When and how to correct Mistakes are the portals of discovery.

Mistakes are the portals of discovery. Perhaps, James Joyce had the learners in mind when he wrote this. It being an inevitable aspect of humanity, then students should never be anxious to commit mistakes because if grasp the right way, mistakes should better every man' teach him' mold him.

One very critical issue that ESL teachers ever face is when and how to correct mistakes committed by students in learning the language in a way that fosters willingness to do better and furthers motivation. Needless to say, correction needs to take place at some point or another. Therefore, how a teacher corrects students holds the greatest responsibility to either make or break the students' interest. If effectively done, then students will always have the insatiable thirst for knowledge. But if not, you might end up walking in to an empty classroom the following day.

What errors should the teacher correct, anyway' Consider the following:

'grammatical errors (verb tenses, preposition use, etc.)

'vocabulary mistakes (idiomatic phrase usage, etc.)

'pronunciation mistakes (errors in basic pronunciation, stress, intonation, etc.)

'written mistakes (grammar, spelling and diction, etc.)

Teachers might have the struggle in deciding when to correct mistakes as they may be torn between allowing students to make mistakes and taking away from them the natural learning process, which should entail a great deal of making mistakes.

ESL students learn best through interaction, through activity. Therefore, student talk time (STT) is deeply encouraged to give students the opportunity to use the language in a real social context, which is technically the best thing to do because, in the first place, language is about people. It's about society and not just a for 'apple' or b for 'ball' and let alone 'The cat sat on the mat.'

With this, correcting students becomes even more critical. Truth has it that some people could really be so sensitive when it comes to being corrected, much more so with ESL learners as they may feel intimidated, humiliated or discouraged to learn the target language when constantly corrected. Well, you wouldn't like it either if you were in their shoes, would you'

But you can never be too lenient as well. Students attend classes to learn and they expect teachers to guide them in their learning process. If a teacher doesn't correct errors because she is really concerned about the STT, it may spark a tinge of doubt on the part of the students. Too much or too little of everything is always bad enough.

To end this seemingly endless tug-of-war issue, teachers may want to consider correction as an activity. Not only does it lessen the impact on the student being corrected, it will also allow peer and even self correction. In this way, the whole class gets the benefit of clarity plus an added dose of fun.

In other words, teachers create situations for students to appreciate correction as part of the deal without having to worry about being corrected for every other mistake.

There are various techniques to correct errors in language production skills, asking a question being the most popular one. For example a student says, 'I go to school yesterday.' To exclaim, 'that's wrong' is a major no-no in correcting mistakes as this will inhibit students to participate in the class. So instead, the teacher can say, 'In the past' Go in the past is...'' Or maybe, a facial expression. 'Teacher: 'I'''..'' Then frowns expecting the student to correct. Or finger correction. Phonemic chart. Chain correction, etc.

Other ways include:

'taking notes on typical mistakes made by many students and deferring correction to the end of an activity

'correcting only one type of error (meaning, you have to focus on the tense or grammar point taken up at the moment)

'emphasize the positive and don't dwell on the negative

Whatever technique you use, the most important thing that you should keep in mind is to maintain an encouraging atmosphere that allows students to support and help one another. Mistakes are part and parcel of everyone's life and teachers should help students to accept that and guide them in their journey towards discovery and make them appreciative of the opportunities that they have with the English language to widen their horizon.