writers (Nazim & Ahmad, 2012) (Ahmed, 2010). In English, it is
vital to consider ones reader, and this is very much the reasoning behind sculpting texts,
which are well organized and easy to follow for an English speaker. Each paragraph is
carefully constructed to introduce ideas sequentially and in the linear fashion mentioned
(Smith, 1984) However, in the case of Arabic Coherence and Cohesion (C & C) being
applied to English writing, the consideration for the reader has been neglected, and as
Smith puts it, the writer appears to be writing for themselves.
Once one veers from the more global areas of English and Arabic writing, and
investigates deeper into the languages, the difference between the article systems is a
clear area of interest. Furthermore, in English, the indefinite article a is in the top five
most frequently used words of English (Crompton, 2011). However, this numerously used
word in English is not present in Arabic, but its definite like is indeed present in Arabic,
and what is more, it is used for more than specific nouns (Swan & Smith, 2001)
(Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983) (Abushihab, et al., 2011). Of the two article
systems, English is considered more complex due to the two forms of indefinite articles
and the definite, which can be used in many more contexts than in Arabic (Crompton,
2011). Crompton also states in his paper that a learner who has an article system in their
own language may find it difficult to fully acquire the TL system due to fossilization
occurring. This is something which I have experience with my own Arabic students from
various proficiency levels. Scott and Tucker, 1974, also state that article errors were
among the top four most occurring error types in high school Arabic speakers production,
with the omission of a being the biggest problem of English article usage. It is clear from
other studies conducted on Arabic speakers that Scott and Tuckers findings, along with
mine, are not infrequent. Therefore, Arabic speakers clearly find the use of 'a' and 'an'
very difficult to get to grips with in their writing, and this has important implications for

the writers. (Abushihab, et al., 2011) (Crompton, 2011) Usually, an Arabic student will
erroneously use the indefinite article in place of the indefinite, which is a form of
interference occurring due to their L1 article system. However, Crompton also found that
the use of the definite article where there should be a zero article was the most common
amongst his subjects (Crompton, 2011). Although, perhaps one of the most frequent type
of written error for Arabic learners of English writing, it is not the only kind, and one of the
other most frequent will be discussed next.
One of the most frequent occurrences of errors, which Arabic learners make when writing
in English, is that of prepositions. The frequency of these errors has been well noted in
the Arabic speaking world by researchers looking into the root causes in search of
solutions (Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983) (Swan & Smith, 2001) (Silva, 1993). In
fact, some researchers have gone so far as to say that prepositions account for the
majority of errors (26% of those encountered) which students make in Jordan when
writing in English (Abushihab, et al., 2011). This point is agreed by Tahaineh, who states
that prepositions were the most problematic for students even at the very advanced
stage. He expands the information further a presents the most problematic prepositions
for Arabs as; in, on, to, with, of, from, for and at (Tahaineh, 2010). the two facts that
Arabic prepositions can hold meaning on their own (Swan & Smith, 2001), and that some
Arabic prepositions can have multiple equivalents in English (Tahaineh, 2010), go some
way to showing that mastery of prepositional use in English is a difficult task for Arabic
speakers. However, with the knowledge of which prepositions pose the most difficulties
one can attempt to deal with the issue in a pedagogical sense.
Two of the most common errors produced by Arabs writing in English have been
discussed, and the writer will attempt to bring together ideas and results regarding other
lexogrammatical errors where omission is commonly found. Arabic is a language which
make no use of copulas (the verb be), auxiliary for questions (do does etc), and uses
particles to help for negative sentences (Swan & Smith, 2001) (Thompson-Panos &
Thomas-Rui, 1983). The result for the learning in question is the production of many
incorrect utterances due to the sheer volume of situations, which these grammatical units
are required in English. The omission of these is seen throughout all proficiency levels,
even up to the more advanced level students (Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983).
However, at such levels, if the students are ask to review their work they should be able
to recognize the omission and put the correct word, but this is not guaranteed, so one
cannot classify this as just a mistake (note the differences mentioned earlier). Much the
same, they will forgot or misuse punctuation quite often. For example, Arabic learners will
often write sentences with seemingly never ending lengths, broken up with many
commas and no full stops. A further type of misuse of commas is describe in AbiSamras
unpublished paper, and refers to the omission of a comma before and. She states that
the underlying reasons for this is that an equivalent wa in Arabic is not preceded by a
comma, and so an element of interference causes the error (AbiSamra, 2003). As a
teacher, the writer has experienced marking written work, which was perhaps a few
hundred words without punctuation at all. In addition, many students will avoid the use of

capital letters; either because they do not know how to use them or they do not
recognize its need (AbiSamra, 2003) (Nazim & Ahmad, 2012). One might also find an
omission of discourse markers in a students writing, and this is highly likely to be the
result of the difference in cohesive devices which the two languages in question use.
Nevertheless, it is still an extremely important area of English writing, and a tool to guide
the reader through the text. (Swan & Smith, 2001) A lack of discourse markers is not the
only lexical omission which is common in Arabs English writing, there is a general lack of
lexical richness in most texts (Ahmed, 2010) (Nazim & Ahmad, 2012).
The area of omission is indeed an area of concern for Arab writers of English, but addition
can also pose problems, as was seen earlier when students make use of the definite
article in a place where there should be a zero. Relative clauses are different in English
and Arabic, and In Arabic it is a part of the structure to have the pronoun in the second
part of the clause, but in English this breaks the rules of the grammar (Swan & Smith,
2001). It was also stated earlier that Arabic is a language which makes use of
coordination, and so the relative clause in Arabic makes no use of a comma to maintain
strength through the sentence. Therefore, the result of a pronoun in the second clause in
English (Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983), and the omission or a comma and use
of coordination, appears to be the result of negative transfer from Arabic (AbiSamra,
Some of the most common features of Arabic speaker errors when writing in English have
been presented above, but there are other types of errors, which have been noted by
researchers. Mabal, 1980, stated that there is a problem for Arabic speakers with subject
and verb agreement. For the sake of this paper, subject verb agreement is where the
verb matches the subject it is used for, so for example if the subject is plural, then the
verb must match this. In the writers experience such an occurrence is generally a
mistake by the learner at higher levels rather than an error because they tend to be able
to correct the mismatch when directed to it. In addition to subject and verb agreement,
Arab students will often make errors about the word order of their sentences (Abushihab,
et al., 2011). The fault for this may be because of transfer as in Arabic an affirmative
sentence follows the verb + subject order as opposed to Englishs subject + verb
coordination (Swan & Smith, 2001) (Al-Khresheh, 2010). Arabic, like most other
languages, makes no use of phrasal verbs, and the acquisition of English phrasal verbs is
very problematic and time consuming for learners from that language background (Nazim
& Ahmad, 2012) (Swan & Smith, 2001). Arabs students are also highly likely to make
errors with grammar and phrases of obligation. This is because of a difference in the
meaning that some English obligation words have in Arabic, and so an element of
interference can be seen as a potential root course of the errors. (Huxley, 1986) There
area of tense errors is one not unique to Arab writers of English, but it is one which poses
some difficulty for the students (Abushihab, et al., 2011) (Nazim & Ahmad, 2012) as there
is a different past tense to English, and there is not future tense as they make use of a
present tense to talk about the future. (Swan & Smith, 2001)In fact, Arabic writing
focuses on time by form of adverbial clauses, and usually places these at the beginning

