Dear colleagues subbing for me

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Please don’t correct the participants when they are trying to communicate. It is difficult enough for some to formulate their thoughts in a language different from their own and many, if not all, have to focus and concentrate when doing so. A teacher’s corrections during this process will, at best, be ignored, worse, registered as an interruption and disrupt their concentration and, worst, lead to confusion or even silence.

Research has shown that corrections while speaking largely go unnoticed as we have probably all experienced. No matter how often you correct the mispronunciation, the wrong choice of verb structure or collocations – it doesn’t seem to have any effect. And that is good. We are lucky when our inadvertent corrections (we sometimes just can’t help ourselves) do not disturb the flow of thoughts of the person trying to communicate.

But be assured, correcting mistakes learners of English, or any other language, make while they are speaking and concentrating on whatever it is they are trying to express is not a teaching method!

Numerous studies have shown that the best approach for learning a language is one that separates focus on meaning and communication from focus on form.

Communicative approaches without any language form focus, however, were not as successful as those that included occasional focus on form. It was important, though, that the two were separated and the learners had the chance to fully concentrate on one or the other.

There is more to it of course, but suffice it to say, correcting people while they are speaking is not one of it.

For a summary of language learning research and theories see e.g.:

How Languages are Learned (Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers), 1993, 2006 Patsy M. Lightbown, Nina Spada


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