The present research paper discusses the issues of identifying common lexical and semantic mistakes in Kazakh pre-intermediate EFL learners studying in homogeneous groups at university. Words are viewed as powerful tools and when used correctly, words may evoke different feelings and emotions and cause various actions. It’s important to learn how to spot difficult words, correct them timely, and master lexical competence teaching to use the words correctly. The data of the study were collected by learner’s EFL teacher from their final essays. Thirty-one essays were used as the instrument of the study to obtain real language from the participants. The authors of the study hope that the results of the conducted research would contribute to the understanding of the phenomenon of lexical and semantic errors in English language teaching which will help teachers to elaborate the differentiated tasks and ways of explaining new vocabulary preventing students’ misunderstanding. Furthermore, the results of the presented research can serve as guidance and be used in compiling EFL textbooks for Kazakhstani students. As a result, researchers managed to classify lexical and semantic errors in English language teaching, identified frequent errors, and described their causes. The findings of the research illustrate that the participants of the study make errors of word choice and incorrect collocations the most. Moreover, incorrect usage of the preposition and literal translation from L1 are included in the frequent mistakes.
In teaching a foreign language it is extremely important to develop students' skills of competent oral and written speech. In this regard it is crucial to correct and prevent lexical and grammatical errors of EFL learners. It is common for humans to make mistakes. People make mistakes when they speak and write in their native language, and they make even more mistakes when they communicate orally or in a written form in a foreign language. Naturally, it is almost impossible to communicate and to build error-free sentences for non-native speakers and complete the tasks without mistakes. Even a native speaker may allow deviations from the language norm, but he/she will almost never make a mistake in using basic language models. Therefore, it is compulsory for EFL teachers to develop and master students’ competence in using the main models of a foreign language. In order to write and speak correctly in English, students must learn to recognize their mistakes in written works or while speaking, understand what causes these mistakes, how to cope with them and learn the ways to correct them. The teacher should prevent and help to get rid of mistakes. Teachers should clearly identify the causes of errors, develop techniques for correcting errors, and most importantly learn how to predict and prevent them.
A language is a spontaneous and evolving signs system used in communication between people. Language is viewed as a set of words and the rules. Speech is the specific use of language for the communicative purpose; it means communication with the help of a language or a language in action. A person builds his speech in accordance with the rules of the language. If people follow all linguistic rules in speech, such speech is viewed as a correct speech. If there are errors in the speech it is called incorrect. According to N.V. Kondrasheva errors in students' oral answers and written works are a negative but integral part of learning. This is absolutely true in mastering a foreign language since foreign language acquisition requires not only mastering new knowledge, but also the need to encode this knowledge in a foreign language system. To reduce errors it is necessary not only to correct them, but also to anticipate and prevent their occurrence in advance, so predicting and correcting errors is an important tool for optimizing language education and learning how to improve the quality of language education [1: 27].
The lexical level, along with the grammatical and phonetic level, is the basis of the system of any language. With the help of vocabulary information is received and transmitted. Having acquired a certain foreign lexical stock, whith enriched the learners' vocabulary, students begin mastering foreign language speech, so the vocabulary (active and passive) acquisition should be considered as an informative and cognitive process, during which the learner accumulates stores and uses lexical knowledge and lexical units.
Various deviations in speech have always attracted linguists, giving ideas for empirical research. L.V. Shcherba believed that various kinds of errors in speech play different roles. According to Shcherba, “the role of this negative material is huge and has not yet been fully evaluated in linguistics” [2: 259]. Error analysis as a research approach is used in linguistics, linguodidactics, research on intercultural communication, and sociolinguistics.
According to the definition given in the Dictionary of methodological terms, an error is defined as “deviation from the correct use of language units and forms; the result of an erroneous action of the student” [3: 205]. Ye.G. Azimov claims that an error is regarded as an incorrect choice of a unit from a number of single-level units or members of the same paradigm for these operating conditions. Language errors root from didactic reasons or occur as a result of language interference. Language interference is “the interaction of language systems, speech mechanisms, the influence of the native language system on the studied language in the process of mastering it”; “is expressed in deviations from the norm and the system of the second language under the influence of the native one” [3: 97].
