Correction – A Positive Approach to Language Mistakes

Learning a language is a complicated activity. A lot of research has been done into how to make learning effective but, as yet, it remains surprisingly difficult to say with certainty what methods are truly more effective than others. There is a lot of theory, and even a lot of evidence, but it remains largely inconclusive.In addition, however, there remain a great many prejudices. Most people – whether they are language teachers, parents, or language students – have strongly held beliefs about how they should learn and, equally strongly, about how they should not. Unfortunately, many of these beliefs are exactly that – beliefs and not facts. They may be strongly held, but they have no firm basis. One of the subjects upon which most people have strongly held beliefs is the role played by correction. Many years of working with language teachers – experienced and inexperienced, native speakers and non-native speakers of English, traditional and progressive, employed in State schools and private schools, has shown me that one certain way to rouse a group of language teachers to heated discussion is to question their attitude to correction. A simple remark such as ‘Most language teachers probably correct their students too much’ can easily provoke aggression, anger and many other unhelpful attitudes. The fact is, the question of the teacher’s attitude to mistakes and correction is probably the single most important issue in a language teacher’s professional development. In many ways, it is also central for students. The kind of activities the teacher encourages in the classroom, and the kind which the teacher avoids or minimises, will be strongly influenced by the teacher’s views of the role of mistakes and correction in learning.

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