Should you correct your friends’ sentences?

Homer Simpson d'ohIs it wrong to correct a language learner’s mistakes? Let’s use some idiomatic expressions that mean getting to the core of the argumentas we view this question.Basically, there are two trains of thought regarding the question of whether to correct mistakes. Some say yes, others say no.

The long and short of it is non-native speakers will always make some mistakes, which they cannot always correct by themselves.

Actually, you should take into consideration the purpose of the communication. What is the goal of the speaker? Does he want to learn English (and is practicing) or is he trying to communicate in order to meet an objective or to function in the real world?

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In fact, it is possible that he may be trying to do both.

The bottom line is some people are made uncomfortable by corrections which point out their inability to use the language correctly. While others feel sad if you don’t correct them because they feel like they have lost a valuable opportunity to learn.

In a nutshell some people are more thick-skinned than others (less sensitive, less easily hurt). While others may need to be handled with kid gloves (gently, carefully).

It boils down to compassion and human decency. Sometimes letting errors pass, will help the non-proficient speaker by letting him save face. (not be embarrassed by his mistakes).

Cutting to the chase you have to know your student. If your student follows the philosophy “fake it until you make it” (acts as if he knows what he is doing until it becomes second nature to him, until he achieves success), then he will probably not appreciate instruction or interference from you because he will not like you pointing out his shortcomings and thereby making him feel like a failure.

Fundamentally, we have to decide by, in essence, making a cost-benefit analysis of the situation.

Summing up some learners can handle criticism and welcome it, while others can’t and don’t.

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As for me, corrections are always welcome.


Mary Ziller

I'm Mary Ziller. I tutor ESL at the IHM Lteracy Center in Philadelphia. I lived a year in Brazil where I became certified to teach English as a Foreign language.

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