Teaching Techniques:The "Error Correction" Problem

Posted 2020/3/15

Most EFL/ESL teachers now believe that students need to be given an acquisition-rich experience in the classroom, providing them with opportunities to listen to, read, write, and speak a lot of English. 

Some of these teachers also believe that students will naturally acquire the language through an unconscious process of second language acquisition. As long as language input is comprehensible to the students, they will acquire the grammar of the language on their own. Many of those who believe in acquisition point to the research on the acquisition of grammar by second language learners. This research shows that some grammatical features are acquired early and others later. For example, the –ing (progressive), as in “He’s going to work” is acquired early while possessive s, as in “That’s Ann’s book,” is acquired later. Likewise, the ability to use irregular past tense of verbs, such as ate, slept, drank, and swam, is acquired before regular past tense. Error treatment may do little to change this natural process.

However, others believe that feedback on language errors can be used as a type of input by students to promote the acquisition process. In short, some educators suggest that error; treatment can provide the kind of feedback that will help the student to work through the different stages of acquisition, especially in EFL settings where students do not have access to much authentic language outside classrooms.
 As EFL/ESL teachers, we have choices and consider both sides of the issue. We can decide not to treat language errors, or we can decide to treat them. If we decide to treat them, there are other decisions that need to be made. When should errors be treated? Which errors should be treated? Who should treat them? How can they be treated?
 As for when to treat errors, they can be treated at the moment the error is made or treatment can be delayed. A problem with instant treatment is that it can disrupt communication. A problem with delaying treatment is the possibility that students who made the errors will not recognize the errors as being their own.
 Making decisions about which errors to treat is not an easy task for the teacher. Some teachers base their decision on their estimate of the stage of acquisition of the student – for example, treating irregular past tense verb errors such as “he eated it” (an early stage error). The dilemma… to English teachers is the question of whether or not treatment of learner’s errors… will help speed the acquisition of correct form, or simply be futile until the learners reach a stage of development where they can make use of such feedback. Faced with such a dilemma, some teachers take a different approach. Instead of considering the acquisition stage of the student, they base their treatment on whether or not the error interferes with meaning during communication. For example, if there is some confusion over the meaning of “I am very enjoy,” the teacher might treat the error: “Do you mean, ‘I enjoyed the movie’?”
The teacher also has a choice about who treats the errors. Of course, the teacher can treat the error, but so can the student who made the error, or the whole class. One problem in asking students to treat each other’s errors is the very real possibility that they will not cooperate.
     Anna:        I have no brother
     Teacher:    Two sisters? (using rising ntonation)
     Anna:         Because my mother she dead when I
                        was three years old.
    Teacher:      She died when you were three?
    Anna:           Yes. She dead when I was three
                         years old.
It is possible to make it clear to the student that errors are being treated, as well as offer an activity that draws the student’s attention to the error and the correction.
     Maria:        I  have 30 years.
    Teacher:     Which is correct: “I have 30
                        years” or “I am 30 years old”?
    Maria:         I am 30 years old.
Another error treatment activity involves classification. For example, when a student makes an error such as, “I sleep late” (meaning “I slept late”), the teacher can write the error and the correction on the blackboard for the student to see.
Correct                                  Incorrect
I slept late.                       I sleep late.   
I am 30 years old.            I have 30 years old.
I’m going to study.          I going to study.  
The teacher can also do a mini-lesson or conversation to let the student practice the correct form.
     Teacher:    Jose, did you get up early this morning?
     Jose:          No, I slept late.
     Teacher:    Do you sleep late everyday?
     Jose:          No, I usually get up early. Today I
                       slept late. 

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