According to Ye.G. Azimov, “words are powerful tools and when used correctly, as words may evoke different feelings and emotions and consequently, cause various actions. It’s important to learn how to spot problematic words and replace them with clear, powerful ones so that writing can be as effective as possible. Mistakes are something natural, something that relates to the cognition and application of language in a communication situation. Before correcting an error, the teacher must first identify it. Each educator has his own subjective theory of identifying, describing, explaining, evaluating, and treating errors. Error identification implies the concept of correctness, which is understood in different ways in the above definitions” [3: 23].
Many specialists in linguodidactics consider errors in a foreign language as “the result of an incorrect operation of choosing the language means of a foreign language for the expression of a correctly programmed thought” [4: 30]. Error is an integral part of the learning process and can be perceived by both the student and the teacher as a natural phenomenon. On the one hand, it helps to draw attention to gaps in knowledge and skills. On the other hand, focuses the teacher's attention on the student's speech, and at the same time encourages the student to pay more attention to his/her speech.
The authors of the study hope that the results of the conducted research would contribute to the understanding of the phenomenon of lexical and semantic errors in EFL which will help teachers to elaborate the differentiated tasks and ways of explaining new vocabulary preventing students’ misconception. Furthermore, the results of the presented research can serve as guidance and be used in compiling EFL textbooks for Kazakhstani students. The research question that guided the data collection and analysis processes of this study was as follows: what are the difficulties and wrongly-used lexical items in pre-intermediate Kazakh EFL students’ essays?
The authors of the research aimed at studying the phenomenon of lexical and semantic errors in homogeneous groups. In homogeneous groups students are divided into groups in which students has approximately the same level of language proficiency and knowledge competence [5: 47]. A homogeneous class is understood as group consisting of students of the same age, similar levels of learning and learning ability, similar interests and learning motives .
Errors can be classified according to various criteria. Errors can be classified as performance errors and competence errors. Competence errors are interpreted as a system collision, which cannot be recognized by a student. This means that a student makes mistakes because either he/she has not studied a particular language structure yet, or he/she has misunderstood something. Performance errors are interpreted as non-system collisions that a student can recognize.
Errors can be classified into those that disrupt the communication process, and errors that do not disrupt it. Errors that disrupt communication are understood as errors that make the statement incomprehensible. In case of errors that do not disrupt communication, the meaning of the statement is clear. This may refer to grammatical as well as lexical mistakes. Mistakes in students' speech always occur, regardless of how much effort the teacher puts into teaching students to speak and write correctly in a foreign language. Mistakes are a natural phenomenon and indicate that students learn and apply the language in different situations.
According to Read & Chapelle (2001) , “vocabulary is defined as one of the basic components of language when communication is regarded and it is also an essential part of language learning. The development of lexical knowledge is considered by both researchers and teachers to be central to the acquisition of a second or foreign language”. Llach [8: 46] states that every language learner start learning a language with vocabulary in all languages, for language acquisition is not possible without knowledge of words. Relevant research literature suggests a strong relationship between vocabulary acquisition and lexical errors, which are generally considered a vital aspect of the acquisition process [8: 46]. According to Llach (2005) lexical errors not only play a relevant role in the second language vocabulary acquisition process, but they also are among the most numerous types of errors in learners’ performance. Thus, it is very important to identify solutions for lexical errors in foreign language learners’ compositions because they cause communication problems. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to identify and categorize the lexical errors that appear in a group of pre-intermediate level Kazakh EFL learners’ essays. This study was conducted in order to identify the lexical and semantic features which cause difficulties to Kazakh EFL students, to classify those lexical errors according to their type and frequency, and to provide possible explanations for the causes of those lexical errors .
Lexical semantic interlinguistic interference occurs as a result of incorrect use of word in speech. This may be caused by the use of polysemy, homonymy and synonymy. Teaching and learning to write is a complex process in which students make a large number of mistakes. This was the reason for choosing the typology of errors, according to which we conducted a diagnosis that showed the lack of formation of the skills and abilities of writing of university students. A detailed classification of errors in the language and speech of foreign language learners contributes to their correct assessment and prediction of possible errors. The authors of the research did not aim to study slips in the essays, but common and mostly repeated mistakes and errors that occurred numerous in the essays and demonstrated gaps in foreign vocabulary acquisition.
