As teachers, we needAs teachers, we need to deal with errorsto deal with errorsThe reasons are as follows:The reasons are as follows:．． Language learners make mistakesLanguage learners make mistakes．． This seems to happen regardless ofThis seems to happen regardless ofthe teacherthe teacher’’s skill and perseverances skill and perseveranceerrorserrors．． Errors play a necessary and importantErrors play a necessary and importantpart in language learningpart in language learning
Having to make a number of on-the-Having to make a number of on-the-spot decisionsspot decisionsIs there an error here?Is there an error here?What kind of error is it?What kind of error is it?What caused it?What caused it?Does it matter?Does it matter?What should I do about it?What should I do about it?
Take for example:Take for example:I had a big surprise. (Wrong orI had a big surprise. (Wrong orCorrect?)Correct?)ItIt’’s a grammatically well-formeds a grammatically well-formedsentence.sentence.The meaning is clear andThe meaning is clear andunambiguous.unambiguous.
The answer isThe answer is ““ wrongwrong ””The reasons are as follows:The reasons are as follows:According to corpus evidenceAccording to corpus evidence‧‧Something can be a big surpriseSomething can be a big surprise‧‧A person can be in for a big surpriseA person can be in for a big surprise‧‧ You can have a big surprise forYou can have a big surprise forsomeonesomeone
To classify the errorTo classify the errorErrors include:Errors include:‧‧Lexical errorsLexical errorsex 1:My brother wasex 1:My brother was stoppingstopping in the door insteadin the door insteadof standing.of standing.ex 2:ex 2: The Sunday night pastThe Sunday night past instead of lastinstead of lastSunday night.Sunday night.
．． Grammar errorsGrammar errorsex 1: the doorbellex 1: the doorbell rangsrangs wrong→ wrong→verb formverb formex 2: weex 2: we speakedspeaked wrong→ wrong→ tensetenseex 3:ex 3: was the four owas the four o’’clockclock the→the→subjectsubject of the clause has been leftof the clause has been leftoutout
‧‧Discourse errorsDiscourse errorsDefinition: Discourse errors relate toDefinition: Discourse errors relate tothe way sentences are organised andthe way sentences are organised andlinked in order to make whole textlinked in order to make whole textex: at last; eventually (based on theex: at last; eventually (based on themeaning of words in the context) →meaning of words in the context) →See page 113See page 113
Transfer or interferenceTransfer or interferenceDefinition: Influence from theDefinition: Influence from thelearnerlearner’’s first language on thes first language on thesecond languagesecond languageex: The learnerex: The learner’’s pronunciation wass pronunciation wasfull of sounds from his own languagefull of sounds from his own language
Positive transferPositive transferDefinition: No difference or contrastDefinition: No difference or contrastis present between the twois present between the twolanguages.languages.ex 1: Sex 1: S ＋＋ VV ＋＋ O; SO; S ＋＋ bebe ＋＋ SCSC 約翰喜歡瑪莉 約翰喜歡瑪莉 ;; 她是個美麗的小姐她是個美麗的小姐
OvergeneralisingOvergeneralisingDefinition: The process ofDefinition: The process ofgeneralizing a particular rule or itemgeneralizing a particular rule or itemin the second language.in the second language.ex: The doorbellex: The doorbell rangsrangsex: Weex: We speaked (Vedspeaked (Ved played,→ played,→breaked, goed, speaked, etc)breaked, goed, speaked, etc)
What is a developmental error?What is a developmental error?Learners are unconsciously workingLearners are unconsciously workingout and organising language, but thisout and organising language, but thisprocess is not yet complete. This kindprocess is not yet complete. This kindof error is called a developmentalof error is called a developmentalerror.error.ex: All beginners confuse the tenses inex: All beginners confuse the tenses inEnglishEnglish
What are systematic errors?What are systematic errors?These errors seem to show evidence of aThese errors seem to show evidence of arule being fairly systematically appliedrule being fairly systematically appliedex: My brother was stopping, he wasex: My brother was stopping, he waschanging, he was having a long hairchanging, he was having a long hair→→ aaverb form (past continuous) beingverb form (past continuous) beingover-used, but in a systematic way.over-used, but in a systematic way.
