Problems and Prospects of Spelling Errors Among Secondary School Students

Problems and Prospects of Spelling Errors Among Secondary School Students


This study was carried out on spelling errors among Nigerian secondary schools students, effects on their performance and possible remedies.This research work is based on five selected secondary schools in the Somolu management committee of Lagos State. The study adopted the description research design of the survey type. The simple random sampling technique was used in selecting the sample. The sample consisted of 30 students and 5 teachers selected from each of the 5 secondary schools the randomly selected from the population area. These make a total of 150 students and 25 teachers.

Two instruments were used for data collection.Data collected were analysed using descriptive statistics of frequency counts and percentages. From the results of this study, it is discovered that spelling errors that occur in students’ essay writing include the following, (in descending order) omission of letters, addition of letters, reduplication of letters, incorrect/non-use of apostrophe, simplification/wrong abbreviation, wrong prefixes and suffixes, homophonic error, one/two faulty grapheme per word, three/four faulty grapheme per word and order errors.

This study has shown that students in the study area commit a great deal of errors which are identifiable and can be categorised in their essay writings and quite a lot of reasons are responsible for this problem. The study recommended that the teaching of spelling, especially at the secondary school level should be made a major aspect of the English language curriculum and there should be concerted effort at teaching it on weekly basis.

Table Of Contents

  • Title page i
  • Certification page ii
  • Dedication iii
  • Acknowledgement iv
  • Abstract v
  • Table of content

Chapter One:

  • Introduction
  • 1.1 Background of the study
  • 1.2 Statement of the problem
  • 1.3 Research Questions
  • 1.4 Objectives of the study
  • 1.5 Significance of the study
  • 1.7 Scope of the study

Chapter Two:

  • Literature Review
  • 2.1 Writing
  • 2.2 Spelling
  • 2.3 Error
  • 2.4 Error Analysis
  • 2.5 Spelling Error
  • 2.6 Types of Spelling Error
  • 2.7 Review of Previous Study

Chapter Three:

  • Research Methodology
  • 3.1 Research design
  • 3.2 Sources of the data
  • 3.3 Population of the study
  • 3.4 Sampling of the study
  • 3.5 Instrumentation
  • 3.6 Method of data analysis

Chapter Four:

  • Results And Discussion
  • 4.1 Results
  • 4.2 Discussion of Findings

Chapter Five:

  • Conclusion And Recommendations
  • 5.1 Conclusion
  • 5.2 Recommendations
  • References

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the study

Spelling is a language sub-skill under writing. It is such an essential skill of writing that has to be mastered by all learners and users of English language for the purpose of good communication in the written form of the language. A good writer must take cognizance of his/her spelling in order to avoid communication error or communication breakdown. Spelling is usually described as the correct arrangement of letters to represent a word. It relates to the knowledge of the orthography (the system of symbols and rules used to represent spoken language in writing) of a particular language. Students who wish to write well should therefore make frantic effort to understand and avoid spelling mistakes/errors especially in a second language situation.

English Language spelling is irregular that even the native speakers have problems with it. According to Asudo and Marsh (1998), English is a language with many rules, oddities and exceptions in its spelling. Many English words are not pronounced the way they are spelt and this has constituted a huge problem to learners of the language. Also, certain words sound alike in English language and this can lead to error while learners are writing them. Examples of such words are Seize/cease, scene/sin, right/write, suit/sooth among others.

Spelling is a complex cognitive activity in which several mental processes are involved. Learning to spell correctly is not usually easy for many people but it is very important for all those who are learning the language. This is because part of what determines a learner’s proficiency in English Language is his/her ability to spell correctly for accurate expression. According to Kuiper and Allan (2004), English Language spelling seems straight forward in theory but turns out to be a little more complex in practice. They claim that many people find spelling difficult because English Language spelling does not always directly reflect the sounds people make when they say a word. To them, the problems associated with the spelling of English language could be based on three reasons:

  1. We interpret words as sequences of sound segment rather than as continuous streams of sound.
  2. The number of letters in the written version of a word and the number of sound segments in the spoken version are not necessarily the same.
  3. Sometimes the same word can be pronounced with different sequences of sound segment.

Given the above reasons, learners are prone to committing spelling errors in English Language. Spelling errors are deviation from the rules of forming words (arranging letters to form words) which could occur in the form of replacing one letter with the other, omission of letters or wrong arrangement of the letters of a word (Oluwadare, 2012). As earlier stated English Language spelling is consistently inconsistent. According to Botley and Dillah (2007), spelling errors are ubiquitous because despite years of drilling and training in schools, spelling errors still appear in large numbers in the writing produced by learners.

They investigated spelling errors using a corpus of university students’ essay and found that omission of letters ranked highest among the categories of errors found among the students in their study. Spelling errors fall under what Kato (2006) categorised as mechanical errors which include, punctuation, spellings and capitalisation. According to Summaira (2011), committing errors is a reflection of a cognitive activity of a learner and tells us a great deal about the internalised process of language production. This implies that students commit spelling errors for lack of competence in the target language.

According to James (1998) spelling errors fall within the context of Error Analysis (EA) and they occur when a learner makes an encoding error while writing and could be distinguished as ‘mis-spellings’ on one hand and ‘mechanical errors in writing’ on the other hand. Khansir (2010) posits that behaviourists believe that errors are symptom of ineffective teaching or as evidence of failure and also views it as largely due to mother tongue interference that the teacher has failed to predict and allow for when errors do occur. Even though errors are seen as an integral part of language learning, they are to be remedied by a bombardment of correct forms.

