It was Christmas 2007.
I was at my girlfriend’s home.
It was my first visit.
And of course, I wanted her parents to like me.
At least I wanted them to think I wasn’t retarded.
So I decided to show them that after several years of living in their country, yes, I knew at least two words of Czech.
So while eating our soup, I said: “Dobrou polevka.”
And my girlfriend’s father replied “Dobra polevka.”
WHY I STOPPED CORRECTING MY STUDENTS
I like to think of myself as a tough guy.
For example, if I’m at the grocery store and the other line is moving faster, I don’t cry and I don’t throw things.
But at the same time, I’m also someone who has a curious side; someone who is always learning; a teacher and a student.
Maybe… if Chuck Norris and Socrates had a baby, that would be me.
But despite this Dr. Tough Guy and Mr. Curious split personality…I must admit, I really don’t like being corrected.
And my guess is, neither do you.
Sure, Czechs tell me all the time, “Please correct me.”
But then my students complain to me about their previous teacher, “He just corrected me all the time.”
It took me years to learn this, but I finally stopped correcting (most of) my students’ mistakes.
Here are the two main reasons:
REASON #1: It (almost) Never Works
When I was a kid my next door neighbor was a boy one year younger than me named Kimmy.
When you can’t drive you spend a lot of time with whoever lives next door, so probably half my childhood was spent riding bikes and playing Donkey Kong with Kimmy.
Then one day, years later, Kimmy decided Kimmy wasn’t a good name for a guy in college and he wanted something that sounded a little more…adult…more mature.
So he said “Call me Corbin.”
Everyone said, “Ok, Kimmy.”
After a few years of correcting everyone all the time he gave up. And once again Kimmy was Kimmy again.
If you’re used to saying something, it’s hard to change.
(For those of you who live in the Czech Republic or Slovakia, how many times have you heard a foreigner over the age of forty say “Czechoslovakia”?)
Correction is a nice idea, but the reality is it just doesn’t work.
I’ve tried correcting scientists, lawyers, managers, and accountants… I’ve tried immediate correction, written correction and non-verbal correction…
It just doesn’t work.
And the exceptions are exceptional… very unusual.
Instead of improving, what usually happens is:
REASON #2: Students Lose Motivation
Here’s some science for you.
One day, after becoming bored with electrocuting mice, some evil scientist decided to do some experiments on some children.
They asked the children to write a story.
Then they corrected their writing.
For half the students they wrote encouraging comments like “Good job!” and “Keep up the good work!”
And for the other half they took out the red pen. They didn’t lie, they just corrected their mistakes.
The result was that during the following year the first group wrote more and improved more.
While the second group wrote less and improved less.
“But what about my mistakes?”
Of course, you want to get rid of them as soon as possible so you can start speaking like the Queen.
So what does work?
1. Get good at listening.
When you can hear the difference between what you’re saying and what your teacher is saying you can use the echo technique and correct yourself.
2. Increase your input.
The reason native speakers make fewer mistakes isn’t because we were corrected more than you or because we learned all the grammar rules, it’s because we’ve seen more English and have heard more English and have a stronger memory of correct English.
And now, when we open our mouths, the words come out correctly because…well, it just sounds correct.
And that’s what you want.
So go do your homework and watch some TV!
Image of Chuck by Taric Alani taken from Flickr, under Creative Commons licence.
Image of the scientist by Florida Fish and Wildlife taken from Flickr, under Creative Commons licence.
How about you? Are you O.K.? I hope you are :-)
I waited for this article (don’t ask your teacher to correct you). We have a new teacher this year and I want to ask her for that one. So I wanted to know your reason why don’t do it.
I can say you another story:
The last teacher talked with us about many problems of the world, about a family, about culture etc.
We spoke in Czenglish with many many mistakes. Then I noticed he didn’t correct others but me. Initially I was surprised and maybe a bit upset but then I got it. I spoke more confidently than others.
I am mother and granny so I have children and grandchildren. When child starts to speak you don’t want him to speak perfectly but when he (she) is older and more confident in speaking, you have to correct him occasionally. It is O.K. – believe me.
You said we didn’t listen to a teacher :-(. But you don’t know there is a big panic in our brain: to listen to you, to understand words, to understand what you say and what you want to tell us, and mainly to look for words how to answer and not to be utterly stupid :-O. There is only little space for grammar -to think about it or listen to your notes.
What about conclusion?
You can correct confidently speaking student from time to time and sometime to explain them why don’t to say this and when is better to say that
If they are clever, they will be glad to be corrected. (Stupid ones you needn’t 😉 )
P.S. Again and again: Excuse my mistakes :-=
Thanks for the comment.
And I agree: if a student is already confident then correcting probably won’t hurt their confidence.
But will it result in fewer mistakes….?
You could not found it, if you don’t try it.
I understand you. To be a teacher is a hard job, especially when you couldn’t see any improvement. Dejection is coming :-(. No, keep smiling :-). There is the aim, maybe it is in the distance, but some day you will do it. I believe you 😉
You cannot find it, if you don’t try it.
I’m stupid student :-O
i am glad to join this group.