of a sentence, and helps to maintain their focus of time first, and then place, and finally
action (Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983).
The area of lexis and syntax pose great difficulty to Arabic learners of English in general,
and this applies especially to their written production. However, it can be argued that just
as problematic as these areas is the area of phonetics and spelling. If the reader has
experienced teaching Arabic students, they are likely to be all too aware of the quantity
and persistence of spelling errors/mistakes. Such an insight is reflected in the research
conducted on Arabic speakers around the world (Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983)
(Huxley, 1986) (Dr. Khan, 2011) (Abushihab, et al., 2011) (Nazim & Ahmad, 2012) (Saigh
& Schmitt, n.d.) (Ahmed, 2010), and has been found in conjunction with almost all of the
errors discussed above. Furthermore, it has even been noted that not a single paragraph
by any student was free of spelling errors (Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983). One
possible explanation for such a multitude of errors could be that in Arabic short vowels,
as in lick, are often omitted in the written form (Swan & Smith, 2001), and readers can
simply infer the vowel from looking at the consonant cluster (Thompson-Panos & ThomasRui, 1983). In fact, Arabic uses many more features to form clusters, as there is less
reliance on short vowels than English (Huxley, 1986). However, Arabic does make use of
long vowels in writing, and it has been shown that when it comes to English Arabs are
much better at noticing omissions of long vowels than those of short vowels (Saigh &
Schmitt, n.d.). These findings lead one to believe that the theory of vowel blindness
applies to Arabic learners of English, but one can now be more specific thanks to the
study by Saigh & Schmitt, and note that Arabs are better at noticing missing vowels than
incorrect short vowels in a word. Moreover, Arabic spelling appears to be much simpler
to master due to its convenient three consonant word root system, where the cluster of
consonants makes a root word like study can be modified to make teacher, student, teach
etc by adding prefixes, infixes and suffixes to the root three consonants (Thompson-Panos
& Thomas-Rui, 1983). The difference in phonetics between Arabic and English has also
results in a perhaps an infamous issue with the difference between p & b, also reported
by Thompson-Panos & Thomas- Rui in 1983. The writer would also like to state that
such an error is due to the voiced and unvoiced nature of some phonemes, and as such,
the problems will not begin and stop with the two examples given. Whether spelling is
due to interference of developmental issues is something of debate and outside the
scope of this paper, but some claim that English school children also have problems with
English spelling (AbiSamra, 2003) and this is probably due to the complex nature of the
English spelling system being non-phonetic, and inconsistent (Thompson-Panos &
Thomas-Rui, 1983).
A theory which could explain some of the errors presented so far is that of diglossia,
where two dialects are used in a country. Such a situation is present in many Arab
countries, and so there is likely to be interference from both dialects. In the Arab setting,
most natives have a modern standard Arabic (MSA), and a colloquial Arabic. The former is
only learned by formal instruction, usually in educational settings, whereas the latter is
what is used freely and commonly in most Arab countries for communication. There is a

big difference in the vocabulary and grammar between the two dialects (Thompson-Panos
& Thomas-Rui, 1983), and some would go so far as to say that colloquial Arabic is
absent of grammar. What is more, both of these dialects appear to have an impact of
Arabic students writing performance (AbiSamra, 2003). However, it may be that MSA has
a bigger influence on the written production of Arabic speakers (Al-Khresheh, 2010).
Developmental vs. transfer
Whether the errors observed in the studies presented are truly, the result of transfer is a
difficult question to answer; whether they are developmental is somewhat easier. Some
studies have noted that developmental errors outnumber those of transfer (AbiSamra,
2003) (Johnson, 2008), and this suggests that transfer may only play a small role in
inhibiting students mastery of English. However, the conclusions on transfer far
outweigh those I was able to gather on developmental errors.
Transfer seems to have some influence on error production. In fact, several researchers
have concluded that it is the main facilitator of errors and is more effective than
developmental (Tahaineh, 2010) (Ahmed, 2010). On the other hand, others have
claimed that it results in the production of a large number of errors (Crompton, 2011)
(AbiSamra, 2003). In her study, Nada was able to calculate that one third of all errors
produced by the students were down to interference (AbiSamra, 2003).
Negative transfer was shown to be heavily salient in much of the research into Arabs
writing problems in English. Ahmed, 2010, clearly states that Arabic negatively interfered
with his subjects writing. Moreover, it appears a select group of interfered with items can
be selected from the studies looked at. For example, in one study four out of six errors
was due to lexical negative transfer (Huxley, 1986). This is a viewed shared, but
expanded upon by AbiSamra, 2003, who states that lexical and semantics were the most
affected, and also later expressed in Ahmeds study in 2010. Although grammatical and
lexical structures are prone to transfer, they are not the only areas of writing to be aware
of as rhetorical functions have been described as being transferred from Arabic into
English. An example of this is the use of exaggeration to reinforce opinion and sway the
reader to the writers thesis, which was said to be strategically used by students when
writing in English (Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983); an approach which is
frowned upon in English and deemed browbeating (Koch, 1984). Moreover, Al-Khatib,
2001, noted that Arabs in his study transferred their letter writing knowledge into English
letter writing, which produced some different to the norms of required.
The idea of positive transfer is quite useful, and some researchers in the Arabic-English
linguistics field of knowledge have suggested that it may exist (Saigh & Schmitt, n.d.).
While others appear to have proven an element of positive transfer exists when Arabs
make no mistakes in using a definite article in English when writing about generic plurals
as the use of the in English and Al in Arabic are comparable. Further to this, they also
suggest that there are no problems for the use of the definite article to write about
specific singular nouns (Crompton, 2011).

Overall it seems that there is an interesting link between errors and transfer, be it
positive or negative, and that this appears in all proficiencies of Arabic learners of English
writing, but that lower levels are perhaps the most prone due to a lack of knowledge.
(Johnson, 2008) It may just be that transfer is an inevitable part of language learning
(Crompton, 2011) (Ellis, 1994), and that students will have to learn how to maximize the
positives, and neutralize the negatives as much as possible.


Qualitative Quantitative data analysis
Qualitative data analysis is usually conducted by means of a questionnaire, interview or
focus group. It is a tool, which will be able to help a researcher form a theory, but is
unlikely to result in data which can be coded and have statistics applied to it (Rasinger,
2011). However, it is an excellent means to see patterns and can be used to develop
theory and shape future quantitative research. Levron (2011) supports this use of
qualitative data analysis and states that it makes good backup data, and that many
academics feel that it is best used at the beginning of a conduct of research.
Qualitative data analysis has been used in this paper to form the theory, upon which it is
based; that Arabic speakers produce the same type of written errors. To get to this, as
mentioned in the introduction, a semi-structured interview was used with a group of
Bahraini teachers of English. These teachers were difficult to gain access to, and their
time was very valuable, which is why it was decided to hold a discussion session. It was
also assumed that a Bahraini teacher would have a different perspective of student errors
than a native English teacher, and so a different aspect of reality could be brought to light
(Angouri, 2011). Agouri (2011) also highlights that rich and in-depth data is attainable by
the use of such methods.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, a semi-structured questionnaire was used in a
discussion setting with four Bahraini teachers of English. It was felt that by having access
to the teachers during the procedure any problems could be rectified on the spot.
Although, a set of questions had been typed and was used as the script for the meeting,
and helped to form the agenda for the discussion. Levron (2011) suggests doing such
interviews on occasions with groups, which proved to be the only option for the teachers
involved due to their busy schedule. This method also allowed the meeting to be free
flowing and more nature, helping to encourage a more open discussion on the topic
(Levron, 2011). The benefit of having Bahraini English teachers was that they were both
aware of the terminology of linguistics and teaching, and of the issues facing Arabic
speakers when writing in English. Therefore, there was no need to avoid the use of
linguistic terms in the questions, which is usually advised against (Rasinger, 2011).
The results of such an open question, semi-structured interview sessions with multiple
candidates is that the subjects may be affected in many ways, and give untrue answers.
They may feel that they needed to give answers which the researcher sees fitting
(Levron, 2011), and this is heightened by the fact that in this situation the researcher was
a native speaker and the subjects Arabic. Furthermore, they may find that they are
withholding information altogether either to satisfy other subjects in the discussion of the
interviewer (Levron, 2011). Such an occurrence is more likely when there is a more
dominant character (Levron, 2011), or, perhaps, a more senior position person. In
addition, such a leading figure in the group could take valuable time away from other

