English as Foreign Language (Efl) Teaching and Learning at the Undergraduate Level: Treatment of Errors and Mistakes

Human speech is very much complicated. It cannot be explained from any single source. The first sound a child makes on coming into the world is one of discomfort, it is a cry, a reflex action and the child does not expect a response. People first learn their native languages through making all kinds of errors and mistakes, and getting the necessary correction and help from their parents and teachers. The same thing happens when people are learning their foreign languages.

In this research paper, I would like to discuss whether or not linguists believe that teachers should correct their students’ errors, and if so, what to correct, how to correct, and when to correct. It is very important for teachers to know and understand this information when they teach students because how they address these issues will have great impact on students’ language learning process. Many people find these two words with similar meanings, but when we are talking about errors and mistakes in language learning, they are representing two different things.

Mistake means that learners already know or understand the usage of the language, but unintentionally say or use it in the wrong form or way. However, learners will be able to notice it and self-correct it immediately, and this is called a mistake. On the other hand, the error means that learners use the wrong term, word, or form, and they are unable to recognize the problems. At this time, an error is made and it is needed for somebody to point it out to the learner to correct it. It is interesting to see how error treatment has evolved all these years.

Just a half century ago, when language teachers were enthusiastic about audio-lingual method, nobody had really considered or worried about error treatment. When using audio-lingual method, it came with different sets of dialogues; teachers only needed to guide students to practice all kinds of drills from the set dialogues, and did not need to think about how to deal with errors because students would not have the chance to make any (Hendrickson, 1978, p. 387-88). In practical, Audio- Lingual method (ALM) was not working for people whose learning purposes were communication not memorization of a set of dialogue ould deal with, and they started to modify their teaching methods to focus on communication. Due to this change, students began to make different errors while they were practicing and learning the language, and this transformation made many linguists take into account about how to deal with students’ errors. Previously, when teachers were still using ALM, the errors were avoided, but with the new teaching approach, some linguists strongly argued that learners’ errors should be corrected immediately, and those errors were not learners’ responsibility to recognize but teachers’ to correct (Hendrickson, 1978, p. 87-88). Literature review While experimenting with different teaching methods, there were two different voices about how to treat students’ errors. One group of linguists thought that the errors students made did not need correction; however, another group of linguists felt that teachers had the obligations to correct students’ errors. The former group of linguists suggested not to correct students’ errors because they felt it was wasting of time for teachers to do that and the outcome was not sufficient since students were still making the same errors over and over again.

The other main point the linguists were arguing about is that the error correction would hinder learners’ willingness to speak up in the class because they would be afraid of making any errors and being corrected by teachers. As a result, student’s tensions and anxieties would build up, they would become hesitant to speak and they would develop a lack of confidence in learning the language (Lyster, Lightbown & Spada, 1999).

Some people may think correcting students’ errors is appropriate; there was another group of linguists who thought that correcting students’ error is not essential for the learners to acquire the language. Just like children, when they tried to learn their native language, they made all kinds of mistakes and got corrected from their parents and teachers (Bartram & Walton, 1991, p. 12-13). But the questions are how to do it – what types of errors should receive the top priority treatment, how and when to correct.

Currently, linguists think that teachers should first treat students’ errors when they impede the communication (Bartram & Walton, 1991, p. 32-40). In other words, when listeners have difficulty to understand the meaning of the message that students are trying to get across, teachers put their focus on making semantic feedback other than correcting syntactic ones. Bartram and Walton (1991, p. 30-31) suggest that different ways of treating students’ errors will have different learning outcomes for students, and teachers need to build up a trusting and confiding relationship with their students.

Language Learners need to know from the beginning of the class that making errors and mistakes while they are learning a language is some sort of necessary process, and there is no need to feel ashamed of or embarrassed. Different people know something a little bit better or different than another person, so when language teachers give out their feedbacks on errors, they are not judging but supporting their students. If students make errors, teachers can remodel it by saying it correctly, paraphrase it by saying it in different ways, or prepare a grammar lesson at the end of a class for students.

As a language teacher, I strongly believe that students’ errors are signs of learning and depending on the types of errors and situations, teachers need to offer students the correct ways or usages of the language, and students have the rights to know. Teacher needs to know when, what, and how to correct a student’s error, but it is also easy to get carried away and lose the focus. Hendrickson (1978, p. 389-90) and many linguists claimed that it is better not to stop or interfere students in a middle of a conversation or speech just because of some errors.

The corrections which are done through breaking up students’ thoughts do not really have sufficient results; instead students feel less motivated and upset from the correction (Lyster, Lightbown & Spada, 1999). To improve the efficiency of error correction by students, teachers can be selective and systematic about the particular errors that they would like to deal with at that certain learning stage, and work with students from that point. The other problem they talked about was overwhelming students by correcting their errors.

