Skip to main content

How much should language teachers correct errors?

I've been doing some superficial reading on the value of error correction in the classroom following a Twitter discussion with Chris Stolz, an American TPRS teacher who strongly supports the view, advanced by Stephen Krashen back in the early 1980s, that error correction plays no part in improving students' language proficiency.

Like most teachers I used error correction of writing, sometimes selective, sometimes just underlining with or without codes in the margin, along with selective correction and "recasting" of oral responses. I confess that I rarely questioned this general approach and assumed it to be appropriate. I and my colleagues would, however, on occasion discuss different types of written error correction. In reality, most correction we did was of written work. Ah... Good old marking!

To keep things brief, and because this blog is not an academic journal and you do not have much time, this is what I have found in my reading.

Krashen's comprehension hypothesis (all you need to acquire language is meaningful input with no focus on form or accuracy) gained currency from the 1980s and still has support. Teachers who believe in the sole use of comprehensible input and little or no correction can cite research to support their approach.

Since that time, however, a good number of other academic studies suggest that in the classroom setting traditional error correction and a focus on grammatical form do lead to an improvement in proficiency. Whether this is long term improvement is open to some doubt, partly because it is so hard to do reliable long term ("longitudinal") studies.

Research, therefore, is somewhat ambiguous and unhelpful, so far, with regard to error correction. You can pick and choose which academic to believe. I have the impression that the balance of research favours error correction of writing, which would confirm most teachers' gut feeling. As regards speaking, I see no reason to change my view that selective correction and recasting of responses is wise. Even those who support a fully naturalistic approach (second language learning is like child language acquisition) would have to acknowledge that parents correct their children and probably do so with good reason.

That said, there is plenty of evidence that large amounts of exposure to "comprehensible input" remains the key way to get students to acquire a second language. An obsession with accuracy and error correction is not the way to go.

For a good, balanced academic summary of this issue:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Thanks for offering both sides to this issue. I'm sure there is a difference between error correction and effective error correction. I know that I valued both oral and written correction as a student of French and that it was effective because I acknowledged it and used it to improve. Error correction could be considered useless if the student did not recognize its importance or did not know how to apply it to their own language use.

  2. Thank you for leaving a comment, Dana. When research is unclear you can only go on your own experience and feeling. Some one tweeted today that research is their Satnav (GPS) but they use their own knowledge to get to the final destination!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…