“What do you like food?”

As language teachers we have to tread softly when it comes to students making mistakes. If we don’t point out errors, we run the risk of making them permanent. Over-correct and we can stamp out our students’ confidence in speaking.

So, when you hear common mistakes like these, what is your protocol? How and when do you chose to correct mistakes?

Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments section.

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6 Comments

  1. As always it depends on the circumstances. If I’m teaching academic English to students in Australia who are trying to enter university there, then I’m particularly picky and will highlight most mistakes. As an ALT in Japan teaching students who will probably never use English as part of their career or outside of Japan, unless it affects meaning, I let it go. I just keep that magic word running through my head… communication..communication….And this is coming from a bit of an English stiff!

    • Great! I think I should take a page from your book. If it’s communicated then why be a stickler? I’m gonna try an experiment. Reduce the corrections and see if it increases motivation or willingness to communicate. I think it will have a positive impact. As always, thanks for your comments, Liz!

      • I very much look forward to hearing the results! Being a language learner at the moment too, I kinda get how they feel (although I’m not a 16 year old Japanese person!). I was corrected on making an adjective past tense in Japanese recently and at that moment I was like ‘ouch!’, but I haven’t made the mistake since. However, I’m learning the language out of necessity and because I really have a desire to. I don’t think my students feel quite as positively about learning from mistakes with a language they are more or less told to learn. While I don’t want to be a complete slacker and breed lazy language learners, I feel like a very easy come easy go approach seems to be appropriate. It they feel relaxed hanging out with a native English speaker then hey! One day they might actually want to make conversation.

        • Yeah it’s easy to forget that our learning circumstances are totally different from those of our students. I have to kick myself sometimes to remember their priorities and point of view are completely different.

          Update on the “To correct or not to correct” experiment: I don’t have any conclusive results, but I have held back a few times when speaking to students and the conversation did seem to flow a bit better. Hard to tell if it had any impact, but I’m gonna stick with it!

          I agree with what you said at the end of your message quite a lot. In many ways we can do more by laying a foundation of positive attitudes toward foreign cultures and language. Make it fun and natural to talk and someday something might “click” with them.

  2. The JTEs I teach with are very strict with students about having the exact, perfect grammar. I’m not sure that my teachers correct students directly when I’m not in class, but the students can easily perceive the attitudes and belief systems which my teachers hold. Due to this type of environment, my students aren’t as willing to take risks.

    When I’m speaking with students, my level of ‘help’ or ‘correction’ depends on my relationship with the student and also if I’m doing a grammar-targeted activity or just chatting.

    If my students are writing compositions, some are comfortable asking me direct questions about if they have phrased something correctly. They love the feeling of success, and I’m fortunate that some of my students want to take the time to ask me to correct them or check their compositions.

    If I’m having a casual conversation, sometimes I rephrase what a student said to me as if I am speaking to myself and thinking of my response. I don’t make it seem as if I am trying to correct them, but rephrasing in order to mull over the question for a longer amount of time. This ‘thinking-out-loud’ approach buys me time and avoids offending anyone, while exposing my students to more natural ways of saying something they’d like to say.

    • I think you’re right to have a more nuanced approach to correcting mistakes. It definitely must depend on activity focus, relationship and overall timing.

      I forget the technical term for the “rephrasing” strategy you talked about using, but I’ve read that it can be a powerful way to correct without “correcting”.

      You wrote, “If my students are writing compositions, some are comfortable asking me direct questions about if they have phrased something correctly…”

      That’s great you have cultivated these relationships with your students. The next time I do corrections, I’m gonna ask the students to make a special mark on their paper if they want me to do this kind of check work for them.

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