The present study was conducted among the 1st year students enrolled at the faculty of Philology and Pedagogy at Sh. Ualikhanov Kokshetau State University. 31 pre-intermediate level Kazakh learners of English with English as a major participated in this study. Their proficiency level was determined by a placement test implemented at the beginning of the semester and they were placed into one group which is defined as a homogeneous group in this study. The lessons were conducted according to the educational program and language skills and competencies reflected in the curriculum designed for specialty “Foreign language: two foreign languages (English and German)”. The data of the study were collected by their EFL teacher as their final essays. Thirty one essays were used as the instrument of the study to obtain real language from the participants. Participants were allotted two classes of English (100 minutes) to complete their essays. The teacher set several criteria for written assignment which were: 1) word limit (160 words), 2) following logical structure of the composition (3 paragraphs min.), 3) sticking to the main topic of the composition. The students were not allowed to use any kind of electronic devices, mobile phones containing dictionaries or other supplementary materials while writing their essays. The written assignment was to write an argumentative essay about their future profession . They were proposed to write an essay on the following topic: why have you chosen to be a teacher? After students submitted their final essays and the data was collected, essays were read by two lecturers, who looked for for lexical errors. All the essays were coded after data collection. Each essay had an identifying number on it and was placed in a secure place before being checked. So the lecturer could use only identifying numbers of the participants providing students’ anonymity and avoiding personal preference. Lexical and semantic errors were found, counted, interpreted and classified into several types. Similar lexical errors and mistakes in the essay were counted one time only.
Results and discussion
Lexical norms require the correct choice of a word and its appropriate use in accordance with its lexical meaning. We can learn the meaning of an unfamiliar word from an explanatory dictionary. It is necessary to follow the lexical norms in oral and written speech, and compliance with lexical norms is achieved when the learner strictly follows the aspects stated below:
Understanding the lexical meaning of the word and the appropriate use of the word.
Knowing of the lexical compatibility of words.
Knowing the polysemy or homonymy of words.
Being aware that vocabulary can be divided into: common use and areas of limited use; active and passive vocabulary; neutral and stylistically colored vocabulary.
Lexical norms cannot be mastered in a few classes. It is necessary to constantly enrich students’ vocabulary, systematically referring to dictionaries and reference books. In case of violation of lexical norms, speech errors occur. Here the main speech errors caused by the violation of lexical norms are given.
The analysis of the data has identified several types of lexical errors as presented below.
- Errors of word choice or transfer errors. The most common mistake of non-speakers of any level, especially beginners, is the wrong choice of words. This error occurs when students try to translate words from their native language themselves using a dictionary. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to distinguish between the types of words, and do not know exactly what meaning to choose among list of meaning offered in the dictionary, so they choose the first meaning they come across in the dictionary.
Word choice errors often happen due to interference from the learner’s first language and are sometimes called false-cognate errors. This type of error comes from a lack of knowledge of the different vocabulary choices available in English or collocations required by a particular context. Sometimes phrases just sound awkward in English because they are words we would never put together. This type of lexical error defines the errors where a wrong lexical item is used instead of the correct one. With this type of error in it sentence does not make any sense, and it mostly happens when the student selects an inappropriate word or has no clear understanding of its usage in speech patterns. Example 1: Learning foreign languages has a positive affect on my future career (effect). Example 2: Beside, leaning foreign languages is like a golden bridge to the future (Besides). Example 3: The site which I always use is named “ESL Collectives” (called). Example 4: The teachers are very kind and comprehensive (sensible or understanding). Example 5: In order to master our language skills we need to practice a lot (practise).
