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Correcting Spoken English

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Don’t over correct!!!

right-145527_640right-145527_640right-145527_640Correcting Spoken English is the way in which student errors are corrected as they are speaking‏‎.

Before beginning though, remember that all students will make mistakes. It is part and parcel of learning a language (and bear in mind that children learning their first language will make mistakes also; it is a natural part of the process).

When to Correct

At one end of the spectrum are teachers who will correct every single error the student makes. This can have negative results.

  • students may feel intimidated and stop speaking for fear of being corrected in front of the class
  • it can interrupt the flow of speech and break a student’s thought or concentration

At the other end of the spectrum are teachers who do not correct any mistakes but again this can have negative results:

  • students do not realize they are making mistakes and believe they are error-free

Teachers can, of course, adopt a middle way. Here they might correct:

  1. when the student needs correction in order to continue
  2. when the meaning of what the student says is uncertain
  3. when several students make the same mistake

How to Correct

Known as recasting, this is the WRONG way:

Student: I go at the park last night.
Teacher: went
Student (looking confused): I went at the park last night.
Teacher: to
Student: I go to the park last night.

What has happened here is that the teacher has not been explicit and it has resulted in the student losing the thread of their speech, not really understanding what they have done wrong and then making further errors.

For more on this, see the main article, Recasting & Uptake.

If we look again at the 3 different scenarios when error correction is needed there are different approaches to the way in which errors can be corrected.

1. when the student needs it to continue

Student: I go at the… (looks to the teacher for help)
Teacher: park?
Student (triumphantly): I go at the park last night.
Teacher: Excellent!

Here the teacher offers a helping hand to the student when asked. The student won’t feel threatened or embarrassed by this as it is they who have asked for help.

2. when the meaning of what the student says is uncertain

Student: I go at the park.
Teacher: Sorry? You go now or yesterday or tomorrow? When do you go to the park?
Student: Last night.
Teacher: Ah! Then it’s: I went to the park.
Student: I went at the park.
Teacher: Excellent.

Here the teacher interrupts for clarification and then gives the correct language for the meaning to be fully understood.

3. when several students make the same mistake

In this case, the teacher will notice that several students make the same mistake. This indicates that in all likelihood the whole class has this error. Thus the teacher may well decide to create a mini-lesson around this particular error for another day. On that occasion they will explain the error and the correction and get the students focussing on where they may be going wrong.

Gesture Correction

Error Correction need not always be about the teacher butting into the conversation and correcting. This, after all, is guaranteed to block fluency. Remember that hand signals can also be used and are less intrusive.

Student: I go at the park last night.
Teacher points back over their own shoulder (a known gesture in class indicating the past)
Student (pauses for thought): I went at the park last night.
Teacher thumbs up

One advantage with this method is that because the teacher is not speaking, the student has a chance to self-correct. Look at this extended dialogue:

Student: I go at the park last night.
Teacher holds up hand as stop sign; student stops and the teacher looks enquiringly
Student pauses for thought then looks blank and shrugs shoulders
Teacher gestures to class for their input and a bright spark at the back suggests the past tense
Teacher nods
Student: I went at the park last night.
Teacher thumbs up (or another appropriate gesture)

Note that gestures need to be appropriate. Click here‏‎ to read about possibly inappropriate gestures in class.

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