Discussion of Results and Conclusions of Pilot Study

This small rudimentary pilot study of the Spanish produced by A1/A2 learners of Spanish in Ireland has tried to start filling the gap of learner corpus studies on the island. It will be available as an open resource through our Community of Practice ELE in Éirínn and openpress.universityofgalway.ie. Ms García Sánchez and I have successfully produced and colour-coded a small collection of data at beginner level that will hopefully contribute to produce some insights in this discussion and conclusions of the project. In spite of being limited by scope and expertise, this project has managed to categorize and describe a series of recurrent errors.

It has shown that there are significant and frequent errors in pronunciation of vowels and diphthongs as well as with intonation and stress in general. There are interferences with the pronunciation of Irish consonants as well, which normally is positive in the case of fricatives and ‘r’, but can also be negative in the confusion with ‘ch’. These errors seem to improve in the Leaving Cert group proving that the exposure to different teachers and varieties of accent and a longer time investment resulted in improvements of pronunciation overtime.

In terms of grammar and lexis, it is worth mentioning the use and conjugation of verbs, very frequent spelling issues – contrary to the popular belief that Spanish is easier to write than other foreign languages, meaning of verbs and other categories, agreement (subject/verb, nouns – ascertaining the gender-, articles, adjectives…), possessives, differences between muy/mucho, conjunctions, pronouns and even, prepositions. Particularly interesting is the case in which students tend to use two prepositions together in the same group. Irish may influence this. Further studies would benefit from the help of Irish native speaker and/or teacher/researcher that could illuminate further correlations between Gaeilge and the errors produced by students. This study aimed to isolate further examples of the influence of Irish in the Spanish produced by the A1/A2 learners, but our limited knowledge of the language did not allow any more detail in this regard.

The most interesting result from our small study is perhaps to reiterate the occasional influence of subsequent learned languages more than L1. There were influences from French, Italian and Irish as well as direct translations from English, and sometimes evidence of Irish. It is quite likely that a learned foreign language may influence the production of the third or subsequent language further. Curiously, there were almost no examples of German influences among the learner utterances. German and French are widely studied in the Irish education system, but those learners who had previously studied this language seemed to separate between Spanish and German as very different language and did not use it as a tool for communication borrowing no elements of this language to produce Spanish examples. Consequently, it would be interesting to collate learner profiles for a further study along the lines of languages spoken and previously learnt, no matter the level that was achieved on these languages.

As my first error analysis study, it was not computerized or quantitative. Its qualitative nature has significant issues, as it fails to show what errors are more frequent giving skewed results in terms of hierarchies. The purpose of this preliminary study was not to consolidate this study as a scientific experiment but to kick-start the interest on similar projects and highlight the need for more research of this kind in order to produce materials, which are aligned with our student profiles, which anticipate their pedagogical needs. This collection of errors can inform the production of educational materials and develop checklists that can be used for beginner levels in Ireland. These errors may contribute to the anticipation of certain learner utterances that can have an impact on learner awareness and with any luck, on learner accuracy. These errors can also be used in the creation of exercises to engage learners of peer error correction of an aspect that may have been covered in class, without using errors from the concurrent learners in the classroom, which may affect them negatively.

Educational materials produced in Ireland have traditionally been based on outcomes designed by Spanish government agencies, such as the Instituto Cervantes, and the European Language Framework designed by the European Council of Languages. This alignment to global rubrics, necessary as it is, has failed to account for the specificities of the Irish educational context and specific national – or regional – requirements. Other learner error studies or corpus studies produced with English speakers in the UK or the USA also fail to depict accurately the situation of Spanish learners in Ireland, as their educational contexts are very different from the current situation of learning Spanish in the Republic of Ireland. For this purpose, we have included in this monograph a description of the Irish education system and its landmark: the Leaving Certificate exam, as the rite of passage from secondary school to undergraduate studies at college level. The focus of this exam on memorization as a language learning strategy and lack of training on translation and mediation as strategies and competences in the Irish curriculum manifest in our translation task for the corpus of error. Translation skills are a minefield of their own, but students of Spanish in Ireland compare poorly to other European counterparts in this regard. It can be speculated that the lack of grammar instruction in L1 and the absence of contrastive analysis in the secondary school curriculum could also influence their translation skills negatively.

An important limitation of our study is that we did not take into account the grades that the students obtained in the tasks we collected. This was problematic when we were looking at some of the mistakes because it did not take into account the investment of the learner. If further studies were to be developed, the recommendation would be to classify learner errors according to general bands of investment and learner motivation and/or performance.

A further recommendation from our study would be to develop the taxonomies in charts so that we can compare ex-Leaving Certificate students results with ab initio students. It would be very beneficial to adhere to one of the taxonomies already produced by the different studies that Díaz Negrillo and Fernández Domínguez have listed in their article in the references of this monograph. As this study is primarily developed for its practical application for language teaching and learning, the MELD seems particularly valuable as it includes the correct structure, therefore helping all teachers, regardless of their level, register or variety of Spanish.