Some thoughts on Error Correction

I have recently become a Celta TiT (Tutor in Training) and something I have been thinking a lot about is error correction (or lack thereof). Aside from correcting students in the first place, there was something said during the course that I thought was particularly important: it makes a big difference if you involve students in the correction and give them a chance to use the target language after it has been corrected. What follows are two examples of how I dealt with mistakes in my lessons last semester.

Earlier this year I was teaching a group of Intermediate (CEF B1) adult students. When it comes to pronunciation, Brazilians  in general and adults in particular, have a tendency to include a vowel sound at the end of words. This often means pronouncing the vowel at the end of words such as like, have or because. However, this intrusive vowel sound can also appear in words such as think, and or but.

Funnily enough, the same students also have problems pronouncing the /i/ sound when it should be there. This happens with words like coffee, tidy or spicy which are pronounced like cough, tide and spice. The latter appears in Learner English (Shepherd 2001:114), but the former does not and that is what I am going to start with.

I am not a big fan of recasting in general (I agree with most of what is said here), and I believe this is exactly the type of mistake where students may not notice what you are trying to correct if you choose to use recasting as a correction technique.

Instead, I prefer to use delayed feedback followed by on the spot correction. The broad topic of the lesson was travelling, which tends to generate some of problematic language mentioned above (love, like, think, because, etc). Once students start expressing their likes and dislikes related to travelling, I take notice of the mistakes they make on a small notebook.

After getting feedback from students, I board the words they mispronounced and elicit the correct pronunciation, emphasizing that they end in consonant sounds. Now, when asked to pronounce words in isolation, they can usually manage to produce the correct sounds. Using them correctly in a sentence is much more difficult, though.

What I try to do, as a follow-up to the delayed feedback activity, is give students a chance to produce the language correctly in context. The way I do that is by coming up with sentences stems using the language I want to focus on:

I like

I love

I don’t like

I hate

travelling

my job

living in Jundiaí

Japanese food

but …

because …

and …

I give students two to three minutes to express their opinions on these topics in pairs, which in turn lets me go around the class monitoring and correcting their pronunciation on the spot. These kinds of mistakes don’t disappear overnight (and they may well be fossilized in some students), but I feel this simple activity helps them to be aware of the sounds and I would dare to say it helped one or two reduce their intrusive vowel to a minimum.

Another example happened much later in the semester, when I was teaching a group of advanced (CEF C1) students, using the Taylor Swift lesson I posted on the blog a couple of weeks ago. Students were talking about where/when they listen to music and a particular student kept saying she liked to listen to music at the gin (meaning, naturally, gym).What I decided to do at the end of the activity was to write both words on the board (gym vs. gin) and asked students how to pronounce them. I also asked in which of the sounds you need to touch your lips (m) and gave examples of other similar minimal pairs (them vs. then).

So, because the topic of the lesson was music and I wanted to give them a chance to pronounce both words correctly, I asked students to tell their partners what type of music they listen to at the gym and what music would be the best to listen to while drinking gin. This was a fun way to get them to use the words and it gave me the chance to correct the pronunciation of a couple of students on the spot.

I know error correction can be tricky (some of the problems were briefly mentioned here), but my experience is that when done right it is actually appreciated by students. Moreover, taking the time to give students a chance to use the problem language correctly pays off in the long run.

Thanks for Reading.

Bibliography:

Shepherd, D (2001) Portuguese Speakers In: Learner English. CUP

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4 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Error Correction

  1. Pingback: Conversation lessons and error correction | ricardo barros elt

  2. Pingback: #BRELT – Follow-up do BrELT chat de 06/08/15 post de Ricardo Barros. | #BRELT

  3. Pingback: Error correction in one-to-one lessons | ricardo barros elt

  4. Pingback: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish | ricardo barros elt

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