How to deal with systematic errorsHow to deal with systematic errorsCorrection can provide the feedbackCorrection can provide the feedbackthe learner needs to help confirmthe learner needs to help confirmor reject a hypothesis, or to tightenor reject a hypothesis, or to tightenthe application of a rule that is beingthe application of a rule that is beingapplied fairly loosely.applied fairly loosely.
One way of testing learners failing toOne way of testing learners failing toapply the ruleapply the ruleSelf-correct:Self-correct:Could the writer change speaked toCould the writer change speaked tospoke, for example, if told that speakedspoke, for example, if told that speakedwas wrong? If so, this suggests that thewas wrong? If so, this suggests that therule is both systematic and correctlyrule is both systematic and correctlyformulated in the learnerformulated in the learner’’s mind, but thats mind, but thatit hasnit hasn’’t yet become automatict yet become automatic
The question of prioritiesThe question of prioritiesWhich errors really matter, and whichWhich errors really matter, and whichdondon’’t?t?ex: un banane; une pomme nouns→ex: un banane; une pomme nouns→are distinguished by genderare distinguished by genderThese errors are likely to distract orThese errors are likely to distract oreven irritate the reader or listenereven irritate the reader or listener
Attitudes to error and correctionAttitudes to error and correctionAttitudes to error run deep and lie atAttitudes to error run deep and lie atthe heart of teachersthe heart of teachers’’ intuitions aboutintuitions aboutlanguage learning. Many people stilllanguage learning. Many people stillbelieve that errors are contagious, andbelieve that errors are contagious, andthat learners are at risk of catchingthat learners are at risk of catchingthe errors other learners make.the errors other learners make.
It is often this fear of error infectionIt is often this fear of error infectionthat underlies many studentsthat underlies many students’’ dislike ofdislike ofpair and group work. On the other hand,pair and group work. On the other hand,many teachers believe that to correctmany teachers believe that to correcterrors is a form of interference, especiallyerrors is a form of interference, especiallyin fluency activities.in fluency activities.
Some teachers go further, and argue thatSome teachers go further, and argue thatcorrection of any sort creates acorrection of any sort creates ajudgmentaljudgmental –– and therefore stressful-and therefore stressful-classroom atmosphere, and should beclassroom atmosphere, and should beavoided altogether.avoided altogether.
Responding to errorsResponding to errorsHe has a long hair.He has a long hair.Possible responses:Possible responses:““NoNo”: negative feedback, no clue for”: negative feedback, no clue forwhat is wrong.what is wrong.Without saying No: facial expression,Without saying No: facial expression,shake of the head etc.shake of the head etc.Soften the negative force of No: making aSoften the negative force of No: making ammmmmmmm noise to indicate “noise to indicate “Well, that’sWell, that’snot entirely correct but thanks anyway.not entirely correct but thanks anyway.””results in students wonder whether he isresults in students wonder whether he isright or wrong.right or wrong.
““He has long hair.He has long hair.”: strict correction.”: strict correction.Teachers should remind students not toTeachers should remind students not tofocus only meaning at the expense offocus only meaning at the expense ofform.form.““No articleNo article”: the application of”: the application ofmetalanguage (grammaticalmetalanguage (grammaticalterminology); pinpoint the error toterminology); pinpoint the error topromote self-correction or peer-promote self-correction or peer-correction.correction.““No. AnyoneNo. Anyone?”: unambiguous feedback?”: unambiguous feedbackand invitation for peer-correction, butand invitation for peer-correction, butrisking humiliating the original student.risking humiliating the original student.
““He hasHe has”: replay the student’s”: replay the student’sutterance up to the point where theutterance up to the point where theerror occurred to isolate the error aserror occurred to isolate the error asa clue for self-correction. Technique:a clue for self-correction. Technique:finger-coding.finger-coding.““He has a long hairHe has a long hair.”: echo the.”: echo themistake with a quizzical intonation.mistake with a quizzical intonation.Less threatening than saying No, butLess threatening than saying No, butstudents often fail to self-correct andstudents often fail to self-correct andthink the teacher merely questionsthink the teacher merely questionsthe truth they said.the truth they said.