members, and could cause a bootstrapping effect (Levron, 2011), where others bind to
their opinions.
Qualitative data analysis is a tool one can use to look at physical things in a numeric
perspective (Rasinger, 2011). It is very effective at generalizing (Angouri, 2011), and this
is something which was needed to answer the research questions presented earlier, and
help to form a hypothesis. Essentially, it is a tool for analyzing things in a statistical way
to look for patterns within the data. However, before this can be done, as mentioned, the
physical entities need to be converted into numbers, and this is done by the process of
operationalization (Rasinger, 2011) (Levron, 2011). However, not everything can go
through this process as we are only able to count things which are indeed countable
(Levron, 2011), anything else is more than likely a product of qualitative data, which will
be discussed later. Further to this point, Levron (2011) states that these entities must also
have the potential to be variable as well as countable and in this study the variable of
errors are indeed changeable. After this stage, Rasinger (2011), states that we can never
change the values set as this will affect both the validity and reliability of the tool.
Qualitative data analysis, unlike its qualitative counterpart, is a form of deductive
research as we use it to form theory. It can also be used after a hypothesis has been
conceptualized as a means to disprove the null hypothesis, which is the statistical chance
that the opposite of the hypothesis is true. In this study, the statistical tool helped to test
the null hypothesis developed after the ideas obtained during the first semi-structured
Data analysis can be conducted via a cross-sectional method or a longitudinal one. The
former refers to taking the data sample once at a specific time, whereas with the latter
multiple samples are taking over a period of time (Rasinger, 2011). Almost all of the
studies looked at in the literacy review concerning Arabic writer errors in English
conducted cross-sectional data analysis, but this paper has done a longitudinal study by
collecting the corpus of writing from midway through a course and from the final exit
exam. By doing this, the writer is able to provide data which may have changed over
time, and thus show some developmental aspects, which is vital for discussing whether
an error is developmental or because of transfer. Further to this, I have used a cohort
design of the longitudinal method to obtain data from a mixed selection of students, as
the sample of writing is from students who are between the ages 17-18, of native Arabic
background, and are studying in the Arabian Gulf University foundation year. The
analysis was done experimentally as the course had already started prior to this
investigation, so no alternation could be made. Therefore, a natural approach of
observing what the students had written as part of their normal course structure was the
only option.
The concept of reliability and validity is one of great importance to the credibility of any
research project. Rasinger (2011) states that for a method to be deemed reliable, it must
give the same result each time it is applied, and in the case of this study, to which ever

essay it is applied. The use of a rigorous error taxonomy, which can cater for all the
errors observed, is essential to maintaining reliability. The faults of other researchers
categories has been considered to help form a more reliable set for the data in this paper,
and is presented later in this section. Validity can be sought if ones tool actually
measures that which it is intended to, so in this case the data analysis must measure
errors produced by writers. By using similar methods to other researchers which appear
to have achieved validity, but customizing these to suit the specific circumstances in the
setting, soundness can more easily been maintained. Moreover, by using a split-half test,
suggested by (Rasinger, 2011), it is possible to compare two sets from the same sample
of writing and see if the error ratio is similar for both. The split-half method has been used
to split the final writing piece, and the earlier writings.
The Arabian Gulf University is a medical university in the centre of Bahrain. It caters for a
range of medical related courses, and is both jointly funded and populated by several
Arab countries in the Gulf. Within the university, there are seven years of study for the
students to progress through before they graduate and begin more specialized training
within a hospital. This study focuses on the first year of the seven; the foundation year.
This course is run over a ten-month period, during which the students study from a book
called World English, and which consists of some writing tasks to compliment the topics
covered. In order to graduate from this foundation year the students must attain at least
a 5.5 in the IELTS test, which is currently run by the British council in the country. The
result of which is a heavy focus towards IELTS skills early on in the course.
Bahrain is an Island off the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East. The first language is
Arabic, although with a foreign population of 54% it is questionable if Arabic is the most
spoken language within the country. (CIA, 2012) Although some of this foreign populace is
from Arabic countries, the vast majority of foreign workers are from India and Pakistan;
both of which do not use Arabic as a first or second language, but English instead.
(Karolak, 2010-2011) Therefore, there are two Arabic dialects and English being used in
the country. Despite this, Bahrain is regarded as a highly literate country with 94.6 % of
the natives being able to read and write after the age of 15. (CIA, 2012) A final point,
which is of importance for this study, is the fact that Bahrain was a protectorate of Great
Britain for many years up until 1971 when it gained independence. (CIA, 2012)
Consequently, some aspects of British influence remain within the kingdom.
For this study, fifteen students have been select from the foundation year; five of whom
were male and the remainder female. All of the subjects are between the age of
seventeen and eighteen, at the point of the study were within the last two months of
their course, and as a result had already gained some proficiency and fluency in their
writing. However, their writing styles had been tuned to be competent at writing IELTS
styles essays, and as such, the data reflects this in its content. The students were from

various countries within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but all of whom spoke Arabic as
their first language, and had studied English for at least 8 years before they finished high school,
which is the same as what Tahaineh stated in his report also. (Tahaineh, 2010)
According to Corder, 1974, these steps are the ones one should take when conducting EA (Ellis,
1994), and so this procedure was followed:
1) Collection of a sample of language learners
2) Identification of errors
3) Description of errors
4) Explanation of errors
5) Evaluation of errors
(Ellis, 1994) (Abushihab, et al., 2011)
Select corpus
For the purpose of this study, a select corpus of writings produced over the two-month period has
been collected. This corpus was elicited from the students by getting them to answer an IELTS style
question at the midway point in the course, and finally at the end of the course in their exit test. Ellis
regards this form of corpus building as between massive and selective. Selective usually means taking
a sample of writings from a group who have written about the same topic, whereas massive is when
multiple topics have been written about by all the students, and collected from the group. (Ellis, 1994)
This has helped form a more longitudinal approach to the data collection and is in contrast to most of
the studies in this field, and those presented earlier in this paper, which make use of more selective or
incidental data collection.
Identification of errors
In order to keep integrity during the research any error is regarded as a deviation from
the norms of the TL. (Ellis, 1994) However, because the students were not interview after
the writing tasks, it is unlikely that one can say for sure that errors were truly an
erroneous act, and not simply a mistake, which could be rectified. This, however, is not a
unique limitation of this study, and is a common concern in most EA studies (Ellis, 1994).
By means of quantitative measurements, described later, the chances of errors being
made by chance can be calculated. Finally, to identify rhetorical abnormalities in the
writing, holistic instinct is used to judge of repetition, exaggeration and coordination has
been used.
Description of errors


In order to identify the errors, a taxonomy is needed which is adequate and not overly
complicated by subcategories, which allows for a detailed description of all the errors
(Ellis, 1994). Therefore, Dulay, Burt, and Kraschens surface strategy taxonomy has been
chosen as it best reflects the type of errors outlined in the literacy review; those of
omission, addition, and substitution, which is subdivided as misformations and
misordering (Ellis, 1994). Omission accounted for when an element of language had been
left out of the utterance. Addition was used to note when extra entities had been used
which should not have been there. Misformation is the category for a misformed grammar
rule or spelling etc. Finally, misorder is the category for an out of order phrase, sentence
etc. This taxonomy allows a stringent procedure to be applied to EA. In addition to these
error categories, a linguistic category produced by Dulay, Burt and Kraschen (1982) has
been used to assign errors into orthographic, lexicon & semantics, syntax & morphology,
and discourse. This helps to gain a deeper understanding of the types of errors produced
by the students.
Error types

Linguistic categories




Lexicon & Semantics (vocabulary and meaning)


Syntax and Morphology (grammar)



