Ask Ibaraki JET PAs #020

Question:

When having conversations with your students (or even your JTEs), how often do you correct any perceived mistakes in their speech, without them asking for it? I know it depends so can you provide examples of situations or specific students? For example, grammar mistakes or word choice. In-class or outside class. Long or short conversations. High or low level students. Etc.

Answer:

Answered by: Emily

It can be hard to know how to give feedback on students’ or teachers’ use of English, especially if they haven’t asked you for it directly. Feedback is essential to learning a foreign language, but so is output. Too much feedback at the wrong times can interrupt the flow of a lesson or conversation, and discourage learners from producing more language, which can ultimately impede the development of language skills. While it’s important to give feedback, it’s also a good idea to think carefully about the time and place, so that your comments help others learn and encourage them to speak, not just more carefully, but more.

One good strategy for giving feedback that is broadly applicable in many kinds of conversations is paraphrasing. For example, if a student or a teacher says something like, “I … yesterday… park … GO,” you can paraphrase what you think you heard by saying something like, “Oh, you went to the park yesterday?” This strategy is useful for a few reasons. First, it shows the correct English pattern without giving unsolicited advice or drawing a lot of attention to the speaker’s mistake. It’s also helpful because it allows the listener to confirm their understanding of what was said, and lets the speaker know that they were understood, even if their English wasn’t perfect. This kind of encouragement can be important for both children and adult language learners, especially in situations where the speaker lacks confidence in their ability to communicate. There are many different strategies for correcting foreign language mistakes, but this one is indirect, and thus appropriate to a variety of settings both in and outside the classroom.

As for corrections in class, it’s a good idea to talk to your JTEs about how and if they want to be corrected, and how they typically correct the students’ mistakes. JTEs, like students, are English-language learners, and everyone has a different personality and different degrees of comfort with having their mistakes pointed out in public. Depending on your school or coworkers, it may be a good idea to restrict corrections to those related to the content of the lesson or the target grammar, and mention smaller mistakes to JTEs after class or in private.

What are everyone’s thoughts about the finer points of this question? Do you have specific tactics for correcting mistakes in grammar or word choice, or a strategy that you find works very well for one particular JTE or situation? Share your thoughts below or on the facebook thread!

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