Why don’t we spend more time correcting the errors in our students’ speech and writing? Isn’t that what teachers are supposed to do? Isn’t that their job?
Well…. NO! A teacher’s main job is to teach the students, and that is done by engaging them. We try to use interesting, comprehensible, personalized language. When we do that, students are compelled to learn the language. We do not need to correct them every time they make a mistake. And there is research to back this up.
Studies by Stephen Pinker, a well-known expert on language acquisition at Harvard (formerly at M.I.T.), support the idea that error correction is not a factor in language development:
“…attempts to show that parents correct their children’s deviant sentences, or even react differently to them, have turned up little. Parents are far more concerned with the meaning of children’s speech than its form, and when they do try to correct the children, the children pay little heed.”
(Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought, Viking, 2007, p. 39; underlining mine)
Our students will usually do the same thing—they pay us little heed when we attempt to correct them. But when we are actually communicating about something interesting to both of us, magic happens. They learn almost effortlessly. They wind up saying it right, but they don’t always know exactly why.
Error correction is not effective teaching. It interrupts communication, makes students more self-conscious, and can damage the student-teacher relationship by letting students know that we do not care so much WHAT they are saying as HOW well they are saying it—a sure way to get them never to talk in class. Besides, students do not pay attention to it. They acquire language when they are engaged in conversations that focus on meaning rather than on form. the correct forms come along for the ride.