The errors presented by other researchers in this literacy review are quite well defined,
and the need for in-depth sub-categories is unnecessary for the scope of this report. In
fact, of all the taxonomies used on Arab students researched, AbiSamras stands out as
being very descriptive and the best in the opinion of the writer, she draws upon research
by Corder, 1974; Richards, 1974; James, 1998; Selinker, 1972 in Richards, 1974; Richards
& Sampson, 1974 to form a system based upon five categories; grammatical, syntactical,
lexical, semantic, organisation. However, this system was deemed too complex and
problematic for the purpose of this report. What the surface strategy taxonomy and the
additional linguistic category allow is a record of the frequency of the most common
errors and their origins to be noted in a simplistic way. (Ellis, 1994)
Explanation of errors
After the errors had been categorized they needed to be explained so that there could be
reasons given for their production by the students in their writing. Taylor (1986) suggests
that errors can be explained as psychological, sociolinguistic, epistemic, or from discourse
structure. Due to the fact that all the written work was conducted on genres and topics
which were previously discussed and prepared for, this can be discarded as an
explanation for the errors found in the results from this study. Social aspects are also
outside the scope of this paper, so a psycholinguistic model of explaining the errors was
decided upon. For the sake of this report, Burts model (1974) has been used as it is one

of the simplest models to use for EA, and helps to focus more on the aspect of transfer.
Such a model states that errors can be due to interference, development, or unique. The
writer acknowledges that it is extremely difficult, and perhaps currently impossible, to
distinguish with certainty that an error is the result of transfer or development (Ellis,
1994). Such a difficulty is not unique to this study, Flick (1980 add ref) also noted
difficulty due to the ambiguity of some errors seen in his research. However, the
background research included in the literacy review forms a good backdrop to compare
errors with.
The list below represents the specific areas of errors allowed in this report, and is used
with the two models above. It allows for a comparative overview of the most frequent
errors seen in the two samples used. It was decided that grammatical areas should be
grouped together due to the vast number of different types, which were observed, and
the difficulty in attributing them to a definitive cause. However, grammatical errors of
errors which should or should not be in the present participle form, passives, modals,
subject and verb agreement, and copula errors were all individually presented so that
more focus could had on them as these were all areas where Arabic differed substantially.
Areas such as third person s are regarded as errors which are not likely to be the result of
any transfer and more probably developmental. Moreover, each specific category also
has an error group and a linguistic group, as mentioned above, which means they could
be analyzed in respect to errors of omission, addition, misformation and misorder, which
all help to explore the concept of cross-linguistic transfer.


Results and discussion

Quantitative data results
Overall, errors reduced from the mid point to the final writing task, and this example of
errors declining over time (Myles, 2002) is to be expected with cognitive developments
and strategies being applied. The majority of errors made by the subjects in this study
were those relating to syntax and morphology, and this was seen in both the mid-point
sample of essays and the final exit essay sample. The writer feels that this is to be
expected due to the number of grammatical items being used in a typical essay, and the
fact that producing a correct grammar feature may be more cognitively complex than
using or spelling a word correctly. Such high levels of syntactical and morphological errors
are not unique to this study, and AbiSamara (2003) and Tahaineh (2010) reported similar
distinction in their results. It is known that Arabic students tend to suffer when it comes
to the use of, and acquisition of, grammatical functions (Dr. Khan, 2011), and so this
specific finding is not surprising.

s&m =


orph =


lex =


dis =

Linguistic category


Figure 1 Results from the mid-point essay EA

s&m =


orph =


lex =


dis =

Linguistic category

Figure 2 Results from exit test essay


number of errors
number of errors


Figure 3 - Mid-point

Number of errors
Number of errors


Figure 4 - Final test


Figure one shows that many more errors in syntax and morphology were made earlier on
than when the students finished their course and wrote for their final exit test, which can
be seen in figure two. This suggests that there has been substantial development in
these areas over the course, but that such development didnt affect their prominence in
the errors produced by the subjects. Johnson (2001) also quotes results from Dulay &
Burts 2001 study which showed that there were a large amount of developmental errors
being produced by the subjects.
These developments in the syntactical and morphological skills of the students have
many potential reasons. Such an improvement could be attributed to the writing practice
the students had received prior to the final writing assignment. Due to an emphasis being
placed upon IELTS completion, the students had been focusing on writing structures and
specific grammatical elements required to fulfill the rhetorical needs for them. Writing is
seen as a good good method of practicing grammar (Leki 1999 cited in Khaldieh, 2000),
and a means to reinforce any learning which has occurred within the class and course as
a whole (Khaldieh, 2000). Another answer to the difference could be the theory of an
order of acquisition. such a theory suggests that the students naturally grow out of errors
in predefined stages, a view which borrows much from the Universal Grammar
In addition to the decline in the errors discussed previously, orthographical errors were
reduced from the sample first taken to those taken at the end of the course. However,
spelling still remained as a consistent problem for the students, and ranks as the second
most problematic area of English linguistics for the students. Errors in spelling are, again,
not special for this group of Arabic students, and other studies have concluded that such
errors make up the bulk of all those made by Arab students (Saigh & Schmitt, n.d.)
(Fender 2008 in Saigh & Schmitt, n.d.) (Ibrahim 1977 cited in Al-Khresheh, 2010)
(AbiSamra, 2003) (Beck 1979 in Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983).
Once would expect such a high return of orthographical errors from Arabic writers of
English as English is not a phonetically driven writing system (Thompson-Panos &
Thomas-Rui, 1983) (Dr. Khan, 2011), and make use of conflicting rules (Beck 1979 in
Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983). This is in contrast to Arabic which is indeed a
phonetically written language, and makes use of word roots constructed on the basis of a
three consonant cluster (Swan & Smith, 2001), modified by additional vowels and
consonants to make different, but related, words. The use of such consonant driven
processing systems used in Arabic may have disrupted the students in this study as it did
in Saigh and Schmitts (find date).
Wrong words
An area of surprising decline is that of lexis and semantics, seen in the different between
figure 1 & 2. This category held all errors made where there was a wrong word or phrase
used, and also where a wrong preposition had been used. It was expected that a slight
increase in errors in this category would most likely occur due to the increase of word

families being looked at over the course duration. One of the reasons for such a view is
that in Arabic one word rarely has multiple meanings (Dr. Khan, 2011), unlike in English
where such a practice is widely observed. It is estimated that several hundred word
families were looked at in the period between the two samples. One possible reasoning
behind this reduction of errors against what was expected is that there may have been
some passive knowledge of a lot of the word families covered, but that the use of them
was being avoided or restricted due to productive knowledge. A similar level of success
was seen in a Dutch study where the students focused on converting their passive
knowledge of words into a more active and usable knowledge, so that writing could
become more fluent and comfortable for the subjects (Gelderen, et al., 2011). Therefore,
it appears that the students may have know many words when they were writing for the
first sample, but that they did not know them adequately, and as a result made more
wrong word and preposition choices. In addition to this natural learning process, the
students were also being trained in preparation for an IELTS exam, and so they were
doing lots of work on vocabulary building and the use of key grammatical structures for
IELTS essays. Such work would also explain the reduction in discourse related errors as
the students had acquired the correct styles needed for essay writing.








Figure 5 mid-point errors with spelling and grammar other.







Figure 6 Final test with spelling and grammar other.






Figure 7 Mid-point specific (no spelling or grammar other).




Figure 8 Final test (no spelling or grammar other).

