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Correcting spoken English in an EFL class

Correcting spoken English in an EFL class

This is part two of a three-part series on correcting in class. In this blog, we are going to look at how we can correct spoken mistakes or errors in the classroom.

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Imagine this situation: in front of the class, one of your students says:

"When I went to home I…"

How might you correct this? Indeed, are there times when you might not correct it and just let it pass? Well, if and how you correct will depend on a variety of factors. Let’s look at some of these below, by asking ourselves three questions. 

1. How serious is the problem?

Is it a mistake (a slip of the tongue) or an error (have they added the preposition ‘to’ after the verb because they have translated straight from their own language)?

For mistakes or ‘slips’ you may let it pass. Alternatively, you might encourage your student to self-correct. You can do this with something as simple as a facial gesture (such as raising your eyebrows), or repeating the error back to them, emphasising it, and adding a rising intonation at the end and say to home?”

If they can’t self-correct, you can supply the right answer yourself. But don’t leave it there, get the student to repeat the correct sentence so they get used to saying the sentence correctly.

Gestures and hand signals can be useful for on-the-spot corrections. You can see how these can be used and some other modes of correction in the five minute British Council video below.

2. What is the level of the student?

For lower level students you might want to correct on the spot so the error is not continuously repeated and students learn the form. However, if they are trying to express complex concepts, using language significantly above their level, you may let it pass because you want to encourage them to continue to experiment with language, even if it is not totally correct.

For a higher level, you may let it pass if you feel it is most likely a slip of the tongue. However, consider pointing out that we often use specific verbs with the noun home. So go home (as in our example) come home, get home, return home, or leave home are all collocations. We never separate this verb and noun with a preposition alone, so go "to" home is incorrect, although "go to my home" would be correct. This might be an opportunity for a separate lesson for your students if they are struggling with this. 

3. Accuracy or fluency?

What are you practising at the time? If you have been working on routines, such as: get up, go to work, go home, go to bed etc. you will want to jump on this error straight away so the student does not replicate it, going on to make it again and again. Similarly, for tasks requiring accuracy rather than fluency, you will want to correct.

However, in fluent speech, perhaps when a student is telling a story or doing a short presentation in front of class, then you won’t want to interrupt their flow or break their concentration. Instead, make a note to go through errors later, perhaps as a class.

So it will also depend on what the focus of your lesson is. Error correction is an important part of the learning process so knowing when and how to correct are skills worth developing as an EFL teacher. 

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Where next:

Discover more about how to correct in any main Global English online TESOL course.

Find out more about collocations (the statistical tendency for words to occur together) in the section on Corpus Linguistics in our 250 hour Master course and the 300 hour Professional course, or consider the short 30 hour Introduction to Linguistics course. 

See our blog on making written corrections here.

  • Author: Louis Walsh
  • Date: Thursday 25th April 2019

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Correcting spoken English in an EFL class