““I am sorry. I didn’t understand.I am sorry. I didn’t understand.””Variations:Variations: Sorry? He what?Sorry? He what?Excuse me?Excuse me? etc. clarificationetc. clarificationrequests; friendly signal students therequests; friendly signal students themeaning of their message is unclear,meaning of their message is unclear,and suggest it might have beenand suggest it might have beendistorted by the form.distorted by the form.““Just one? Like thisJust one? Like this ?”: [ draw bald?”: [ draw baldman with one long hair] literallyman with one long hair] literallyinterpret the student’s utterance tointerpret the student’s utterance toshow his unintended error.show his unintended error.
““A long hair is just one singleA long hair is just one singlehair, like you find in your soup.hair, like you find in your soup.For the hair on your head youFor the hair on your head youwouldn’t use an article: He haswouldn’t use an article: He haslong hairlong hair..”: impromptu teaching”: impromptu teachingpoint; reactive teaching in respondpoint; reactive teaching in respondstudents’ error, not trying tostudents’ error, not trying topreempt them. Teacher-centered andpreempt them. Teacher-centered andpassive students.passive students.
““Oh, he has long hair, has heOh, he has long hair, has he?”:?”:covert feedback (reformulation)covert feedback (reformulation) 重製重製 ,,重組重組 ,, 再形成再形成 ; expansion and; expansion andreformulation provide a temporaryreformulation provide a temporaryscaffold for children’s developingscaffold for children’s developinglanguage competence. Drawback:language competence. Drawback:students might not notice thestudents might not notice thedifferences between the utterancedifferences between the utterancefrom theirs and teachers’.from theirs and teachers’.E.g.: child: Teddy hat.E.g.: child: Teddy hat.Mother: Yes, Teddy’s got a hatMother: Yes, Teddy’s got a haton, hasn’t he?on, hasn’t he?
““Good.”: ( OK) intention is toGood.”: ( OK) intention is toacknowledge students’ contribution,acknowledge students’ contribution,irrespective of either accuracy orirrespective of either accuracy ormeaning; lull them into a false sensemeaning; lull them into a false senseof security, and fossilization.of security, and fossilization.Teacher says nothing but writesTeacher says nothing but writesdown error for future reference.down error for future reference.Intention is to postpone the feedbackIntention is to postpone the feedbackso as not to disrupt the talk. (Realso as not to disrupt the talk. (Realoperating conditions)operating conditions)
The choice of feedback strategy willThe choice of feedback strategy willdepend on factors as the following:depend on factors as the following:The type ofThe type of errorerror: major effect on: major effect oncommunication? Learners can self-communication? Learners can self-repair?repair?The type ofThe type of activityactivity: focus on form: focus on formor on meaning?or on meaning?The type ofThe type of learnerlearner: discourage or: discourage orhumiliate learners? Learners feelhumiliate learners? Learners feelshort-changed if no correction?short-changed if no correction?
Sample lessonSample lessonLesson one: using learners’ errors toLesson one: using learners’ errors toreview cohesive devicesreview cohesive devices(intermediate)(intermediate)Participant: a class of mixedParticipant: a class of mixednationalities in Australianationalities in AustraliaGoal: sentences and parts ofGoal: sentences and parts ofsentences are connected by wordssentences are connected by wordslikelike and, but, however, soand, but, however, so etc.etc.
Step 1: the teacher hands out aStep 1: the teacher hands out aworksheet which consist of sentencesworksheet which consist of sentencescollected from students’ previouscollected from students’ previouswritten work, and he asks them towritten work, and he asks them toattempt to correct in pairs andattempt to correct in pairs andidentify one feature in common.identify one feature in common.
Step 2: the teacher helps them toStep 2: the teacher helps them topick out some peripheral problemspick out some peripheral problems((wentwent substitute forsubstitute for has droppedhas droppedintointo) and avoids dealing with) and avoids dealing withdespitedespite andand neverthelessnevertheless..Step 3: the teacher distributes aStep 3: the teacher distributes ahandout about grammar and askhandout about grammar and askthem to study before returning to thethem to study before returning to thesentence correction task.sentence correction task.
Step 4: the teacher elicits correctedStep 4: the teacher elicits correctedversions of sentence and writes onversions of sentence and writes onthe board, underlining the linkingthe board, underlining the linkingdevices and ask individuals todevices and ask individuals toexplain the usage.explain the usage.Step 5: the teacher has out theStep 5: the teacher has out theexercise about linking devices.exercise about linking devices.
