We all make mistakes! – a guide to correcting errors

Accuracy is obviously an important part of speaking a language. A lot of English teachers would say that not making mistakes is important but at the same time students shouldn’t worry too much about it as long as their mistakes don’t affect understanding. Students though don’t really accept this idea (they want to speak correctly!) and I think rightly so.

People care about the impression they make when communicating

After all, people worry about the impressions they make. Whether it’s a good impression in a first meeting or the impression you give people generally, we have an image of ourselves which we want to portray. And this image is generally positive. We want to be seen as educated, dynamic and/or successful people, not as someone who makes mistakes. The result of this in the English classroom students often say ‘please correct me’ to the teacher.

For the teacher there is a little bit of a dilemma here. On one hand they want to correct the learner to promote accuracy in the language. On the other hand they don’t want to undermine the learner’s confidence and correct too much. Correct to a point and let the other stuff go. Tomorrow is another day.

So as teachers, we don’t want to correct students every time we hear a mistake. But there are times we most certainly do correct. And one of those times is when we hear the habitual mistake. These are mistakes which are engrained into learners (often) of particular nationalities. They are mistakes which the same (nationality) learners make again and again.

Here are a few examples of common mistakes:

The last week I went to Cork. This is a common habit with the words next and last. Basically, there is no the when next or last refers to now. Last week I went to Cork is correct.

One means not two…

I want one coffee please. Here, the problem is one. In English, one means ‘not two’. What that means is that you only say ‘one’ when the listener is expecting you to say ‘two’ (or ‘three’ etc). Imagine you have been in a bar with your friend for a couple of hours ordering and drinking beer. Every time you order another round you ask for ‘two beers’. Your friend now however, doesn’t want another beer. You decide to have one more for the road. You call the barman over. What does he expect you to say? Two beers! Of course, as this is what you have been ordering all night. But you ask for ‘one beer’. One means not two, and in this case it’s correct. Usually you ask for a beer. Therefore the correct version of the sentence above is I want a beer please.

He’s 19 years. Here, you have an option. You can either say he’s 19 years old, or just simply, he’s 19.

Thanks for all. This is not correct. It should be ‘thanks for everything’. The word all is a modifier used before nouns to mean everything. But it is not a noun itself. All the money, all the world, all Dublin…is correct. Without the noun, you need to say everyone or everything etc.

Active voice or passive voice?

I cut my hair. Although this is possible it probably isn’t correct. Here you should use the passive form to have/get something done. The idea is that there are things we don’t do ourselves but rather we pay someone to do them for us. Perhaps we don’t do it because we are lazy (I get my grass cut every week) or we don’t have time (I have the dog walked in the evening) or we don’t have the necessary skill to do it (I’m getting my car serviced tomorrow.

I want that he comes to the party. When you want a person to do something the structure is want+person+to+verb…I want him to pay me. She wants me to help her. Therefore, the correct version of the sentence above is I want him to come to the party.

Next week I will come back to Italy. Here, the problem is come. Basically you always come here and go there (except on the phone!). Come is to where you are and go is to all other places. When in Ireland, Italy is there, and so the sentence should read next week I’m going back to Italy. I have also changed the tense to the present continuous as it is a planned arrangement (I have the ticket).

So what mistakes should teachers correct?

The great thing about correcting the habitual mistake is that it opens doors which have some very interesting language items to explore on the other side. Open the door, take some steps (how many according to the level you are teaching) and then go back and move on. This makes for an interesting and dynamic class.

Another error to correct is when the learner makes a mistake using the target language being dealt with in the class. If the class has a grammar theme, for example future forms, the teacher should be dealing with issues which arise around this area of grammar. Again, level plays a key role in what to correct and how far to go with it.

With these errors in mind, how should we as teachers go about correcting them?

There are of course a variety of ways. Some teachers can correct as they hear them and some will gather them for a language focus session at the end of the class. Some teachers will advocate peer correction and some will create a task around them for the next session. All ways are valid. The important thing is that the teacher promotes understanding in the learner. They must present the language in context and show the learner why one form is used and another is not. The key then is once the learner has understanding the teacher then facilitates the learner to use the target language as much as possible through tasks, eliciting or homework. The key to language learning is production on the learner’s part.

In my experience of observing teachers, I have found that the most successful ones are the teachers who ‘sit’ on the target language. How long you sit and how deep you dig depends on the learner’s level. In the classroom, the teacher is the filter. Some things pass and others are stopped and dealt with. Through the teacher, the learner can develop their communication skills to the point where they are making language choices which are appropriate to the situation within which they are communicating.

After all, this is what the learners want isn’t it?

By John Ryan

©

2018.

John Ryan

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