The following errors were identified in the middle parts of the students essay when they were trying to explain why it is important to learn foreign languages. The first error clearly shows that the students struggles defining the subtle meaning of effect (n), and affect (v), whereas the second error that the learner does not know the difference between the words “besides” and “beside”, this type of the mistake cannot be interpreted as spelling mistake, as it was repeated several times in the essay. Example 3 demonstrates that the learner cannot differentiate the verbs “to name” and “to call”, which shows that the learner has troubles with correct word usage. Example 4 illustrates that the learner wanted to express the positive qualities of the teacher, but the example shows that the learner failed to express himself/herself adequately and the use a proper word. Probably the learner wanted to define the teacher as sensible or understanding. Example 5 shows that noun/verb pair causes a lot of confusion, because it is different in British (or International English) from American English. The latter does not use practise at all. In an American English spellchecker this will be marked as an error. In British English, practice is a noun and practise is a verb. It is well known that different meanings of the same word in one language can be conveyed by completely different words in another. So, for example, the noun case in English corresponds to the words matter, affair, business, case, cause. As practice shows, students make a significant number of mistakes. For example; do — to make, to offer - to suggest, accept - to take, to receive-to accept etc.
- Errors of literal translation. The lexical errors of this type include the words that are directly translated into L2 by sticking to the literal L1 meaning. In other words, translation errors occur when the learner literally transfers the individual meaning of an item without knowing the set expressions in the target language . Although a native speaker may guess what the non-native speaker has meant, it sounds awkward to a native speaker of the target language (L2). Example 6: A teacher plays an important role when students have hardships saying their thoughts in a foreign language. Example 6 demonstrates direct, literal translation from the Kazakh language: hardships and to say a thought (қиындықтар, ойын айту), and clearly shows that the learner is not aware of the correct usage of the given words (problems, to express a thought).
- Misspelling. This type of errors is also known in the literature as spelling errors and it consists of lexical errors which violate the orthographic rules of English . Example 7: I would like to tell you a facinating story from my childhood (fascinating). Example 8: All schools want to hire experianced teachers, but they do not want to work with young teachers (experienced). Example 9: Pronounciation is one of the difficult sections to teach (pronunciation). According to the data analysis the given errors were made by several learners in the essays, so they are supposed to be frequent errors. According to the results of the study the most of the repeated errors that occurred in the learners’ essays are though, thorough, thought, thing, thoroughly, thoughtful.
- Pronoun confusion. The next group of the most common mistakes is related to the incorrect use of prepositions. Pronouns make communication quicker and easier, but when there are multiple subjects being discussed, pronouns can easily be misunderstood. Lorincz (2012)  says that English language learners find prepositions challenging to master due to its great number and different nature. Result shows that substitution, addition and omission are the mostly repeated syntactic errors based on the linguistic analysis of learners’ output. This misuse, as shown by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999) , is caused by a mismatch problem between English and other languages. When one tries to study English, he usually finds word equivalents in his native language. Example 11. We congratulated our English teacher with Teacher’s Day (on) Example 12: Language skills depend from many factors (on) Example 13: She looked on the blackboard and corrected mistakes (at). Correct use of prepositions is impossible by word-for-word translation from the Russian language, as a result of this analogy in the speech of students we can often observe them using the constructions: on the lesson (instead of at), to depend from (instead of on), to happen with smb (instead of to), to treat smb. from smth. (instead of for), etc. As many Kazakh students speak Russian well they are also subjected to second language interference, despite the fact that their first language is Kazakh. Sometimes, under the influence of their native or second foreign language, students either “automatically” transfer prepositions from Russian/Kazakh to English: to influence on smb, to refuse from smth instead of to influence smb, to refuse smth, or omit them where they are required: to prove to smb, to explain smb, to prove smb instead of to explain to smb. To eliminate such errors students can receive a list of verbs and adjectives with fixed prepositions for simply memorizing verbs, and situations, examples or models of demonstrating the use of these prepositions should also be given, so that students wouldn’t compare English with other languages they already know very well.
