Ways of Dealing with Language Mistakes

Ways of Dealing with Language Mistakes

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching is the error correction slots when teachers need to make a decision on how and when to correct errors in their students’ speech. There are several ways that have and are still being practiced in dealing with language mistakes. Let’s look at some of them.

On-job correction (hot error correction)

This happens when the instructor corrects each and every mistake the students are making. If you ask me, this is not a very efficient practice, as it disrupts fluency and discourages the students to speak. They feel as if they are always making mistakes, they can’t get hold of the language which creates a language-learning barrier quite hard to crack later on. However, there are times when this way is appropriate, e.g. during exam preparation so that students are aware of all their mistakes as it gives them a basis for improvement.

Filtered correction

This one is a more friendly technique as it focuses on a special area of language that the teacher wants to pay attention to. Let’s say, the topic of past tenses was covered. Instead of fixing all the mistakes the students are making, the teacher focuses on the ones that relate to the past tenses. This is a more constructive way of dealing with errors as it doesn’t overlap in the students’ minds.

If you have decided to deal with errors/mistakes using the method of Filtered correction or Delayed correction, you can choose a slot in the session to conduct it. It can be either at the end of the class, or at the end of a grammar fluency activity, or the beginning of the next class. It can even be set as homework to get students to think over their errors themselves. All depends on the objective of the slot.

Self Correction

This is a technique that exercises students’ own correction skills relying on their background knowledge. The idea is to highlight the mistake for the students and let them fix it on their own by giving hints if necessary. The same can be done by peer correction. In this way students have more chance to learn from each other and brainstorm in pairs to find the mistakes. 

‘Common mistakes’ correction

All of us had to deal with fossilised mistakes. These are the ones that have been rooted in students’ brains, weren’t thoroughly worked on and are hard to fix now. Some of the common ones are;

It depends of instead of It depends on

I am agree instead of I agree

I must to go instead of I must go

To deal with this situation effectively, it’s best to focus students’ attention on the mistake and mention that it is a common one among the group. Making it visually available (posting the correct one on a wall in the classroom) can help to implicitly learn the right phrase. Later on, try to catch the students any time they make the same mistake and have them fix it themselves. This will help to get rid of it for good.


Some mistakes occur when students translate a phrase or a sentence from their mother tongue to the foreign language. In this case, it is a good idea to work on those sentences as a whole group. I write down those sentences in the mother tongue on the board and ask the student to try and translate it into better English. As a team, students normally come up with a better option.

Upgrading Language

Apart from fixing mistakes, upgrading students’ language should also be of primary concern. Let’s say, students used a noun incorrectly in the sentence;

E.g. That was an interesting presenting instead of That was an interesting presentation.

After highlighting the mistake and fixing it, we can introduce/elicit different parts of speech of the word “presentation” – to present (v), presented (adj.). Same can be done with the adjective “interesting”, We can elicit the opposite “boring”, a synonym “exciting”, etc. This will help the student learn through associations and remember more information.

On purpose mistakes

To get the students exercise the analytical thinking skills you can choose to misguide them on purpose. Before the class, choose a text and insert some mistakes there. It can be spelling mistakes, vocabulary misuse, grammar mistakes, etc. Depends on your target. 

Distribute the text to a pair of students, time them, ask them to find the mistakes and fix them. For lower levels, it is a good idea to tell them the type of mistake they will be looking for. For stronger groups, you can just tell them to find whatever mistake they can.

Some theories suggest that showing the mistake to the student and asking them to fix it can have a reverse effect as the mistake might get stuck in their minds. This is true, that’s why the mistakes should be chosen wisely, the ones that the students can fix at about 80% of the time.

P.S. Due to the fact that we deal with different individuals during group classes, we need to take into account their personalities and learning styles when deciding how to correct the mistakes. The best and the easiest way is to ask the students.

During the first session of my group classes, I always ask the students how they like to be corrected;

  • Every time they make a mistake – If they say yes, I will do it for a couple of classes to show them it hinders fluency. Soon the students themselves understand that it is not a good way.
  • Later on, at the end of the class – If this is the case, I will be taking notes on the most common and targeted mistakes to fix them by the end of the class.
  • Individually – Some students don’t like to be corrected in front of their peers. It is a barrier they need to overcome. Until then, I just write down the mistake and the name of the student who made it, and talk to him/her individually after class, or send an email with the mistakes asking them to correct it.

These are some ideas that can help you deal with language errors more effectively. You can read more about Error correction here.

Armenuhi Seghbosyan

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