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The Treatment Of Errors In The Classroom English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5361 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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As I mentioned before, error correction is the classroom activity that most people think as one of the language teacher’s most important functions (Nunan, 1989: 9). This is because most of the time the teacher is the one who corrects.

The first and most important step a teacher must take is to determine the aim of the activity. As Ancker (2000: 20) mentioned in his article ‘Errors and Corrective Feedback’, if the objective is to develop accuracy, then of course correction is necessary. In this case, the correct approach is to allow the student to self-correct first. If that does not work, teachers should allow peer correction. But if no one seems to know, teachers can give the answer or correct.

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Although error correction seems time consuming, it helps students to focus their attention and to reduce their dependence on the teacher, and this reduction of dependence encourages students’ autonomy. On the other hand, if the objective of the activity is to develop fluency, then correction may not be necessary (Ancker, 2000: 20). Unless the error has been made many times, then the error correction needs to take place.

One important question is who should correct learners’ errors. There are three possible answers to the question: the teacher, the learner him/herself or the others learners (peer-correction). But this will depend on the importance or success of the error corrections, as well as the ability of the students to do self or peer correction. According to Ellis (1994: 489) studies of repair in naturally occurring conversations have shown a preference for self-initiated and self-completed repair. But, in many cases the teacher is the one who usually corrects students in the classroom.

It may be appropriate to allow the learner to self-correct without any further help from the teacher by using clarification requests such as: what?, excuse me?, what did you mean by …..?, etc. That is because learners are actually capable of making changes in their developing Interlanguage systems (Allwright and Bailey, 1994: 49). Most of the times, teacher intervention should be reduced and students must be encouraged to provide feedback to their partners. In one interpretation of language acquisition, Kessler (1992: 85) suggests that ‘the monitor’ can prevent or repair some errors under certain conditions. These conditions include: a) a focus on form, rather than on communication of meaning, and b) adequate time for the learner to process the output.

Ellis (1994: ibidem) conducted a study to find out whether learners reformulate their use of past tense in their utterances, when given a second opportunity to do so, or ignore it. He found out that those who, when pushed through a request for clarification to reformulate their utterances, did so, by correctly forming the past tense and maintained their improved accuracy in the past tense on the subsequent occasions.

Teachers must have clear that each teacher must come to an individual decision with respect to treatment of errors, just as a proverb says: “what works well in Madrid may not work well in Tokyo”, because not all the students have the same personality.

Allwright (1996: 32) makes a strong claim for the study of error correction in the classroom in which they occur. From this observation, he came to the following conclusions:

1) Teachers just tend to repeat the correct model rather than telling the student where his error occurred and why it was incorrect.

2) Teachers are also inconsistent in their treatment of learning errors. (Because errors are not always corrected).

Also, Allwright (1996: 33) asserted that another possibility is that other learners in the classroom could help by providing corrective feedback if it is necessary. In one experimental study related to this issue, Porter (1986, mentioned in Chaudron, 1993: 71) found that second language learners were able to accurately correct other learners’ errors, though they rarely did so. Error Correction Techniques

Although providing correct forms of learner errors is one of the most popular techniques among many language teachers (Hendrickson, 1980: 160), the use of various types of treatment methods has been recommended as it is considered to be more effective and successful than relying upon a single technique (Lynch, 1996, cited in Muncie, 2000: 50). Holley and King (1971, cited in Hendrickson, ibidem.) suggest that teachers should not use the methods which make learners feel embarrassed or frustrated. Therefore, teachers should be more sensitive about how to respond to learner errors.

Fanselow (1977: 588) has argued that teachers should offer learners the greatest possible variety of treatments because different people need to be treated differently. Also teachers need to keep on trying out different possibilities of feedback that would have to be delivered in such a way as to provide affective support, so the learners will not be demoralized, at the same time as the negative cognitive information is transmitted.

Once teachers do decide to treat noticed errors, and when they will do so, they have a variety of methods to their disposal. Allwright (1975, in Nunan, 1989: 32) points out the complexities of the teachers’ task. In the case of error correction, this can be illustrated by the following options confronting the teacher in the face of a leaner’s error:

To treat or to ignore the error completely.

To treat immediately or delay the error.

To allow another student, a subgroup or the whole class to find the correct form.

To return or not to the original error-maker after treatment.

To test for efficacy of treatment.

To transfer treatment or not.

To let it be self-treated.