Discussion: fluency practice can beDiscussion: fluency practice can betargeted at latter stage, but accuracytargeted at latter stage, but accuracymay be best dealt with a reactivemay be best dealt with a reactiveand reflective approach. Usingand reflective approach. Usingstudents’ errors for consciousness-students’ errors for consciousness-raising purpose is suitable for theraising purpose is suitable for thespecific problems of the students.specific problems of the students.
Evaluation:Evaluation:The E-factor: collecting learners’The E-factor: collecting learners’errors from written work is easy byerrors from written work is easy bycomputers while capturing spokencomputers while capturing spokenerrors. Self-study grammars bookserrors. Self-study grammars booksor reference notes are available, soor reference notes are available, somaking grammar handout ismaking grammar handout isunnecessary.unnecessary.Error-analysis is effective for L1Error-analysis is effective for L1transfer mistake.transfer mistake.
Grammar lessons should be taughtGrammar lessons should be taughtaround errors the learners actuallyaround errors the learners actuallymade, but not taught to preempt themade, but not taught to preempt theerrors might make.errors might make. Error-drivenError-drivenapproachapproach: focus instruction on what: focus instruction on whatreally matters, in favour ofreally matters, in favour ofeffectivenesseffectiveness..The A-factor: a focus on errors mayThe A-factor: a focus on errors maydiscourage learners. However, mostdiscourage learners. However, moststudents accept explicit feedback onstudents accept explicit feedback onerror between focused instructionerror between focused instructionand random acquisition.and random acquisition.
Sample lesson 2Teaching grammar throughreformulation (Elementary)Participant: a group of JapanesestudentsGoal: the impetus underlyingreformulation is more: This is how Iwould say it.
ReformulationIt is the process by which theteacher takes the meanings thelearners are attempting to express inEnglish and “translates” these intoan acceptable form.
Step 1Teacher introduces the theme; suchas “disaster”, and without givingexplicit prompts, but indicating thatstudents should say anything withthe topic.Teacher encourages the productionof isolated words, phrases andsentences.
Step 2When students are starting to runout of idea or start departing towidely from the topic, the teacherstops the activity and draws a linedown the centre of the board.Asks one student as the class scribe,collate the ideas that students haveproduced about the topic, write upon to the board.
Step 3Teacher read the students’ textaloud, without commentary, butasking any questions where themeaning is unclear.Teacher reformulates this text on tothe other half of the board while healways insisting that this is the way Iwould say it.
Step 4Students then, working individually,write their own texts about similartopic.They compare these in pairs,suggesting changes andimprovements, before submittingtheir texts to the teacher forcorrection.
DiscussionIn step 1, the focus at this stage is simply onbrainstorming ideas.In step 2, the teacher renounces any active rolein the construction of the text.In step 3, the students are involved in the textreformulation process.In step4, using students’ original text (erase orcover up) as a prompt. It will force attention ofform, as well as encouraging greaterattentiveness during the reformulation stage.
EvaluationThe E-factor:1. It requires no materials preparation since thetexts are created entirely by the students.2. This process requires only a board, althoughoverhead projectors are very useful for thispurpose.3. The greatest demand is on the teachers’ skill aton-the-spot reformulation.
The A-factor:1. The reformulation of learners’ texts is likely tohave greater relevance to learners than the studyof “imported” texts.2. It has to be handled sensitively, so thatlearners see it as an empowering activity ratherthan an exercise in humiliation.3. Any activity that allows the teacher prolongedcontrol of the blackboard runs the risk ofbecoming perilously “chalky-talky”.
ConclusionsNot all errors are caused by L1interference.Not all errors are grammar errors,and not all grammar errors aresimply tense mistakes.
Not all errors matter equally: nor dothey all respond to the same kind oftreatment.Correction is not the only form offeedback that teachers can provide.Other options include positivefeedback, clarification requests, andreformulation.
Failure to provide some negative feedbackmay have a damaging effect on thelearner’s language development in thelong run; on the other hand , providingonly negative feedback may be ultimatelydemotivating.Learners’ errors offer a rich source ofmaterial for language focus andconsciousness-raising.