Error correction BACKGROUNDOne of the major problems


One of the major problems that a language teacher faces is how to deal with errors. It is generally agreed that correction is a part of the language learning process; however, over-correction can be a factor in demotivating students and making them reluctant to use and/or continue studying the language being learned. Therefore, the issue of how and when to correct is a very critical issue for teachers of a foreign language.


When the aim of the lesson is accuracy, errors are usually corrected immediately. Attention to mistakes during this part of the lesson improves the chances of accuracy during the fluency stage (Mumford and Darn 2005). One way to indicate incorrectness is to ask the student to repeat what he/she has said. Another way to indicate incorrectness is to echo what the student said, placing emphasis on the incorrect part of the utterance. The teacher can reformulate what the student said and repeat it correctly. The teacher may use a simple facial expression or gesture, but he/she must be sure that neither is offensive in any way. The hope is that students will key into their mistake and be able to correct it by themselves (Harmer 2001). When this does not occur, the teacher may gently correct the student and explain the error and then have the student correctly repeat the utterance. The teacher may also choose to have another student correct. This must be done with caution so that the student being corrected does not feel humiliated and belittled having his/her mistake corrected by a peer (Harmer 1998).


Unlike accuracy activities, fluency activities require less disruptive error correction. The content becomes more important than the form of the language, and correction often takes place after the activity is completed, unless language breaks down completely during the activity. When breakdown occurs, the teacher should gently intervene, getting communication back on track and then allowing the activity to continue (Harmer 2001). The teacher should monitor and take note of errors made during the activity and then present an overview of key errors made with explanation during a feedback session (Beare 2003). In order to not forget mistakes made during activities, the teacher may make a chart to use while monitoring, with headings such as, 'Grammar', 'Pronunciation', etc. and write examples of errors underneath. It is important to also note examples of when the students did exceptionally well and to give positive feedback (Harmer 2001).


In the past, teachers commonly marked all errors and corrected them for their students. Students were then expected to copy these errors into their rewrites. Teachers spent a great deal of time making such corrections, and students often only copy the corrections without studying the mistakes made. Students may be demotivated seeing so many marks on their papers (Williams 2003). There are many alternatives to overt correction of errors that are commonly used and recommended. One method is called 'responding'. In this method of feedback, the teacher does not assess and evaluate the text but responds as to how the text could be more successful, including comments on content and organisation/organization. It is time-consuming but has shown to be quite effective (Harmer 2001). Another popular method is to use written symbols that refer to the type of error made and to place them above the word or words where the error(s) occur(s), which discourages students less than overt error correction (Harmer 1998). Many encourage using a technique called 'focusing.' In this method, the teacher states the focus of the written assignment (i.e. correct use of prepositions) and focuses only on the errors made relating to the focus (Harmer 2001). Written feedback has been shown to be effective when coupled with student-teacher conferencing (Williams 2003).


It is important for the teacher to consider the type of activity at hand and the students' needs. The teacher must be able to correct effectively, allowing the students to learn from their mistakes and must be careful to not offend and demotivate students in the process. Keeping equilibrium in correction techniques will lead to happy students who learn and retain information.


Beare, Kenneth. 'Student Correction During Class. How and When'' 2003. htm

Gray, Ronald. 'Grammar Correction in ESL/EFL Writing Classes May Not Be Effective.' The Internet TESL Journal Vol. X, No.11, November 2004

Harmer, Jeremy. 'Mistakes and Feedback.' The Practice of English Language Teaching. Essex, UK: Pearson Education Limited. 2001. 99- 113.

Harmer, Jeremy. How to Teach English. Essex, UK: Pearson Education Limited, 1998.

Mumford, Simon and Darn, Steve. 'Methodology Challenge: Speaking Correction Techniques.' May 2005. ssroom-management/speaking_correction_techniques.htm

Williams, Jason Gordon. 'Providing Feedback on ESL Students' Written Assignments.' The Internet TESL Journal Vol. IX, No. 10., October 2003