- Errors of redundancy. Redundancy means that the same information has been repeated twice, just by using different words. The sentences which contain redundant information aren’t grammatically incorrect, but they have unnecessary words, which need to be avoided. Lexical errors in this category are generally recognized when a lexical item is unnecessarily used, repeated or paraphrased. Redundancy is a disadvantage that many of our students suffer from. They tend to use extra words that they think reinforce, clarify, or soften what is said. A sentence should not contain any unnecessary words; a paragraph should not contain any unnecessary sentences. Example 14: If learners make practice every day, they can improve their level of English. Example 14 shows that the learner uses extra words in the sentence, though the same idea could be expressed using only one word “to practice”.
- Errors of incorrect collocations. Collocations are combinations of words that appear together very frequently and have evolved as natural phrasing in English. For example, “heavy rain” and “strong wind” are collocations. The words rain and wind can be described by many adjectives, but heavy and strong, respectively, are among the more common ones. You would not say “strong rain” or “heavy wind”; that does not sound natural [2: 165]. Words should be used in strict accordance with their semantics, i.e., meaning. Each significant word has a lexical meaning, naming phenomena and objects of reality, which in our consciousness correspond to certain concepts. With a clear statement of the idea, the words used by the authors fully correspond to their subject-logical meaning. When choosing a word one should take into account not only its meaning, but also lexical compatibility. Not all words can be combined with each other. The boundaries of lexical compatibility are determined by the meaning of words, their stylistic affiliation, emotional coloring and grammatical properties. Collocating lexical units inadequately may cause violation of compatibility and it often sounds funny which may also results in intercultural misunderstanding.
Lexical-semantic errors, i.e., incorrect choice words in context (“false friends of a translator”, the wrong choice of lexical synonym, wrong values of polysemantic words; inappropriate choice of antonym in opposition; mixing in the speech of paronyms; violation of the lexical compatibility, etc.): Example 15: How color should be school uniforms? (what) — Оқушылардың мектеп формасы қандай түсті болу керек? — an error consisting in a violation of lexical compatibility caused by interference from the Kazakh/Russian language. Example 15 shows that a student made the mistake because of L1 interference, as the word how is translated in Kazakh қандай, but the word should collocate with the word what: what color. Example 16: When a teacher teaches a student ignorance it is like doing a crime (to commit a crime). Examples 15 and 16 illustrate that the students do not possess the skill to collate the words correctly, so that the speech would sound naturally. Lexico-semantic errors and idiomatic expressions can often lead to errors that change the meaning of a sentence. In this case, teachers need to make sure that they have fully understood student’s /author’s intention and the correction is appropriate.
7. Errors of word formation. Lexical errors of this type happen when the students use the wrong form of a word in their written assignments. It is often reflected in the piece of writing when students confuse parts of speech, and cannot differ a noun from a verb. For instance, when a student intends to use a verb in a sentence (e.g. to differ) but ends up using the adjective form of that noun (e.g. difference) this error is defined as an error of word formation. Example 17: Many people are unsatisfied with the education system. Example 17 shows that a student confuses the correct usage of negative prefixes. Probably the student follows the morphological rule that prefix –un should be used, but there are a lot of exceptions, here the teacher should make that student know all the rules of word-formation. Students also, mix up the usage of the prefix –im. Especially some bold students, not knowing the rules of word formation, try to create new words themselves.
The total number of lexical errors made by the participants was found to be 385. While interpreting and analyzing the results we have identified that Type 1 (errors of wrong words choice) amounted (25 %) and Type 6 (incorrect collocations) consists of the most frequency of errors (28 %), Type 2 (mistakes of literal translation) and Type 3 (misspelling) amount approximately 18 % and 10 % respectively. Type 4 errors incorrect usage of preposition) amounts to 7 %. Type 5 (errors of redundancy) amount 3 % and type 7 (errors of word-formation) amount to 9 %. The results of the present study are reflected in Fig.1.