Once the spelling and other grammar errors are removed (see figure 7) a two striking
peaks are notable in the data set from the first writing task, which represents errors of
punctuation in the form of omission and addition. The fact that both omission and
addition are both relatively high possibly means that the students lack control over the
use of punctuation. This is perhaps surprising as there is only a little amount of research
which states that students who use Arabic as their first language will make errors in
punctuation like capitalization, commas etc (Nazim & Ahmad, 2012)(Ibrahim 1977 cited in
Al-Khresheh, 2010). However, AbiSamara (2003) did note that errors of substance, which
included punctuation, were the majority of errors in her study. Figure 8, however, shows
that this lack of prowess with punctuation was reduced quite dramatically, to the point
where it was no longer the major cause of errors after spelling and other grammar areas.
It should be noted that the students had lots of tuition on paragraph structure through
the course as they initially used loose and extensive sentences to form their ideas, and
this appears to be a common problem which Arab students face when writing in English
(Swan & Smith, 2001) (Al-Khresheh, 2010). Therefore, the use of a process approach to
writing helped them form ideas (Myles, 2002), and building paragraphs around topic
sentences with supporting ideas and examples carefully crafted in a subordinate manner,
all contributed to less loose or long and unnatural English sentences.


Such uncontrolled sentences were clearly diminished by the time the students conducted
their final writing assignments as errors or both specific and generic articles surpassed
them. Furthermore, if one excludes the spelling and other grammar categories then
article errors are the overall most prominent error found in this study(See figures 7 & 8).
This matches the findings of most of the researchers who have looked at errors produced
by Arab learners of English (Crompton, 2011) (Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983)
(Abushihab, et al., 2011) (Farghal and Zou 2004 in Crompton, 2011) (Bataineh 2005 in
Crompton, 2011) (Scott and Tucker 1974 in Crompton, 2011). In the first sample there are
only instances of generic articles being omitted and none of addition, which one would
expect with the background knowledge of the Arabic article system discussed previously.
However, in the last writing sample there are some additions, but many more omissions
again, and this is in tandem with the findings elsewhere in this field (Schulz 2004 in
Crompton, 2011). This lack of controlled which can be seen in the data from the last
writing response shows that the students do not have control over the use of articles a
and an, and so they appear to have multiple hypothesis about the use of these articles
(Crompton, 2011). This is despite the fact that they have had specific focus during class
time on this particular error and the grammar rules needed to rectify it, and so it appears
that some fossilization has occurred, but there are instances of errors occurring where a
generic article has been used where is shouldnt be. In Cromptons paper, he notes that
of generic, specific and zero article usage, the students had the weakness level of control
of generic articles (Crompton, 2011).
Errors relating to specific articles appear to contrast what would be expected if transfer
theory was indeed true because there are signs in the data presented that it did not occur
when it should have in both samples. As was stated in the literacy review, Arabic makes
use of the definite article, which is represented as al before almost all nouns (Swan &
Smith, 2001) (Crompton, 2011). However, the data clearly shows that there were some
errors of specific article omission. One would expect all nouns written in English to have
some form of article even if it was the incorrect one, but to have no article is surprising. It
may be possible that the student had developed a hypothesis which tells them that the
use of a definite article in English is vastly different to that of their own language, and as
a result they are overcompensating for this difference by leaving out articles. That being
said, they have not left their native language rule for specific articles completely behind
in as both samples show that the definite article has been used where a zero article
should be, and what is more, this happened more in the latter test than in the first piece
of writing produced. Crompton 2011 found similar occurrences where a zero article in
English was not used correctly, and instead replaced with the definite article (Crompton,
Wrong choice of preposition


The next most significantly large group of errors in the data is for the wrong choice of
preposition, which occurred when students wrote went on school instead of went in
school. These errors have been categorized in the lexical and semantics group as their
appearance in writing is the result of a lack of knowledge of their use or collocations. The
mastery of preposition use in English is difficult for any foreign person, and not just Arabic
learners. English consists of 57 prepositions whereas Arabic makes more use of the 20
prepositions in has in the language. (Hayden, 1956 in Habash, 1982) Prepositions have
different functions which complicate the learning process (Swan, 2005). Swan (2005)
further states that just the preposition at has 18 different uses in English, all of which
could be completely different in Arabic. Moreover, some English prepositions in phrases
have no equivalent in Arabic, while others have multiple equivalents. In fact, prepositions
also hold their own meaning in Arabic (Swan & Smith, 2001), unlike in English where they
need to be accompanied by another word. Therefore, the difficulty evident in this paper is
expected, and has been shown in other studies across the field (Silva, 1993) (Dr. Khan,
2011). Of Scott and Tuckers EA in Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui 1983, found that
these errors were among the top four problematic and frequent for Arabic students, and
this fits with the results here. Perhaps a more dramatic reference to preposition errors is
presented in Tahaineh 2010, where 26% (90/345) errors were prepositional , which is
substantially higher than those in this paper. Not all papers found large quantities of
preposition errors, for example Abi Samara, 2003, found a relatively small proportion of
the errors in her research prepositions.
In addition to errors where prepositions were wrongly used, this study found that
prepositions were frequently omitted and added to utterances, with the former being
more problematic than the latter. Moreover, this appeared to occur almost as much in
both the mid-point writing and the exit writing samples. Such occurrences are likely to be
the result of a lack of knowledge of the prepositional use in the sentence, and as such are
likely to decrease with development of their language skills. This seems probably as
additions of prepositions increased between the two sets of data here, and omissions
decreased. This suggests students are gradually trying to apply preposition rules, but are
making misjudgements in their attempts.
Incorrect word order
It is evident that there was a slight decline in the total number of errors produced in the
choice of word order by the writers, but there is still a problem present. It seems that this
is very much due to the differences between the way Arabic and English organize their
sentences. As has been mentioned, Arabic maintains verb subject object (VSO) order of
constituents in a sentence (Swan & Smith, 2001), but this is used more commonly for the
written form, whereas a SVO order can be applied to Arabic speech (Alshayban, 2012).
However, word order is extremely flexible in Arabic as one can also use VOS and OVS,
with the latter be an extremely rare way of organizing the parts of a sentence, and has a
frequency of use in the world of just over 1% compared with 41.79% for SVO (Meyer,
2010). One of the reasons for such an array of sentence organization is the two forms of

Arabic which are in use, as discussed previously. These two forms are both actively
present in the students knowledge base, and appear to be causing an element of
interference (Al-Khresheh, 2010). Such rarity and mixture is not a trait of English, in fact,
English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, and its SVO is only
second to SOV order in world use frequency (Meyer, 2010). In their paper Lupyan &
Christiansen, n.d. suggests that the success of English is down to its strict compliance to
this order, and further suggests that such firm loyalty to an order facilitates learning.
English is so strict in its use that a malformed sentence of SVO would produce something
of complete incomprehensibility, like for example Kicked Mohammed Tony. In this
example, it is not clear who has done the action, and therefore makes no sense in
English. However, there are languages like Arabic, Serbo-Croatian and Arabic which allow
this to occur if certain additions are made to the words or cues used (Lupyan &
Christiansen, n.d.). This difference in word order was known about before the course was
started, and so the students had training in the use of SVO order for English writing.
When compared to the other errors, and considering the focused paid to this particular
area of difference, it is interesting to note such a minimal improvement. What is clear
from these results and the research and results of other linguists who have studied Arabs
is that the deep level thinking behind the two languages very much differs. Arabic places
emphasis on the action, then time, and place before stating who did the action, and this
seems to result in the use of the different order. English on the other hand centres around
the person conducting the action first before exploring what the action is and final where
and when it happens. This being said, English word order should not pose great difficulty
to acquire as, unlike the rules for spelling, the rules of word order are rigid, and so it
appears some fossilization is present in these students, as they have not reacted to the
additional tuition.
Relative clauses
Relative clauses errors reduced substantially between the two sets of data, with the initial
writing sample producing 17 cases of relative clause errors, and the final writing sample
only 4 accounts of such faults. The former consisted of both omissions and additions of a
pronoun in the second clause in the sentence, whereas the latter only had errors where
an addition had been made. Such a decline in the omission of the pronoun which who
and that but a slower reduction in addition errors has already be suggested in recent
literature as a pattern which most students go through when learning relative clauses
(Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983). They suggested that learning to delete rule for
the subject precedes that of the object in relative clauses (Thompson-Panos & ThomasRui, 1983). However, this general rule may be further influenced by the rules governing
pronouns in Arabic. For example, in Arabic a preposition must always be followed by or
linked to a noun (Swan & Smith, 2001), which is why we get sentences like my mother
who I like to go out with her. Although, such an example may also be produced due to
the fact that in Arabic relative clauses have an object after the verb in the second clauses
(Swan & Smith, 2001), whereas in English this is against the grammatical rules of the
language. Further to this, AbiSamra 2003 reaffirms this grammatical rule in her study of

