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My view on the role of errors in language learning

Artykuł w języku angielskim na temat roli błędów w uczeniu się języka obcego.

As Harmer states an error is a type of mistake which cannot be corrected by the students themselves due to the fact that they do not posses appropriate knowledge to do so. Here, it is basically the teacher's role to explain and point it out. Obviously, there is no way to escape from making errors but I believe that if skillfully treated, these can be highly beneficial not only for the students but also for the teacher. In the following essay I shall focus on teenage learners as this is the group I deal with at present.

First and foremost, as far as oral work is concerned I must admit that not all errors are corrected by me. When there are open discussions in class I always sit back and listen, interrupting only when a problem with communication occurs. While listening to student's speech I always write down some of the errors they make without pointing these out instantly. After the discussion is finished I usually focus on the ones that happened most frequently which are usually connected with pronunciation and grammar. If the case is not too complex I give the students explanation in detail providing them with their wrong sentences and giving the correct ones. As far as more complex issues are concerned like Conditionals or Passive Voice I usually wait until the students get enough basic knowledge in order to understand such issues clearly. I always try to correct the errors gently, focusing on the wrong sentences not the students who uttered them. Therefore, the students feel confident about speaking and begin to treat errors as a natural stage of learning a foreign language without getting frustrated.


As far as written work is concerned, giving more complex explanation to errors is easier since I write to individual students, knowing what their level of English is and how much new information I can offer. When correcting, I usually use footnotes and explain new rules briefly at the bottom of the page. The student therefore, has a clear idea of what went wrong, why it happened so and what is the correct answer. He feels being treated individually and this is what the school should be about.

Additionally, the errors are a very good tip for the teacher about some gaps in students' knowledge and give valuable information on the exact level of English the students present together with information on which topics need to be introduced and when. What is more, errors may be used as a tool against some cheeky and big-headed students that always know everything better than their peers or the teacher at times. Reminding them of their imperfections is a very effective way to make them focus on what you say.

What is more, errors made by students can be beneficial for the teacher himself. What I mean here is the feeling of great pride when explaining new rules in a simple way or being indispensable at times. This gives a powerful boost to teacher's self-esteem which, to put it mildly, is quite often difficult to receive from the headmaster or learner's parents. At times, too many errors made by the students may be frustrating for the teacher but, as stated in methodology classes we should not expect the students to understand something the moment we wish them to understand.

Overall, the errors are a necessary part of the process of learning a second language. When properly used and competently corrected may appear to be a source of motivation for both the student and the teacher together with creating a closer interrelation between the two.

Harmer Jeremy, "The Practice of English Language Teaching", Longman, 2001.

Karolina Nafalska
Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Zawodowa
w Chełmie

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