Many reasons seem to be responsible for students’ spelling errors. These include the fact that English language comes from different languages, that is, it has borrowed a bit of words from other languages like Latin, French and Greek. The fact that English Language has borrowed words from different languages makes its spelling to lack uniformity. Sometimes, English language even retain the original form of certain words from the language from which they were borrowed, examples of such words are: Clichés, elite, fiancée, fiancé.

Other possible reasons students commit spelling errors boarders on the fact that English language is not a syllabic language and this makes spelling English words difficult by itself. Words are not sometimes written as they are pronounced. The discrepancies between the spoken and written form contributes a lot to spelling errors among students of English Language since many words having the same sound(s) are spelt differently. Furthermore, inattention on the part of the learners, mother tongue interference and teachers most of the times do not make deliberate efforts to teach spelling especially from the secondary school level and above are part of the probable reasons.

Based on the problems associated with the English spelling discussed above, it takes years of practice and consistent effort to be a good speller. However, it seems not quite many English language learners practice and make concerted effort at learning the English language spelling. This is why this has constituted a great problem especially as it affects students’ writing. Since spelling is seen as a written language skill that draws upon an individual’s repertoire of linguistic knowledge, including phonological awareness and knowledge of orthography, vocabulary, morphological knowledge and others, it requires a conscious and deliberate effort to learn it especially in a second language situation. This effort seems to be lacking among learners of English in Nigeria.

Ali (2012) asserts that errors are integral part of language learning and scholars have pointed out that the language of second language learners is systematic and that learners’ errors are not random mistakes but evidence of rule-governed behaviuor. Scholars have made efforts to device means of assisting learners and teachers alike to ameliorate the problem of error in language learning. Two major approaches in studying students’ errors are Contrastive Analysis (CA) and Error Analysis (EA). They are both offshoots of applied linguistics. Ali (2012) explains further that error analysis is to reveal that learners’ errors were not only because of the learners’ native language but also they reflect some universal strategies.

Essay writing is so important in learning English language in a second language situation like ours. This is why it constitutes a major aspect of the English language curriculum. However, one of the factors responsible for students’ poor performance in English Language in recent years has been their inability to use the language to express their thoughts when writing. Part of what constitutes learners’ inability is their deficiency of spelling English words correctly. Hartshon (2008) comments that learner’s experience a lot of difficulties in their quest to produce writings that are fairly substantive and linguistically accurate, learners as well have problem of being able to express accurately the intended meaning to the examiners.

Spelling errors fall under what examiners call Mechanical Accuracy (M.A). Under M.A. grammatical errors, punctuation marks and spelling errors are assessed. WAEC Chief Examiners’ reports have revealed that virtually all students don’t score any mark out of 10 mark allotted to mechanical accuracy. Spelling error has been a great challenge to effective essay writing because it causes breakdown in communication and makes students’ essays difficult to read.

1.2 Statement of the problem

Most secondary school students’ essays are rife with several spelling errors, many of which have become embarrassing to both the teachers and the learners. The O’level English Language paper 1 (Essay writing) has constituted a major source of students’ failure in English language as a result of students’ inability to express themselves in flawless writings. A whole ten (10) marks allotted to Mechanical Accuracy (M.A) is lost as a result of spelling and other mechanical errors. It seems there is no conscious and deliberate effort on the part of teachers and even researchers to address this problem. There is paucity of studies in this area. Students often encounter problems spelling English words and there seem to be little or no effort at helping them overcome this problem. This study therefore attempted to identify this problem with a view to analysing it and suggesting solutions to the problem.

1.3 Research Questions

The following research questions were raised to guide the study.

  1. What are the types of spelling errors found in the essay writing of students in the selected schools?
  2. What are the causes of spelling errors among students?
  3. What is the perceived influence of spelling errors on secondary school students’ performance in English Language essay writing?
  4. What are the strategies that can be used to correct spelling errors among students?

1.4 Objectives of the study

  1. To examine the types of spelling errors found in the essay writing of students in the selected schools.
  2. To examine the causes of spelling errors among students.
  3. To examine the perceived influence of spelling errors on secondary school students’ performance in English Language essay writing.
  4. To establish the strategies that can be used to correct spelling errors among students.

1.5 Significance of the study

This study will be of immense importance to both the Nigerian society, other countries where English is used as the second language and academia in general. For instance, it will create awareness which will draw the attention of language users to these errors and help them to avoid committing these errors. To this end, it was posited that the present study sheds more light or provides some insight on the kind of errors found in written essays of Junior High schools and, therefore, goes a no small way to prevent repetition of such errors.

The study also adds significantly to the already existing scholarship on error analysis and, therefore, extends the frontiers of knowledge in this area of study. Besides, the study provides the impetus for further research by both undergraduate and postgraduate students in Error Analysis.Further, the study has implications for pedagogy in that it could guide teachers not only to identify the problematic areas of L2 learners (second language learners) but also to bring out areas for which remedial programmes are needed.

1.7 Scope of the study

This research work is based on five selected secondary schools in the Somolu management committee of Lagos State.

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