Stephen Krashen on Error Correction

I stopped correcting my students’ errors a long time ago, while I was still teaching in the lycée. I had come to the conclusion that correcting written errors was an enormous waste of time and energy. I’ve discussed this before in my article about helping students to improve their written production:   Here is another, more scholarly article which should put the last nail in that coffin:

And when my students were speaking, I felt it was better not to correct them simply because it was an interruption. I myself know that when I am speaking French, particularly when I’m talking about something that is vital to me, if someone interrupts me to correct my grammar, I feel that they aren’t really listening to me, that judging my grammar is more important to them than what I have to say. Of course, I feel much differently if my error has made something I’ve said ambiguous or incomprehensible. When the other person is trying to be sure that they are understanding me correctly, I don’t see that as “correction” at all. I feel that they are trying to help me get my message out, and I am grateful. And I am very unlikely to make the same mistake again, because I do want to be understood.

Stephen Krashen has pointed out that studies which seem to support error correction, in various forms, often have two weaknesses. One is that students’ progress is measured by tests in which they are asked to choose the correct form, rather than by examining their written production. Any experienced teacher knows that you can drill students, practice a grammatical structure over and over, and they will be able to pick out the correct form on a test. But they will continue using the incorrect form in their spontaneous production. Another weakness of the studies that seem to support error correction is that any measurable improvement diminishes in time, a sure sign that recognition of the error was learned but not acquired.

Recently one of my former students contacted me on this topic. She is currently studying to be a language teacher and taking university courses. She has attended the Agen Workshop for the last couple of years and has heard Dr. Krashen speak more than once. She was surprised to hear one of her professors, who seems to respect our eminent friend, support error correction. She asked me for articles and references on the topic, and of course I wrote to dear Stephen. This is his reply:

“A lot of people say that mistakes are good and part of the process.

“I think mistakes are inevitable and a natural result of acquisition.  

“When people think they are “good” it means, I think, that we can then correct them, and correction is good.

“But correction has no real effect. It is learning, not acquisition. It encourages you to rethink the conscious rule and make a better rule.  That’s conscious learning. 

“I like Steve Kaufman’s attitude about mistakes … don’t worry about making mistakes, people listening to you don’t care if you make mistakes, they are interested in WHAT you are saying. If you worry about making mistakes you talk less, and you get less CI.

“Notice that you can improve dramatically without talking at all (listening and of course reading), which means making mistakes doesn’t really help.  But they don’t hurt unless they make you hesitant to speak.”

Here, once again, Dr. Krashen makes the point that is so difficult for teachers (and students) to accept. “You can improve dramatically without talking at all (listening and of course reading).”

Then he adds, “Making mistakes doesn’t really help. But they don’t hurt unless they make you hesitant to speak.”  When teachers, and well-intentioned friends, correct our mistakes, what they are actually doing is making us hesitant to speak. When we hesitate to speak, we will get less interaction, so less input, the one vital element that we need in order to progress.

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