Arab student errors in English. It appears that relative clauses are one of the most
difficult challenges to construct for Arab students. There is a multitude of grammatical
functions to get right before the overall clause is complete, and students have to have
proficiency in the use of word order, copula, articles and pronouns before they can even
consider getting the subordination correct in the sentence. It has already been shown
that such linguistic functions already posed substantial difficulty for the students in this
paper, which combined with a tendency to construct relative clauses in a more
coordinated style in Arabic, resulted in an almost enigmatic structure for many of the
Errors relating to copula usage, but excluding forms of the passive and present
progressive, saw a reduction from 9 total errors mainly in omission in the first set of
writings to 7 errors in the second set. Moreover, the errors in the concluding writing task
saw a halving in the number of omissions and a doubling in the number of additions when
compared with the first set. This suggests that the writers are attempting to apply their
hypothesis about the use of copulas to their written work, but also that they hold a wrong
concept of the rules or that they are just ineffective in their application. This is expected
because as discussed previously Arabic does not employ a copula in the same way that
English does (Swan & Smith, 2001). In fact, Arabic uses verbs, not copulas, to help
describe state in the language. The nearest equivalent of the verb be in Arabic is the verb
kena, but when this is used in the same was as English uses its verb be then
ungrammatical sentences are created (Alshayban, 2012). Alshayban 2012 gives us
further knowledge into the use of the verb kena in Arabic and states that due to its use,
and lack of use in present tenses, it is likely that Arabic students will succumb to the
negative transfer and apply such a rule in their English writing (Alshayban, 2012). This
goes someway to explaining the persistence of omissions of the copula in Arabs writing of
even advanced levels of proficiency, and the frequency of it in all levels of learners of
English from Arabic linguistic backgrounds (Alshayban, 2012).
The area of discourse showed that some errors could be very persistent in this part of
language. Long sentences were less common type of error in the first sample, and this is
likely to be due to the lack of complex structures in English that the students were able to
produce. However, after work on different clauses in English and more complex
grammatical structures, the students had more forms in their repertoire. Therefore, the
findings in the last writing tasks, where errors rose from 2 to 6, are not a revelation.
Further to the work on grammar the students participated in, they also looked at
discourse markers and expressions commonly used, which all appear to have been
employed in a more Arabic style than English style. Perhaps the importance and focus on
memorization of the Quran, and its rich, long and complex structures, has created the
culture of elaborate writing in the Arab world. This use of more expressive language in

rhetoric appears to be quite common in societies which are built around religion (Rass,
2011), and such cultural norms explain why in Arabic sentences are lengthier than their
English equivalent, and are separated by lots of commas and conjunctions (Swan &
Smith, 2001). Furthermore, this type of language was the cause of repetition, or
parallelism, found in both sets of data, but this was less evident in the second sample as
it decreased from 6 to 4 errors overall. This pattern of repetition has been noted
elsewhere, and appears to be a widespread phenomenon for Arabic speakers writing in
English (Koch, 1984). The stubbornness of this type of error may be down to the fact that
it is not as easy to change the way the students think when writing as it is to teach them
rhetoric patterns (Cheng & Steffensen, 1996). One of the areas of rhetoric to see much
better results was the use of more unusual beginnings to sentences, for example starting
sentences with because, so or and. These starting words are quite uncommon in
English, but can be used quite freely in Arabic (Swan & Smith, 2001). It appears that the
original 7 errors shown overall were the result of a lack of knowledge originally in English,
and that once students acquired forms which could be used in place of these, they
stopped using them, and this would explain why the errors feel to only 2 from 15 student

Other grammatical errors

Errors where verbs with ing were incorrectly formed or used were perhaps one of the
more minor errors noted in this study, and they also declined from 8 errors to just 3.
There are many different grammatical structures, which make use of the ing form.
Further to this, such forms are different in Arabic, like the future tense and gerunds, both
of which are not present in the same verb plus postfix form (Swan & Smith, 2001). It
appears that this type of error will likely continue to decline amongst the students as their
build up their knowledge of the different situations where it is used, and how to use it in
sentences correctly. Initially, modals seemed to be a big concern for the students, and
this was predicted due to the background reading carried out (Swan & Smith, 2001).
However, despite an initial return of a high error rate in modals, the last writing showed
little signs of such problems remaining when the students had finished their course. It can
be theorized that the students lacked a thorough understanding of the modal system in
English, and therefore they resorted to their L1 rules until such rules had been adequately
and productively learned. One type of grammatical error which did not see a reduction in
production was those for subject and verb agreement, which went up from 6 to 8 total
errors for the group. This is potentially down to a difference in some nouns being
countable or uncountable in the two languages. Moreover, as has also been discussed
previously, Arabic focuses on the action, or verb, first before moving on to the person or
agent who did the action. Therefore, it is plausible that Arab students do not focus much
on the nouns as much as a native English speaker would, and that this results in a lack of
attention being paid to the agreement with the verb. Such errors were reported by Kabal,
1980 in Nazim & Ahmad, 2012.

Qualitative data analysis

The semi-structured interview was conducted at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
Bahrain medical university (RCSI), and was attended by four Bahraini teachers who all
gave consent to their contributions being recorded for this paper. This particular
university was chosen due to its similarities with the subjects in this study as it was also a
medical university, and the students were under band 5 in IELTS. The interview was able
to reveal what Bahraini English teachers generally find in this university when teaching
English composition, and what strategies they employ to counter these problems.
The results from this interview mirror the kind of problems both researched about prior to
the EA and the results seen in the EA for this paper. The teachers expressed that article
errors were among the most problematic and persistent, and that these errors are a result
of the students translating from Arabic into English. They further explained that this
resulted in the overuse of the definite article in the students writing. This clearly mirrors
what has been discovered here in this paper, and what has been suggested by other
researchers, but here the information is from teachers in the field. The teachers also
expressed concern with their students word orders in English sentences. They stated that
nouns and verbs are often mixed up, and that adverbs are frequently misplaced. With the
exception of adverbs, which were not heavily focused on in this study, the results bare
the same findings as in the EA here. The RCSI staff here in Bahrain also articulated their
frustration and bewilderment with the state of spelling of their students. Some even
suggested that the spelling proficiency was the worst they had ever seen, and that this
did not change no matter how much practice the students had. The results here also
show that Arabic writers of English clearly struggle immensely in this part of their English
use. For example, in the first sample taken 74 errors were produced in the 15 essays,
which then dropped to 50 errors in the last task. The negative opinion of their students
spelling seems fairly well founded based upon the field of researched conducted here.
The teachers also discussed their apprehension about other grammatical features like
tenses, which were also shown to be a problem by both the research here and elsewhere.
Further to these errors, they spoke at some length about the problems they had
encountered with their students use of prepositions in their writing. Some of the teachers
talked about the additions of commas between almost never ending sentences, while one
teacher also highlighted that she had received writing on many occasions which had no
punctuation at all. Such omissions and additions of punctuation was a major cause of
concern for the writers in the EA conducted in this research paper.
Although the teachers did not mention much about errors of prepositions or wrong words,
they did highlight some of the problems which had been found elsewhere in the Arabic
world, and which was later to be found in this report. The four teachers expressed their
desire to help their students, but also suggested that it seemed impossible at times to
achieve the results sought. They gave some key information about the techniques they
had been testing and using on their students to specifically cater for their Arabic
backgrounds and English needs, and these are discussed in the next section.