All these suggested options are appropriate in different moments; the teacher only needs to develop the intuition, through experience and solid diverse theoretical foundation. As Allwright has a variety of options, Long (1977, in Allwright and Bailey, 1994: ibidem) also notes that teachers have three choices in deciding what to do when they find the error:

To inform the learner that an error has been made

To inform the learner of the location of the error

To inform the learner of the identity of the error

Moreover, Corder (1967, in Allwright, 1996: ibidem) declares that in order to show that there is a problem, the teacher usually a) retains evaluation, b) ignores the answer given and repeats the question, c) repeats the trouble source as a question, or d) changes addressee.

Errors are inevitable, but if there are too many it is probably the result of inefficient practice or poor exploitation strategies. Teachers have an arrangement of techniques and nomination strategies to deal with any correction that needs to be made. Correction techniques should be helpful and supportive. When an error is detected, the next problem is that teachers would have to choose the best type of treatment to provide in order to help the second language learners achieve this needed awareness.

There are many types of errors and according to Slimani (1992, in Panova 2002: 582), teachers often use seven types of feedback (or error correction techniques) when correcting errors that occur in the language classroom. They are: recast, translation, clarification request, metalinguistic feedback, elicitation, explicit correction and repetition.

As Slimani mentioned (ibidem) a recast is an implicit corrective feedback that reformulates a wrong or incomplete utterance. Example:

1. S: Dangerous? (Phonological error. /dange’rus)

T: Yeah, good. Dangerous. (Recast) you remember? Safe and

dangerous. If you walk in the streets….

The second type of correction is the translation (from the teacher) that can be seen in many cases when students don’t know how to say a definite utterance, for instance:

2. T: All right, now, which place is near the water?

S: Non, J’ai pas fini (L1)

T: you haven’t finished? Okay, Bernard, have you finished?


The purpose of clarification request is to elicit reformulation or repetition from the student who has said a wrong form:

3. S: I want practice today, today (grammatical error)

T: I’m sorry? (Clarification request)

In the example mentioned before, I’m sorry is a type of clarification request but there is also another one that is very used: I don’t understand.

According to Lyster & Ranta (1997, in Panova, 2002: 583), metalinguistic feedback refers to comments or information related to the form of the student’s utterance without providing the correct answer, as:

4. S: I accord

T: Oh, but that’s in French (metalinguistic feedback)

Lyster & Ranta point out that elicitation technique is a corrective feedback that prompts the learner to correct (Panova, 2002: 584); this is an example of a peer repairing:

5. T: In a fast food restaurant, how much do you tip?

S1: No money (Lexical error)

T: What’s the word? (Elicitation)

S1: five…four… (needs repairing)

T: What’s the word…in a fast food restaurant? (Elicitation)

S2: Nothing (repair)

T: Nothing, yeah….

The sixth type of feedback is the explicit correction.

6. S: The day last tomorrow (lexical error)

T: Yes. No, the day before tomorrow (explicit correction)

In this type of feedback, the teacher provides explicit signals to the student that there is an error in the previous utterance.

The last type of corrective feedback is repetition, which the teacher repeats the wrong part of the student’s expression, usually with a change of intonation. For example:

7. S: I am agree (lexical error)

T: I am agree? (Repetition)

The research on teacher treatment of learner error, including studies by Allwright (1975), Chaudron (1977, 1986b, 1987), Fanselow (1977b), and Long (1977), shows that teachers do not treat all errors that occur. The findings also reveal that teachers have a wide variety of techniques available for the treatment of errors, but they do not typically make full use of the repertoire of behaviors from which they might choose in providing feedback (Allwright and Bailey, 1994: 99-100).

Knowing all these types of error correction techniques (named also as feedback) teachers are more self-confident on what they are doing, because they know that the type of feedback they give to their students is mentioned in the seven techniques pointed out before, and they make sure they are doing right. Momentum of the Correction

The dilemma of; to correct or not to correct, has persistently engaged the minds of language teachers. Concerning to correction, Lyster & Ranta (1977: 51) acknowledge that there is a certain dilemma in this regard: if teachers do not correct errors, opportunities for students to make links between form and functions are reduced; if teachers do correct errors, they risk interrupting the flow of communication.

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According to Long’s (1977: 279) opinion, once the teacher has decided that an error should be treated, the next decision that he/she has to make is when to treat the error. The teacher may deal with it immediately, or delay treatment somewhat (for instance, until the learner finishes with the message he/she is trying to convey), while still treating the error within the boundaries of the same lesson in which it occurred. The `problem with immediate error treatment is that it often involves interrupting the learner in mid-sentence, it is a practice which can certainly be disruptive and could eventually inhibit the learner willingness to speak in class at all.