This is an important issue to consider when dealing with error treatment and I think building up a trusting and confiding relationship between teachers and students is fundamental. Suggestion for Future Teaching: The error correction task is a very hard work for a teacher. A teacher need to constantly monitor his students’ language, and in a split foreign, the teacher needs to distinguish, either it a mistake or an error. If the teacher decides not to correct that error at that moment, then he needs to keep in mind to review this problematic area with his students later.

Teachers should adopt some teaching strategies about how to deal with different types of students errors. In the case of the first type of errors, the teacher may focus on is the one which confuses or impair the understanding of listeners. Though some linguists suggest of not interrupting student’s speech, but if the language that a student is using makes the other people confused, then the teacher should take step in and try to clarify what he/she means. This is why; some errors and mistakes should be corrected.

The teachers may deal with this type of problem by guessing what the student is trying to say, and using the correct form and words to remodel the sentence; or he will use different words with similar meanings to understand student’s intension. While I try to clarify the meaning, students get a chance to hear how to say a particular sentence or use a specific word correctly in a natural way. However, this communication problem is not easy to deal with. To use myself as an example, while I was learning English, I often made the same error several times a day; even though my teacher corrected me more than once, I still kept saying it wrong.

I had countless experience about this, and amazingly one day out of blue, I started to say it right, and use it right. Although many linguists have suggested that error correction is just a waste of time, my personally experience shows that this is not true. Those corrections did work, but it just took time for my brain to process those information and time to digest. I think I am the best example of successful error correction. Language teachers may use to solve communication errors is increasing students’ chances exposed to an English environment.

Teacher may encourage their students to listen to English songs or radio stations, and watch English channels with covered up Bengali subtitle outside of classroom. In the class, teachers can give them different articles to read with varieties of interests to increase their English proficiency level. It is long been asserted that the students’ communication errors come from their lower English level and lack of exposure to English. By maximizing their chances to read, listen to, and speak in English, they will less likely to produce communication errors.

Another problem area the teacher may deal with is grammar. If a couple of students in the classroom often make the same or similar errors repeatedly, the teacher may start to pay attention to the problem. The teacher may not correct them directly, but rather design a mini lesson that refers to the particular grammar problem. The teacher may try to deliver the lesson as soon as possible because I do not want other students to think that the way they say it is acceptable and adopts the same error.

Sometimes a mini-grammar lesson at the end of class works to supplement and conclude that day’s lesson. For example, if students are confused about when to use past tense, first, the teacher may write down different sentences in pairs – one with correct tense, and one with incorrect tense aspect, and have students to figure out which one is correct. After they are clear about when and how to use the past tense, I would then ask them to generate their own sentences in past tense, such as what they did yesterday, before the class, or anything happened before now.

When they are done, the teacher may ask them to share their sentences with the class, and pass around a big poster to let students write down their past tense sentences. After they all finish, the teacher may hang the poster on the wall to remind students about the past tense they just learned. It is significant that, when and how to correct errors, and enhance teaching the grammar concept. Teachers often feel exhausted and disappointed about the result after correcting students’ error because those errors do not seem to go away. Students are making the same error over and over again.

When I ask students to write down their own sentences using the just learned grammar rules, and put them on posters, they will feel ownership of what they have just produced. They will remember that sentence or even that grammar rule longer. And by hanging the poster on the classroom wall, this is another way of preventing students from making the same or similar mistake again. If the same problem occurs, the teacher may point to the poster to remind students. Conclusion: Correcting errors is not random and massive. Teachers need to be systematic and selective about which errors they are going to correct, when and how to correct them.

Before doing the research on this topic, I had never thought about how hard it could be for a teacher to correct students’ errors. After studying about this topic, I found some linguists do not believe in error correction and think it is inefficient to correct students’ errors, while other linguists think in totally opposite direction. These elements are crucial to consider because bad correction can result in negative feelings and attitudes from students, such as avoidance, hesitance, humiliation, low motivation, and embarrassment.

The teacher should be flexible and open-minded in acquiring varieties of teaching and correcting methods. Having gained so much knowledge from the research, I have some ideas about how to implement error correction in my future classroom. First main point to remember is not to interrupt student’s speech: even though, there is an error, as long as everybody understands. The teacher may ask questions, paraphrase, or reformulate the sentence when I do not understand what student is trying to say.

The teacher may also use all kinds of supplement reading, listening, and speaking materials to boost student’s exposure to English, which I think will reduce their chances to make communication errors in the future. When dealing with frequently appearing grammar errors, the teacher may set up grammar lesson to explicit state the rules and exceptions for students, and post the information on the wall, where students can see it constantly without any intensions.