Is can or can't correct

Correcting while speaking - should you do that?

How do you deal with mistakes in speaking? A good approach is to take a look at what actually happens in conversations outside of the classroom.

Let's assume I'm in Helsinki and want to go to the train station, but my confused, supposedly Finnish question doesn't reach the recipient. Nobody will ask me the correctly formulated question at this point so that I can repeat it. On the contrary, it will be clearly signaled to me that there are difficulties in understanding. "I beg your pardon?" Or "Where do you want to go?" Would be the normal reaction to such a situation. And that is exactly what should take place in the classroom.

Research has filtered out four forms of error correction. First there is the externally initiated external correction. The speaker does not notice his mistake. The other person slows down communication and gives the correct version. This is the least suitable variant for learning progress. It not only stops the speaker's flow of conversation and thus tears him out of the mental processing of his intention to speak, it is also ineffective, since the brain is not at all receptive to correction in this phase.

The second form is self-initiated external correction. Here the speaker notices his mistake, but is corrected by someone else. The fact that the mistake is noticed is already a great learning progress and should be rated positively by the course leader. The correct structure is not yet available in this phase. Learners often ask for the correction, which can and should also be done by other participants, especially when working in small groups.

The third form is about externally initiated self-correction, in which the speaker is only made aware of his mistake and improves himself. The fourth rarely occurs in class: self-initiated self-correction, in which the speaker notices his mistake himself and corrects it without outside help.

Self-correction is an important element in dealing with mistakes in language teaching. It offers the learners the chance to eradicate the “mistake” themselves, which guarantees a sense of achievement.

Opinions differ on the questions of how often and what is corrected. A rule of thumb is to clearly signal the learner when their intention to speak is not getting through. Incomprehensible sentences cannot be praised, but they can be repaired. This works through inquiries, speech and counter-speech, as in the example mentioned above at the bus stop.

The big advantage: You stay in the conversation and should it falter, the course instructor can make suggestions with “Did you mean ...?”.

Our blog author: Anke Kuhnecke