Allwright & Bailey (1991: ibidem) assert that if we adopt the notion of Interlanguage in the discussion of second language learner’s errors, we realize that by treating errors, teachers try to help learners move ahead with their Interlanguage development. However, they believe mistimed error treatment may not be helpful and may even be harmful if it aims at structures which are beyond second language learners in terms of their Interlingua development. They refer to mistimed with forms at the right time in the course of the learner’s speech.

While correcting errors, teachers can make corrections at the moment the error is made or at the end of the activity. Having the correction at the moment is advisable when students do not make many errors and this will help not only the students who made the error , but also to the whole class or those who are paying attention; and having the correction at the end of the activities is advisable when students have many errors and run on them every five minutes, so that students do not feel like foolish in front of the whole class.

The place of error correction has been controversial because teachers have to know the adequate moment to do the correction and how to do it in order to not inhibit students’ participation. Nunan and Lamb (1996, in Poppi, 2001: @), point out that it is important to consider when the adequate moment to make a correction is. They say that it is better to correct errors at the end of the activity just by writing on the board and explaining the reasons of the errors made since in that way, the teacher gives a better explanation of the error, but also focuses more on the error. On the other hand correcting at the moment is not advisable, because of the lack of time and also the teacher could demotivate the students.

Alternately, Allwright & Bailey (1991: ibidem) state that teachers may postpone the treatment for longer periods of time for two reasons: a) teachers do not want to explain the error to the whole group. For instance, oral errors, particularly if they are shared by a group of learners, may form a starting point for a future lesson. Long (1977: 290) observes that error treatment becomes less effective as the time lag between the performance and the treatment becomes longer.

Deciding when and which errors to correct causes problems to teachers, as teachers may think they are encouraging their students, but they are doing the contrary or vice-versa. Teachers must also take in consideration, that constantly interrupting students to correct them can be irritating. If teachers do not know when to correct, it is necessary to consider the nature of the activity that is being undertaken. For example if students are performing a drill in order to practice pronunciation or phrases, then they should be stopped immediately when they make the error, otherwise they will continue repeating defective language; on the other hand, in fluency, if there are frequent errors, the teacher can make a mental or written note to provide feedback after the activity, so students can feel comfortable and self-confident.

Teachers do not have to correct all the time, they have to be conscious on what and when they are going to correct in order to promote students’ participation, otherwise if teachers make lots of corrections, students could be irritated (Norrish, 1990: 280).

Long (1977: 292) points out that the psychology of research literature shows, that the feedback becomes less effective as the time between the performance of the skill and the feedback increases. What is more, Virgil & Oller (1976: 288) think that correcting errors at the moment is a waste of time and instead of doing that, teachers should avoid error correction at the moment. So, correcting at the moment can certainly be troublemaking and could eventually inhibit the learner’s willingness to speak in class at all, or students could forget what they wanted to say. “Contrary to this, correcting at the end of activities is better because teachers have already finished their activities and can explain in detail the reasons of the errors (Virgil & Oller: ibidem).

In short, we may say that teachers can choose the moment to correct their students taking into account their necessities. Students’ Attitude

Attitudes are complex, hypothetical construction, which general definition includes some notion of evaluation. Ajzen (1988: 85) states that an attitude is a disposition to respond favorably or unfavorably to an object, person, intuition or event. In addition to this, Triandis (1971: 289) writes that an attitude is a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor. This evaluative aspect of attitude is its defining attribute, and sets it apart from other affective variables.

Attitude is an emotion that all people show when they have views of an “attitude object”: i.e. a person, behavior or event. Attitudes come from judgments. Triandis (1971: ibidem) says that attitudes develop the ABC model (affect, behavioral change and cognition). The affective response is a physiological response that expresses an individual’s preference for an entity. The behavioral intention or change is a verbal indication of the intention of an individual. And the cognitive response refers to a cognitive evaluation of the entity to form an attitude.

Heider (1958, in Triandis: ibidem) points out that attitude is usually defined as a disposition or tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain thing (idea, object, person, and situation).

The type of feedback language teachers provide for students reflects their view of language and their objectives. The attitude of students plays an important role in learning a second language. This attitude is developed by a variety of factors, among them feedback, which may have desirable or undesirable cognitive and affective results. Students’ characteristics have an impact both on the teacher who corrects the learners’ errors and on the learner who is corrected.

The teacher’s treatment of error might also be influenced consciously or unconsciously by the state of mood teachers are. “The attitude of learners toward error correction, not only by teachers during focused activities but also by native speakers with whom they converse, is remarkably positive” (Chenoweth, Chun and Luppescu, 1983: 82). Cathcart & Olsen (1976: 41) found that ESL learners who hold positive attitude toward correction like to be corrected by their teachers and want to have more correction than they are usually provided with.