The purpose of this study was to identify and group the lexical errors that occur in Kazakh EFL preintermediate learners’ essays at university. The findings of the research illustrate that the participants of the study make errors of word choice and incorrect collocations the most. Apart from making errors of word choice and incorrect collocations, the participants of the study seem to make many errors with the usage of the preposition, literal translation from L1. As we have mentioned before, the participants of this study were pre-intermediate level (1st-year university students) English learners, and it can be said that their lexical competence at this level does not allow them to make the right lexical choices and collocate the words correctly all the time in written works. Secondly, the results of the study revealed that errors of literal translation and errors of incorrect usage of the prepositions happen because of the strong interference of L1 and L2, as all the experiment participants learned English as L3. Errors of word formation and misspelling errors appeared rarely in the students’ essays which might be explained as students write quizzes and word dictations after each unit. The present study results show that the type of errors of wrong word usage and collocations belonged to the highest frequency errors. The results of this study may be used while compiling syllabi and designing textbooks for EFL learners which focus on elaborating suitable exercises for mastering lexical skills and will help to use the right word and collocations in context. The problem of wrong usage of collocations and wrong word choice may be solved by means of using lexical-semantic field approach, lexical- semantic grouping, lexical-semantic tables and schemes, mind-maps and thematic groping, which will provide learners to group vocabulary according to semantic and thematic groups and will help students to differentiate synonyms, antonyms and hyponyms. This approach is supposed to systemize the necessary vocabulary based on one topic and will contribute to learners’ better understanding of subtle meanings of the words. Trilingual education of students is created in artificial conditions, therefore, we can not exclude the influence of the native or second foreign language on learning the third foreign language. Language errors arise for
didactic reasons, due to insufficient knowledge and skills, or as a result of language interference. To use a word in speech appropriately it is necessary to remember the dependence of the corresponding lexical meaning on syntagmatic connections, i.e., how it is combined (semantically and syntactically) with other words. The frequent mismatch of word combinations in the studied language and the native language leads to difficulties in the semantics of lexical units and their further use in speech. Therefore in order to master polysemantic lexical units it is necessary to select the most commonly used combinations in order to train students in speech structures. Kazakhstani students learn the English language not in the same way as their mother tongue, this learning environment mostly called artificial, as learners practice foreign languages only in class conditions created by EFL teachers, who are also not native speakers. It is even hard to compare acquiring vocabulary in mother tongue with foreign vocabulary acquisition, as they are totally different due to many factors such as learning environment, motivation, language nature. Though many Kazakhstani schools start teaching English from the 1st grade it is still difficult to claim that learners will learn the use of words naturally, as they lack pure English speaking environment. They also start learning foreign language when their mother tongue lexicon has advanced and mother tongue interference is inevitable and learners subconsciously make mistakes while writing and speaking in English. In addition, the problem of language sense is one of the most difficult tasks (if not the most difficult) in learning a foreign language. In most cases the sense of language is viewed as a sign of the highest level of foreign language proficiency.
The present study attempted to identify and classify the lexical errors in Kazakh EFL learners’ essays in the homogenous group; however, it had its own limitations. Firstly, this study of identifying lexical errors was conducted once and has analyzed only the essays of the 1st year students, the focus of the participants can be increased and 2nd year students can be included, and heterogeneous groups can be investigated. Further studies are needed to explore this issue better. Also the study of cases of the influence of the native language on the English language of students allows preventing possible errors in the speech of students, which requires the implementation of a number of special exercises. Such sets of exercises should take into account the main lexical difficulties caused by the discrepancy between the lexical phenomena of the Russian, Kazakh and English languages. Further investigations can be conducted from the perspectives of psycholinguistics, intercultural communication, and sociolinguistics. It should be noted separately that when studying several foreign languages, there is a strong secondary L1 and L2 interference. Therefore, when teaching several foreign languages, one should especially take into account both the positive and negative impact of the first and second foreign languages, rather than the native one. For example, when studying English as a third language after Kazakh/Russian, students experience difficulties of an interfering nature at almost all levels of the language. Lexical and semantic errors, as well as phonetic errors, often lead to violations that change the meaning of the word or sentence, so they should be explained to the student and prevented.  By constantly recording, observing, studying, and systematizing students' mistakes, we can collect material that gives a fairly detailed picture of the difficulties of mastering a foreign language. The accumulated material will allow the teacher to choose the most effective techniques and strategies of working on the language, which will help to minimize the number of lexical and grammatical errors in the speech of students.
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