To correct or not to correct, that is the question

So many times I come across an individual where English isn’t their first language and they make the odd grammar error while speaking (most write quite well but make the odd mistake) and I wonder if its productive or polite to correct them. Even when they ask for corrections, I feel hesitant and don’t want to offend them. I knew of this British woman who used a phrase incorrectly for years before someone corrected her and she was quite embarrassed, thinking of all the times she used the term. Just curious to what you fellow LingQers think about correcting obvious speaking or grammatical errors, with those learning English?

I’m learning German and I’m gonna be making countless mistakes and I’d like to be corrected as much as possible. Maybe not for tiny trivial things, but for grammatical errors and things that could turn into bad habits that would be difficult to break.

LMAO everyone is changing their posts, as following posts make no sense. ha ha.

"I have a lot of free time on my hands "
So it seems.
“I’m unemployed seeking work”
Do not correct people unless they pay you.

Yes Alenika, just keep practicing and remember the more mistakes you make, the more you will learn from them!

This thread kinda makes sense now…maybe Alenika could edit something back in…:slight_smile:

My general preference is not correct people unless they ask to be corrected. In fact, correcting people while they are speaking does not really affect their improvement much according to research that I have seen.

I’ve tried the following:

  1. Correcting people as they speak if that’s what they have asked me to do. I think this usually interrupts the flow of conversation too much though.

  2. When on Skype, typing the correct way of saying something in the text box, while they carry on speaking. Some people prefer this approach and they end up with a record of the errors they have made during the conversation.

  3. “Reflecting back” the correct way of saying something in my next sentence, reply or question. By far the most effective approach in my opinion. Keep reflecting back the same correction if need be. The person learning “absorbs” the correct way of saying it. I use this approach for all levels of learning. It usually allows the flow of conversation to continue largely unaffected.

  4. Asking the learner if they are striving for perfection or only want to corrected on things that people might find confusing or laugh at them about.

I don’t like interrupting people when they speak. I normally use the correct form of whatever they said in my response. So, if somebody said in German “Hast du einE Auto?”, I would just say “Ja, ich habe EIN Auto.” I do this especially if I don’t know the people well. I think no matter how much we want to improve and how often we tell ourselves that we learn from our mistakes (and I truly believe this), making mistakes more often than not is kind of embarrassing. This seems to be particularly true if people just started studying the language. I avoid the term “mistake”. I usually don’t say “you made a mistake” but simply use the correct form when I answer. If somebody explicitly asks me to clarify a grammatical issue they have problems with I try to give them a more detailed explanation.

The most important thing is to encourage people to use the language. If they make the same mistake over and over again and if I think I understand the pattern behind the mistake I tell them. But I always make sure they don’t feel bad about making mistakes.

Some of my skype partners want me to correct “all” of their mistakes. Depending on their level this may sometimes be difficult and I don’t think it is always very helpful either. I mostly correct people if I detect some sort of pattern as mentioned above.

I would certainly want my language exchange partners to correct me if they hear me make the same mistake repeatedly but I don’t like being interrupted all the time. This is especially true of tonal languages where I don’t want people to stop me every time I use a wrong tone. This might turn out to be very discouraging, especially at the beginning. The more you feel at ease (and allowing for some mistakes normally creates an environment that is more conducive to learning than being constantly interrupted) the better you’ll get, also because you’ll be more relaxed and concentrate more on what your partner says than trying to consciously avoid mistakes.

ad PeterL: Very interesting list. I prefer number 3) as well but I guess all of your approaches work fine. You seem to give a lot of thought to how you work with your language partners - that’s great.

I think the question is whether or not you are engaged in a language lesson or just communicating. In a language lesson, the reflecting back option, and a follow up report on the discussion, as we do here at LingQ is, I believe, the most effective way to correct.

However, if I have a random conversation with someone in a context not related to any learning situation, I would avoid the urge to correct him or her. I believe that was the intent of the original question.

Correct Steve, that’s more or less what I was trying to say. I have to say I really like your comment lovelanguages11. I do the same thing that you do, when someone says something that is obviously incorrect, I rephrase it correctly like you did. The most important thing IMO is to make the person feel secure, and as comfortable as possible. People need to be encouraged to speak as much as possible and feel comfortable with the person their speaking with and I think they would be less inclined to errors.

I’m a fan of Dr. Krashen and he spoke of the importance of learning in a very low anxiety environment, which I think is very important. I know for myself, when I’m around someone who just seems like there waiting for me to make a mistake, I’m far more likely to screw up.

Whatever you do, it has to be helpful and useful. If there is a big mistake that makes comprehension difficult, I figure it would be beneficial for the speaker if I offered them a more appropriate wording. Whether I continue to do so will depend on how they receive that.

In a language learning context, I generally try to keep a mental note of the most common errors and, in a downtime, I will go back and mention them. This way, I point them to the mistakes they should work on as a priority, the ones they would most benefit from correcting. To correct everything would be a waste of time – you have to prioritize.

That is one of the things I’ve learned from LingQ: Do not correct foreign language learners unless you are asked to do it. After hearing Steve’s position about it, it really made sense. Especially if you are in a written forum where your intention may be good but you can’t really express it through a screen, so it can be easily misunderstood. Besides you might come across sensitive people and other than helping them, you can discourage them or get them angry.
I remember a case here in these forums, on a thread a guy corrected another member about his Spanish, this member disliked the correction and he even talked about it in a podcast he uploaded to the library of LingQ; he said that this comment spoiled his day and got him angry. :wink:
So I think it is better NOT to correct if you are not asked to.

I correct only if it is a learning situation or if I’m asked to do so. And in learning situations I ask the student which way he/she likes to have to corrections. I’m really flexible.

Robert’s way to put the correction in the answer is a really nice way to do it. I do this too if it is possible.

Especially in forum threads it could be quiete disctracting if there starts a discussion about the correction instead of the thread topic.

Me as a learner in a foreign country I like to be corrected.

I have a colleague who is always correcting me. I make the same mistake over and over again because it got stuck. I have noticed whenever I speak to her I make sure I make an effort. I have now also noticed I am not making those particular mistakes which she picked me up on. It is the pavlovian effect and it works for me!