Another important point about attitudes is that they are subject to change; they are not set in concrete. This is good news for teachers in that poor attitude can be changed. But the good news is tempered by the fact that there are many variables associated with attitude change, such as the state of mood, the classroom environment, the student’s personality and so on.

Probably, the most difficult aspect of the correction process is tailoring corrections to individual students. Teachers who wish to provide effective correction must consider its effect on each individual student. The problem has two aspects: affective and cognitive side. Truscott (1998: @) says that on the effective side, learners clearly differ in their reactions and attitudes to correction. For some, no adverse effect is likely unless corrections are delivered in a very aggressive or unfair manner. For others, there is a serious danger that correction will produce embarrassment, anger, inhibition, feeling of inferiority, and generally negative attitudes towards the class and possibly toward the language learning itself.

Consequently, there are different reactions in students because all students are different: positive and negative. In this way, in order to avoid harmful effects and to make correction effective, the teacher should see each student as unique and to ask how each student will respond to correction in many possible forms, varying the type of error correction and the frequency of the correction, the clarity of the correction and the most important: the intensity of the correction.

Nunan & Lamb (1996, in Poppi, 2001: @) mention that attitudes and responses vary among students depending on the different ways that teachers treat their errors. For example,

….teachers can correct students in a way that makes students feel comfortable and some students can have a positive attitude to the correction while others will react with a negative attitude by making gestures (like a grimace) and some others will just accept the correction and repeat it with a smile (Pinazo, 2001: @)

Moreover, Wajnryb (1992, in Poppi, 2001: @) makes the point that, if teachers attempted to correct every error that occurred in class, there would be little time to do anything else. Correcting at anytime many times creates a negative classroom atmosphere, discouraging learners from risk-taking and experimentation. So, when learners are corrected intensively by the teacher it could have negative consequences in their motivation. Students will think that if they continue speaking, the teacher will continue correcting, and in order to avoid this reaction (the teacher’s one) they stop speaking.

Pholsward (2001: @), in his investigation at the University of Thai Chamber of Commerce at the Faculty of Humanities in the language department of English, about students’ reaction to the error treatment, concluded that most students were quite relaxed and satisfied as they helped each other in a group’s attempt to identify errors. In Pholsward’s research, the teachers would suggest answers in guidance to students and if the students were still not responsive, the teachers would identify errors and edit them, followed by detailed explanations.

In brief, Ellis (1994: 490) affirms learners’ attitude towards error correction can also vary according to their characteristics, their cognitive and affective states and the nature of the treatment they receive. Apart from what was mentioned before, students’ reaction is complemented by non-verbal gestures, too.

Students talk with gestures and their meanings are clear and specific for instance: waving goodbye. Other types of gesture, the gestures that express emotional states, reflect the mood and feeling of people. Pinazo (2001: @) expresses that these gestures show anxiety or tension of the moment such as pain, triumph and happiness.

The attitudes that will be taken in consideration in this research project are: positive and negative, with its corresponding classification that were taken from the works of these authors: Rebel Günther (2002: 49-51, 96-165), Louis Porcher (1989: 77-82), Ana Muñoz (2002: @), Olman Martínez (2004: @) and Pinazo (2001: @):



Move the head from up to down in a moderate form



Repetition of the correction

Lips movement by saying thank you

Soft tone of voice

Quickly movement of the head in an affirmative form

Hinge or attentive look





Rotating the eyes upward (eye rolling)

Rude tone of voice

Fig. 3.1 Common attitudes on error correction

3.1.3 Error Correction, Motivation and Communication in English

Language Learning

Motivation is as much an effect as a cause of learning. Ausubel (in Budden, 2004: @). Motivation is related to error correction in English language learning because the manner teacher corrects, is the way in which students are going to react to teacher’s correction. Students’ main goal is to participate in communication with other people. This learning goal is possible if teachers can keep students’ motivation for learning during oral practice activities. Tere’se (2005) explains that one natural and non-treating way of encouraging students to give feedback is by using a number of strategies like: clarification requests (What did you mean by…?), requests for repetition (sorry, can you say that again?) and the use of questioning looks. This means that motivation is the force which determines if learners initiate, or not on a task, also how much energy they dedicate to it and how long they continue in it.

Famous research carried out in the second half of the twentieth century by Gardner and Lambert (1999 in Harmer, 2001: 205) suggested that students who felt more warmly about a language, who wanted to integrate into the culture of its speakers were more motivated (and learnt successfully) than speakers who were only learning language as a means to an end (e.g. getting a better job).