Transfer hypothesis
In order to establish if errors have been made as a result of interference from the mother
tongue of a student, many researchers in this particular field either used their own
linguistic knowledge of Arabic or consulted an expert; these particular options were not
available for this paper, and so the hypothesis developed here is based upon findings in
the results here and in other papers. From the results it is undeniable that the students
have found some difficulty in the use of English linguistic norms. It has been written that
substantial differences between the target language and the mother tongue contribute
towards the difficulties which have been found in this study (Kellerman, 1995) (Ellis,
1994). This being said, it appears there is both opinions and findings regarding transfer
between Arabic and English (Ellis, 1994), with some researchers disagreeing over
whether certain errors are developmental or interference fostered. Moreover, the tasks
which have been assigned to writers may have an influence on the ratio of transfer being
incurred (Ellis, 1994), and one could suggest that the appearance of what appears to be
transfer related errors in this papers results could be reduced or increased simply by
assigning different essay topics and writing tasks.
One common area of agreement for those who accept transfer is that it is the direct result
of a lack of knowledge (Myles, 2002) or partial knowledge in the students (Ellis, 1994). In
such a belief, the more a student develops in their language proficiency the less potential
there will be for certain transfer occurrences. It certainly appears that the students in this
paper were able to attain key strategies to help them counter the urge to transfer from
their native language into English when writing and such strategies were documented in
Kellermans paper on transfer in 1995. It has already been stated here that learning in
general is about the formation of habits, and dealing with prohibitive habits, which
prevent further learning (Ellis, 1994). Therefore, it can be safely said that an element of
overcoming of old habits has occurred at least for some of the students researched here
as in general errors were reduced overall including those which appear to be the result of
transfer such as word order, copula, relative clause, etc all discussed previously.
There has also been evidence discussed regarding Arabic speakers positive transfer into
English, and such an incidence has been observed here where students made few errors
the use of specific articles, which was seen to a greater degree in Cromptons study in
2011. Further to articles, (Saigh & Schmitt, n.d. found that Arabic native speakers were in
fact quite proficient at noticing long vowel sounds as this is a process they are
accustomed to from reading in Arabic where only long vowel sounds are usually written,
and short vowels are omitted. However, the same literature states in less certain terms
that positive transfer, or facilitation, may exist, and equally negative transfer may
possibly exist up until correct rules have been adequately learned .
The stance on negative transfer appears to be supportive of the findings in this paper,
and more assertive in claiming that languages can have a detrimental effect on learning

other languages. The difficulty though is determining if it is truly a particular language,

which is causing errors or just a case of natural development, but as the students in this
paper were studying with the writer for a substantial period, there is a high level of
confidence that many of the errors were a direct result of Arabic aspects. Negative
interference has been claimed in almost all of the paper presented in the literature
review, Ahmed, 2010 and Alshayban, 2012 claim it was the main catalyst for errors in
their data. A lot of evidence appears to lay in results relating to article usage, similarly to
those presented in this papers finding, suggesting that the article system used in Arabic
interferes with the ability to master the use of the English article system (Abushihab, et
al., 2011) (Al-Khresheh, 2010). This was also seen in Cromptons paper where the definite
article was transferred quite commonly, also was seen in the results in the figures above,
into positions where either no article should be placed or a generic article should be
position; in both these cases the Arabic use of al the specific article is clearly being
applied by the students, and this is despite the fact that remedial work was carried out
during the course for the students in question. AbuSamara also saw a large percentage of
errors being the result of transfer in her study in 2003, and she claimed that these were
split between interference between standard Arabic and colloquial Arabic, a view also
expressed by Mohammed, 2000 in Al-Khresheh, 2010. It also appears that the errors of
wrong proposition choice and preposition errors in general presented in the results of this
study are mainly due to transfer issues, and it is possible that prepositions are an area of
linguistic most affected by interlingual interference (Al-Khresheh, 2010) (Crompton,
2011). The students who wrote for this paper were high level students, all preparing for
the first year of university and achieving around 5.5 in the IELTS exam, so the
interference of prepositions and articles is a persistent problem for even advanced
learners (Crompton, 2011), and may have fossilised in them. However, it may not be a
permanent situation, and in general the students were able to reduce their overall
production of errors, and this is a typical occurrence for higher level students (Ellis, 1994).
The students in this paper were able to reduce their errors because they had acquired
more rules and knowledge about the language, and this helped to remediate the
problems seen in the first set of writings produced by the students. However, the
observation of increases in certain error categories is a sign that the students were not
coming to an end in producing interference driven faults in their writing, and it appears
that with the learning of new structures and words, the scope for further errors was
widened, so one can say that the reasons some errors were seen in the second sample,
but not the first, was because those structures and words were not ready to be
transferred at that point in time (Ellis, 1994). Such a theory follows that presented in
Kellermans paper in 1995 where he points to the theory of natural acquisition, an innate
order of learning that all students go through when learning a language.
Another area already said to be prone to interlingual transfer is discourse and rhetorical
structures (Rass, 2011) (Ellis, 1994), and is not limited just to transfer from Arabic into
English or vice versa. It has already been mentioned in this paper that Arabic holds a very
tight connection to Islam, and as such, the native speakers find it difficult to step away

from expressing themselves in ways which are religiously and culturally dominated. The
assertion and exaggeration discussed in the earlier pages of this paper were attributed to
such culture and religious backgrounds just cited, and it was deemed that religiously
dominated societies share a common trait of this type of discourse. Therefore, the
rhetorical functions, which were used by the students, which caused unnaturally long and
embellished setneces, are the result of a strong transfer from their mother tongue. This is
a finding, which compliments suggestions from Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Rui, 1983.
Transfer seems to affect areas other than grammar also, and spelling is perhaps one of
the most affected in this study. It has been claimed in the past that spelling is affected by
transfer due to the high levels of phonetic level transfer between languages (Ellis, 1994).
Therefore, the phonetic nature of Arabic has clearly been applied to English in an attempt
to deal with the complex spelling system in the language. Such transfers are, like the
grammatical ones mentioned in the previous paragraph, likely to gradually disappear
from the students error production because of the acquisition of spelling rules and
exceptions over time. Therefore, a potential question is whether such errors truly are
transfer or developmental and such a question is difficult to answer with compounding
resolve, but with more studies like the one carried out here over a period of time a more
definitive answer may start to emerge.


Case studies and suggestions which have or are likely to work

What is clear regardless of the cause of errors is that learners need to have strategies
taught to them so that they can cope with the process of writing more competently
(Myles, 2002). Writers who make use of strategies to counter developmental or transfer
issues are highly likely to be more proficient than those who do not (Khaldieh, 2000) as
they have the tools necessary to support them when such instances occur, whereas those
who do not use them will inevitably make decisions in much more haste and without
aptitude . Strategies can be in the form of either direct or indirect approaches. The former
is regarded as a cognitive strategy (Khaldieh, 2000) where students make a mental effort
to focus on their errors and on ways to counteract them, whereas the latter is defined as
metacognitive in Khaldieh, 2000, and relates to the learning putting themselves into
situations where their language can be fostered and promoted; such as a social setting.
However, strategies alone are not enough to make a learner error free, and attention
must be paid to developing the proficiency in writing (Khaldieh, 2000) and the areas of
language supporting it so that the skills can substance to work with. Then, results like
those seen in the paper by Khaldieh, 2000, where writers that were more proficient were
those who used more strategies (Khaldieh, 2000) can be seen more widely. Therefore, the
writer assumes that more specialised writing classes (Silva, 1993) which consider
developmental and interlingual issues should be used as opposed to generic writing
classes used more generally in Bahrain and especially in the institute for the students in
this paper. These should be able to help the learners by scaffolding the type of writing
they are expected to produce (Myles, 2002), and provide elements of linguistics norms
which might differ to those found in Arabic. For example, teachers may present
sentences, which include generic articles, but do not yet have a noun, and then students
will gradually encounter the correct use of articles in English rather than witness
omissions or substitutions in their own work. Of course, for this to occur, teachers have to
take responsibility and be aware of linguistic differences between Arabic and English (Dr.
Khan, 2011)
The teachers interviewed as part of the semi-structured interview gave some interesting
insights into the strategies they had been using in the university, and these will now be
discussed as the introduction to other researchers findings on strategies, which have
helped with some of the errors presented in this paper. The teachers noted that in
addition to the specific strategies used, the held a special study skills class for the
students which helped them to learn how to take notes, summarise and review their
work. They suggested that the key to success with these particular students was to
create a course, which was directly related to the medical future the students were
working towards as this improved the motivation levels for the group.


