Teaching a speaking class: should I always correct my students?

Teaching a speaking class: should I always correct my students?

Diary submitted by Charlotte M. in Madrid


During a speaking class, it is sometimes hard to choose between encouraging students to have fluency and correcting their errors. Indeed, correcting them may lead to creating feelings of further of discomfort and discourage them to speak. So should I interrupt my students to correct a pronunciation or grammatical error?

As suggested by an article written by Larry Ferlazzo, “ESL/ELL error correction – Yes, No or Maybe?”, it can sometimes be demotivating for the student to be corrected constantly and can hinder their ability to communicate. Therefore, it is tempting to simply ignore the mistakes and continue with the class. In my opinion, this is not very pedagogical, especially in one-to-one classes. Students have paid for classes with a teacher so that they can be corrected and learn from their errors (otherwise there is simply no point in you being there).

Nonetheless, there are different ways of making the correcting process less painful for both the teacher and the student. Firstly, as often as possible, I try to point out to my students an error that they have made, without actually correcting them. This allows them to self-correct, usually quite easily because they will recognise a mistake that they have made before. This works very well with common mistakes such as forgetting that “people” is plural in English, or for instance correcting their own tenses. I will simply ask a question such as “people is or people are?” or make a common such as “in the past” when they are using the wrong tense (often accompanied with body language such as point behind me, which can be a useful visual reminder and sometimes saves me from saying anything at all).

When self-correction isn’t possible, I will “slip” my student the correct answer, or, as Marianne Raynaud calls it, “under your breath correcting”, trying to disrupt as little as possible my student’s flow. When these quick corrections aren’t possible or are simply not working, I will try and reformulate what my student is trying to say. If I think it is necessary, I will pause the lesson to work on a point of grammar that needs to be looked at for a little more time. This is usually the case for the use of compound past tenses such as past continuous and past perfect, which are often significantly different from the student’s mother tongue.

Moreover, I try to always smile and encourage my students when I am correcting them. As mentioned by Marianne Reynaud in the article “To Correct or Not To Correct… That is the ESL Question!”.

Students will often apologise for their error when you correct them. I think that it is important to stop them and point out that they do not need to apologise. Often at this point I try empathise with my students by telling them about a point of grammar that I find difficult in Spanish. This tends to counter the feeling of shame that may arise by reminding them that error is an essential part of learning a language.