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Language Learning Techniques: Forget About Corrections

Language Learning Techniques: Don’t Worry About Corrections has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel. You can download the audio and study the transcript as a lesson at LingQ.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. Today I want to talk about corrections, correcting people when they make mistakes in the process of learning a language. In the last few videos I’ve talked about how language learning is a subconscious process, how we learn subconsciously, gradually improve without realizing it and that a lot of our deliberate efforts at learning are somewhat futile.

 

I did a blog post over at my blog and I’ll leave a link up here, where I quoted some studies that showed that what they call form-based instruction, in other words teaching grammar, and corrections have relatively little impact on the learning process and I believe this to be the case. It’s funny because that’s one of the comments that seems to elicit the most sort of critical response from you the listener, so I wanted to delve a little further into this whole issue of corrections and why I think they are quite unimportant.

 

I’ve been learning Romanian. I’ve been at it for five weeks now and I’m doing quite well. I’ve never learned a language so quickly, mostly because it’s a romance language, partly because of how I’m using LingQ. I think I’m using it more and more efficiently, partly because of the resources that I’ve found on the Internet and having people initially translate and record a lot of basic sentences for me which I imported into LingQ which I listen to. I still listen to Radio Romania and the recourses there and so forth.

 

I’m now speaking to three tutors. We talk three times a week and I talk. As I mentioned earlier, one of the tutors for a while insisted on correcting me. I finally had to insist that I don’t want him to do that because, basically, it saps my enthusiasm for our conversation. I think we’re having an interesting conversation on some subject and he just wants to correct me, so we’ve stopped doing that. We just talk now and I get my report afterwards with some of my mistakes which I import and it either has some impact or it has no impact. It has some impact. It’s content. It’s part of the whole language environment.

 

The main reason why I think that language correction is not a good idea is because, fundamentally, I believe language learning is something that you have to do yourself. You, the learner, have to take responsibility for your own learning. It is true that a lot of people claim that they like to be corrected and, of course, they’re trained to like to be corrected because that’s how school works. You write a test, you get seven right and three wrong, you get 70%. We’re all used to that. We kind of think that if we don’t have someone looking over us, correcting us, constantly giving us feedback, that we aren’t learning.

 

Well, my view to that is it’s time to grow up and take responsibility for your own learning. I know as a learner which things I have trouble with. In Romanian they have three versions of the future. They have some structures where you use the infinitive and some where you use the subjunctive to express the future, for example. You can say ______, ‘I will have’, which is the infinitive. _______ or you say _______, where you are now using the subjunctive.

 

It’s so difficult to get that. I have looked at the rules many, many times, but the point is I know it’s a weakness, as there are many other things in Romanian that are difficult. So every so often I refer back to the grammar, but when I read and listen I try to focus on those things so that I notice them more. Then when I speak I get them wrong and then I look at the rule again and then I listen again and I read again and I pay attention, but it’s my responsibility. I know that it’s a weakness. I don’t really need anyone to correct me because I know, more or less, when I get it wrong and when I get it right.

 

I think where correction comes in is when we are quite advanced in the language, where we have certain things we are saying that we don’t realize we’re saying wrong. So correction can be useful when the person is already quite fluent and has certain ingrained patterns that may come from their native language which they don’t realize they’re getting wrong all the time. But for a long time in the language we know very well that we have trouble with tenses. We know that we have trouble with pronounces. We have trouble with cases in Russian. We know where our problems are, so we don’t need to be corrected all the time.

 

If we are speaking, then we should be enjoying the process of speaking and get some rhythm and, of course, elicit a response from the native speaker and, hopefully, pay attention to what the native speaker says and pick up on how they say things correctly. If we’re talking about a particular subject, it’s very likely that some of the same vocabulary and some of the same grammatical structures will come back to us in what the native speaker says, but I don’t think it’s constructive or productive to correct the learner and I think, particularly, the learner shouldn’t be expecting the correction all the time.

 

The learner should take the initiative to go there and dig. Dig into the content when they’re listening and reading, dig into whatever grammar resources they’re using, whether online or in a little book, be aware of where their problems are and then go back and dig. That sort of virtuous circle of noticing things, not being clear, not understanding, getting it wrong, going back to the grammar resource, looking at it, still not quite understanding or understanding but still getting it wrong and, gradually, over time we get better.

 

But it’s our responsibility, it’s not, I don’t think, that effective and the research shows that a major emphasis on grammar correction and grammar instruction doesn’t work and, of course, we’ve seen it in our schools where that’s the major emphasis. So I think that for an independent learner that correction or relying on correction is a bad habit. I have not been corrected very much in my Roman. I’ve been at it for five weeks. When I look up an article now on Radio Romania, because they have a number of news articles are printed, literally, there is hardly a word that I don’t know there. I can read all those articles. When I listen I understand a lot of it.

 

Now, I was recently sent an audio book and the PDF of a novel and there are a lot of words that I don’t know, so that’s a whole new area now. But because I’ve been focused on news and economics and stuff like that, I’m doing fine there. I can’t use all those words myself, but with time I will be able to and I’ve achieved that in five weeks. If I had gone to a traditional program with a traditional instructor taking us through the different parts of speech and the different structures in the language and correcting us and giving a test, I don’t that in six months I would be as far along as I am now after five weeks.

 

You may say, yes, you’re experienced and you’re better at languages than some people. That may be true, but more than anything I’m experienced at language learning and I know that this massive input, constantly getting more of the language in you, struggling to learn the words, starting now to use it without worrying too much about grammar.

 

Another one of my pet peeves is the people who ask questions. Why is it this? Why is it that? Can you also say it this way? How about this other way? They’ll come up with some totally strange way of using this language and saying is this correct. I just don’t understand people who do that. Go to the source, go the listening and reading that you’re doing, let it come in. When you have questions, by all means, have a grammar resource handy that you go to. Grammar is not a curriculum. Grammar is a reference source. It’s something you go to from time to time and often, but it’s not something that you learn one step at a time, at least not in my experience.

 

Of course, when I speak about language learning I talk about my own experience. Other people may do it differently, but I at least want to make it very clear as to why I feel this way about correction, how it’s not very useful and for learners to be expecting or relying on correction I think is an impediment to language learning.

 

There you have it. I look forward to your comments, bye for now.

 

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