Error-based interlinguistic comparisons as a learner-centred technique of teaching English grammar to Arab students
English is taught as a compulsory subject in general education and some higher education institutions in Sudan. Students are totally dependent on the five to six hours per week of language input provided through formal classroom instruction. Besides limited exposure to the language, there are other factors confounding the teaching and learning of English such as large classes, lack of books, untrained teachers, examination _oriented teaching and learning, and teaching grammarians' grammar. Such factors have contributed to the decline of standards in English to the extent that the pass mark in English has been reduced to 30 percent in the secondary school certificate examination. The students' interlanguage exhibits features indicating heavy reliance on literal translation from Arabic. At least 50% of their errors could be attributed to this interlinguistic transfer, a strategy which is frequently employed due to the lack of the requisite knowledge of the target language. Of all the detrimental factors, the teaching of grammar seems to be the one that is most directly related to the deterioration of the standard in English. It usually takes the form of giving rules, facts and explanations couched in metalinguistic terms, which is at variance with the learners' hypotheses formation process. Reciting rules and facts about the language is the only one thing that untrained teachers can do. Trained teachers also resort to giving rules and facts due to the fact that the situation in the schools and universities is not conducive to developing the language as a skill. Based on the fact that the effectiveness of foreign language teaching in general and the teaching of grammar in particular is greatly reduced when the focus is on giving rules and complicated grammatical analysis, it is the purpose of this study to explore the possibility that the teaching of grammar could profitably be based on the findings of recent studies on interlanguage and learning strategies. The study focusses on the interlinguistic transfer strategy through translation errors in an attempt to arrive at a learnercentred technique of teaching grammar. Based on the analysis of errors, providing students with simple contrastive comparisons between the native and the target language was articipated to be more effective than giving them abstract rules and metalinguistic explanations. The study provides empirical data verifying the effectiveness of simple interlinguistic comparisons in minimizing translation errors. An experiment was conducted in eight secondary schools and the University of Gezira in Wad Medani, Sudan. A total of 714 male and female Arabicspeaking students were pretested, matched and divided into two equal groups in each school. Based on the results of error analysis, two lessons, one normal and one experimental, were developed to teach the relative clauses in English. The normal lesson followed the traditional format of examples, rules and explanations couched in metalinguistic terms. The experimental lesson included terminology-free comparisons of relative clauses in English and Arabic. The two groups were taught by the same teacher in each school and the university. The same pretest was administered as a post-test. The matched group t test was used to compare the means of the active object relative clauses correctly produced by the two groups in each school. A significant difference was observed between the two groups. The experimental group performed better than the normal group. The t values were 6.387 (df=83), 3.240 (df=54), 1.969 (df=29), 1.758 (df=28), 3.043 (df=41), 4.586 (df=35), 2.651 (df=23), 3.030 (df=14), and 3.747 (df=41). The probability that the difference was due to chance was less than 5% in all cases. The findings supported the hypothesis that the error-based interlinguistic comparisons techniques would be more efficient than the currently used traditional technique in minimizing negative transfer errors. The implications of the findings on the teaching of grammar, error correction, materials development and teacher training are discussed together with the limitations of the study and the need for further research to confirm the findings before they can be generalized.