The main method of writing used by all the teachers was a process approach, with some
of the teachers allowing pre writing group work to continue into the writing stage. One
teacher described how she allowed students to write an entire essay in groups, with each
student being assigned one paragraph to sculpt and develop. She claimed that this
allowed more focus on the progression of ideas, organisation of the paragraph and
allowed them to focus on the vocabulary they wanted to use for the specific section of
the essay. Another teacher explained how she also used a special technique for
coherence of essays, and gave an example of cutting up an article into a puzzle and
allowing the students time to solve it. The final idea suggested was to have students
learn error symbols which teacher use, and to learn how to revise their writing once they
see them.
Some of the strategies mentioned by the teachers in the semi-structured interview are
complimented by suggestions and research findings elsewhere, like for example those
regarding writing more. Some linguists have suggested that more writing equates to a
higher level of proficiency (Lee, 2005), and one can certainly assume that the opposite
would result in poor compositions from students due to the lack of practice. SS can also
read aloud their work each time (Nazim & Ahmad, 2012)and notice that they need to put
in breaks, i.e. punctuation, otherwise they physically run out of breath, and this should
help the learners to imagine the reader taking in the sentence. A further area of
improvement should be seen in spelling due to the replicating words multiple times in the
writing, and this will help to ignite the students own memorisation skills, which the writer
feels are quite unique to Arabic speakers due to a culture of Quran memorisation. Such a
practice is also mentioned in Nazim & Ahmad, 2012 as part of their suggestions for
improving the writing of Arabic speakers composing in English. However, not everyone
agrees that practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to more writing practice,
and despite a hypothesis that suggested improvements should occur, the results
regarding free writing in Lee, 2005 showed little effect on proficiency levels. The writer
takes the stance that writing practice does help to developed the skills students need for
composing competently.
Students practicing writing is not beneficial alone without some form of feedback, and it
may be necessary for them to receive some type of negative feedback to encourage and
promote improvements in their work (Myles, 2002). In the paper by Myles in 2002, it is
suggested that teachers should look at a writing process model developed by Flower and
Hayes (1980, 1981). In the model, students interact with one and another by looking at
the work of each other, and this way the writers become more aware of the reader when
they start to compose (Cheng & Steffensen, 1996); an idea also supported by AbiSamra
in her study of Arabic learners of English. This reading and revision process will have a
positively influential effect on the students writing, and allows the students to focus on
the local areas of their writing together. After this, the teacher can look through and
check that the students are correctly identifying local level mistakes, and then write
comments about the global levels of the writing. Such an idea would benefit the students
and the teacher and may allow more time to be dedicated to areas that most need it, and

prevent an overwhelming amount of teacher led correction being given to the students
(Myles, 2002) (Nazim & Ahmad, 2012). Improvements using a similar technique of peer
correction showed positive results in the study by Cheng and Steffensen, 1996. By
learning from their own mistakes and other students who are prone to the same types of
developmental and transfer factors, the students are likely to become better as the self
regulation improves detailed focus of the different aspects of writing (AbiSamra, 2003)
(Alsamadani, 2010). Moreover, reading more is has generally received good press with
regards to improving writing (Lee, 2005), and this is a opinion expressed by Krashen,
1993 in Lee 2005, so the writer feels this particular strategy should be employed with the
students of this study.
Another area, which would have a positive effect on the students in this paper, is the
development of lexical fluency. Such a strategy, if used by the teacher, will allow the
students to develop their passive knowledge of vocabulary and discourse structures into
active and usable entities (Gelderen, et al., 2011). Such an approaches relies on the
assumption that better writer possess a richer and more complex lexical knowledge
(Gelderen, et al., 2011), but at the same time this knowledge is usable in writing.
Moreover, its knowledge must be quick and easy for the writer to access, so it must have
been procedurised by training and repetition. It was hypothesised in the study by
Gelderen, et al., 2011 that such a strategy would reduce the need for repetition as the
writers would have more fluent lexis within their knowledge, but he was unable to find
overall text quality differentiation between those who had extra training and those who
did not. However, the writer feels that this strategy could be used in conjunction with
others laid out here to develop the weakness seen in the papers subjects.
To compliment the work on lexical fluency the students should also work to develop their
metadiscourse use, as there is some evidence to suggest that by doing so the students
can improve their overall writing. In a special research project on such strategies, it was
seen that more metadiscourse usage resulted in higher grades (Cheng & Steffensen,
1996). These less salient features of writing like commentary and attitude markers help
to build a connection between the reader and the writer. This strategy would be able to
address certain features relating to discourse, which have been stated in the literacy
review to lack quality in Arabs compositions. Cheng & Steffensen, 1996 state that a
method to develop this skill is to have students read journal articles about metadiscourse
and then to reflect and write responses to them. Such a strategy could be applied to all of
the common type of errors presented here, and providing the students have adequate
reading skills, they could reflect in the same way.
Although the theory of transfer, which has been accepted as a influential factor in the
errors produced by the students here, has many unfavourable aspects, teachers should
be encouraged to make best use of its potential facilitating aspects. This can be done by
exploiting similarities between languages to promote positive transfer (Thompson-Panos
& Thomas-Rui, 1983) (Kellerman, 1995), like that which was naturally seen in the
students use of the specific article despite frequently omitting the generic article in the

data results of this paper. Such a strategy would work best with specific article usage in
English and with prefixes and suffixes used with English words. Both of these linguistic
features share similarities with Arabic and should be beneficial knowledge for the


The errors produced by the students in this paper were of a nature to suggest that
transfer was an important factor in their production. There were signs of developmental
errors existing in the data set, but these fluctuated in a different pattern to those, which
are deemed the result of interlingual transfer. Of all the errors looked at, articles,
prepositions and spelling were the most problematic. Unfortunately, for the subjects of
this study, these are also areas, which are likely to be difficult through the learning
process due to their difference to the system used in Arabic. The writer concludes that
the only way to cope with these is for both the teacher and student to address them, and
make use of a combination of strategies, as outlined in this paper. The writer feels that
strategy use must be given equal bearing in a course for the subjects in this study, and
that language proficiency must have equal standing.
Further studies might look into the effects of the strategies discussed on the production
of errors in similar settings in Arabic speaking countries.

The writer would like to note that references to Arabic culture and Islam are only based
upon experiences and crude understanding of both and no attempt has been made to
categorically define and link the two, but rather acknowledgements that some effects


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First set of data from mid-point

&m =
rph =



dis =

Error type
dd =
mis =
misform =
misorder =

AG for zero
RC pronoun
ong sentence

Number of







otal =






Second set of data from the exit exam

Linguistic category
s&m =
orph =

Number of

lex =

dis =

Error type
add =
omis =
misform =
misorder =

article generic
article specific
article specific for
gr rule after modal
gr rule ing
gr rule other
gr rule passive
gr rule sub verb
punct and
punct cap
RC pronoun

Number of

number of


misfor misord












ww prep
long sentence
start sentence with
Total =











Example data sheet




are kind of
as actor
have number of
in bad way
in limited time
is interesting
It also old one
it is undeniable fact
just beneficial mach
them opportunity
to rise


An example from the corpus built for this study