Harmer (1999: ibidem) says that real motivation comes from within each individual. Teachers are not responsible of their students’ motivation; they can only encourage students by using word and action, while teaching the foreign language. Motivation is the energy that catalyzes behavior. In psychology, motivation refers to the initiation, direction, intensity and persistence of behavior (Budden, 2004: @) Motivation is a temporal and dynamic state that should not be confused with personality or emotion.

It is sometimes assumed by language teachers that if students make any kind of error when talking to a native speaker they are learning, but learners’ frequent attitude to this is to maintain a terrified silence upon meeting a native speaker (Norrish, 1990: ibidem). This is because students think that errors discredit them with the person they are talking to.

On the other hand, certain errors may conduct to a breakdown in communication, while others to social reactions. For instance, one of the breakdowns in communication is inhibition (Norrish, 1990: ibidem). Students get inhibited because they fear making errors when communicating and being ridiculous in front of the teacher or native speakers. But also when staying in the classroom or talking with other students, they feel embarrassed when making errors, because they are afraid of being seen as dumb.

Nunan and Lamb (1996, in Poppi 2001:@), mention an investigation on teacher behavior and student responses on occasion of which the following question was established: “Do students’ attitude about the types of error treatment used by their teachers in the classroom during oral classroom tasks influence their motivation?” They concluded that students do hold attitudes about different ways that teachers treat their errors, and also learners would like the teacher to improve raising their awareness by allowing opportunities to self-correct and to analyze the errors; the learners would like to be provided in a positive way with information and clarification, rather than: a) being exposed by non-verbal signs, b) providing feedback without explanations, c) asking the students to repeat the sentence and d) activating the right answer on the part of the student. Additionally, students would like to build up the belief that errors are to be considered as signs of progress of the learning process, rather than evidence of failure.

Correcting errors disturbs the ongoing communication process (Truscott, 1998: @) but it is important to express that errors do not necessarily guide to a breakdown of communication, because sometimes correcting errors in students encourage them to continue participating in order to improve their speaking skill.

In short, along this theoretical framework, I have mentioned all topics related to error correction that will be necessary to carry out this research project. For instance, I have mentioned that errors are considered to be incorrect, wrong or should not be done. In addition to this, I have described the different types of errors like error, mistake, lapse or slip as errors, this way was easy to identify what I was referring to in the investigation.

I have talked about the sources of errors; but also, and something important is that, I have mentioned error correction and the types of error correction that teachers usually use when correcting students. When correcting errors, I said that we need to take into account who will treat errors and when to treat errors.


Being a teacher of a foreign language implies having certain skills, whether by nature, acquired outside teaching, or arising from university studies in education. They may also gain this knowledge with books concerning issues of education or by taking professional courses on the subject.

In this case, the research presented, is primarily based on improving teaching skills of those teachers who didn’t study a bachelor’s degree in English Teaching, by providing the teaching of various courses. Improving in various teachers’ fields was primarily important. But, understanding two main points that serve as departure is the start point: what does teaching mean? And what does being a teacher imply?

Teachers must understand that a good class depends on many factors; although the material presented to teach the class is important, the teacher should take into account that leadership and management at the beginning, during and at the end of the class is essential, for the students to learn what is taught. It is of vital importance to know the likes and preferences of the students who we give classes to; this will serve as a key piece to encourage them, especially those who learning a foreign language are a rejection.

Teachers should practice self-reflection on how to teach a foreign language, and have feedback from other teachers; this is of great help in order to implement different kinds of methodologies in the classroom, especially in error correction during the communication of the students to the teachers and among themselves.

Doing the research on these topics, I noticed and reflected on the magnitude of being a teacher I understood that teaching is a great responsibility, because the way of teaching depends on the likes and disposition of the students to the learning of English language, due to the motivation transmitted by the teacher. This also includes the methodology used by the teacher to teach a class, as it influences how well students understand the topic.

Another important point is the attitude that teachers have in front of groups when teaching. It must be enthusiastic and positive, factors to include in the education of a class presentation.

Of all these factors that I explained above, I conclude that it is very significant to continue preparing ourselves and practice teaching training, in order to perk up foreign language education. Improving internally and externally all the factors in teachers such as: learning new teaching methodologies, be at the forefront of materials that can be used with the group, making use of different types of feedback from teachers, using different tools and techniques in teaching as well as self-reflection are some of the factors explained in this research.

This paper concludes that teachers that do not have a bachelor’s degree in English Teaching should always look for continuous improvement in different ways in all areas, in all levels of language education towards the students. Taking into account all the factors set above, this research was done, in order to improve the level of education qualitatively, pedagogically and psychological practicability in the teachers’ practice of English teaching at the Liceo José Vasconcelos, in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas.


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