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Joined: 23 Feb 2003
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 21, 2003 8:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


My comment on correction is intended to allow a different way of looking at it. In my view, your French teacher didn't correct you (there was nothing wrong with what you said, it was simply a part of the process by which you are learning French), she simply reminded you. Correction implies wrongness and even guilt. In some ways it's only a semantic trick, but ultimately, I feel it is worthy of noting because the concept of correction carries a lot of negative baggage that could lead some students to feel things like embarrassment and humiliation as observed by Sita.

Of course I agree that creating awareness for students by reminding them or helping them to remember a grammatical point, vocab term, etc. is absolutely crucial to approaching fossilization in an effective way. That was the popint of my description of how I helped Yoshiaki. In my mind, however, I didn't correct him. Looking at it this way eliminates judgement and negativity and opens up space for further awareness to enter.


I'm curious about how your technique is working. I don't know the specifics of what you are doing and have discovered by observing many different teachers that different approaches work better with different people. In my experience, however, after the fact handouts, though appreciated by students, have a much smaller impact on changing the language habits than when their speech is captured in the moment it is uttered.

Embarrassment and humilation has a lot to do with class atmosphere and the teacher's approach and use of humour. It's not possible to keep everyone from experiencing these things sooner or later, however, regardless of what you do. When I try to give students awareness of language in the moment by guiding them to self correction, I know that there are times when some students feel embarrassed, though rarely humiliated because I am very careful to create a positive atmosphere in which all students are helping each other. When I balance these occassional feelings against the frustration of students who feel like they are getting nowhere in their speaking(which is also humiliating not to mention discouraging), however, I find that it is more than worth it. The basic feedback from students about this whole issue, in fact, is almost overwhelmingly one of gratitute and praise because of the effectiveness of it. They will gladly be put on the spot when they know that the result will be noticable improvements in their speech. I often have students who ask for me to do more of it and in several of the business classes I am teaching at the moment there is a different student in each class sessions on which I focus for about ten minutes in this way. By using this technique ( basically get them to tell me about what they do at work or what are their job responsibilities. They quickly realize that they know how to say very little about this -although thery're great at generic textbook-like topics such as hobbies, etc- and I guide them to the language they are looking for) I've had the majority of students be able to utter complex and involved sentences with 100% accuracy a week after practicing with them even while having class only once a week for an hour.

In contrast, when I used to do a similar activity and only pointed out things afterwards, the same mistakes continued to occur. The exception to this is writing classes, where students can bring the writen handout with them as they begin to re-write and thus actually be using awareness in the moment of writing. In general, however, I have found that awareness in the moment of the act of language use is the golden time to make a real difference. Also, it's far better to overcome one's embarassments about language use in the supportive environment of a classroom with good atmosphere that in actual life situations where people often are judgemental such as at a job interview, or even simply talking to a foreigner.

Ultimately, however, each teacher has to follow his or her own path. I suggest keeping track of student errors and trying different things to see what works by comparing results. Student feedback is usually a good indicator as well, though not always.
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Location: Aguanga, California (near San Diego)

PostPosted: Mon Jul 21, 2003 2:19 pm    Post subject: Correction Reply with quote

Hi again, everyone.

Perhaps one of the great gems of this useful conversation is noonlight's comment above about "guiding [students] to self correction." My own reflections on personal experiences with language learning leads me to conclude that surely self correction is vastly more valuable than correction from teachers or even from peers. The key, it seems to me, is cognitive involvement in the language issue on the part of the student. Though students respond to teacher correction, and may even understand it, it is perhaps only of fleeting value unless it is genuinely thought about. And most students rarely do that. If students can be encouraged to really correct themselves, in the sense that they personally work out that they have made a mistake and then also work out precisely why they did and what they should have said instead, and why, then surely that will have more sticking power.

So now I'd like to ask you, noonlite, if you'd elaborate a bit on your method for achieving this lovely goal of "guiding them to self correction." Just how do you go about it? How do you achieve this without drawing the student's attention to an issue, which, of course, would be doing at least half the job for him, severely diluting the value?

Larry Latham
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2003 6:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In my summer holiday class, on day one, fourteen 12-year olds had to say
"I was born in 19.." (adding the exact year in which they were born). Then, I would randomly ask a boy or a girl to repeat, using the third person; a girl said:
"I was born in 1992. I am 11 years old."
One boy was heard saying "He was born in..."
Loud laughter interrupted him before he could finish "...1992. SHE is 11 years old."

Well, this is not a small feat, considering how careless and uncaring Chinese become in making whole sentences. In fact, many adult speakers, even after having been corrected a first time, would go right on repeating the same mistake.
This is because their Chinese teachers pay little heed to points of accuracy; they normally practise pronunciation without correcting their students' maimed and mangled English. And students do not practise LISTENING to each other; that's why they can't tell a good English speaker from a bad one even to the point of not noticing good English from a Chinese person.
My advice to adults often is: Record your reading aloud practice, and replay it to find out HOW YOUR ENGLISH SOUNDS!
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 27, 2003 6:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Larry:

Thanks for the interesting question. I don't guide students to self correction by not bringing it to their attention when there is a difference between what they are saying and what native speakers say. What kind of guide would I be then? As a guide it is my job to let them know when they are going the wrong way and to point them in the right direction. The rest is up to them.

In practice, it basically goes like this:

1)I let them know there is something to improve. This can easily be done in many ways. A look, a pause, reapeating back to them what they said in a questioning tone...In some circumstances that's all that's needed and then they figure it out right away.

2)If that's not enought then let them know where in the sentence the mistake is. This can be done in many ways such as repeating back what they said in a questioning tone that highlights where the error is, repeating back the sentence and pausing where the error is, showing them visually on your fingers while repreating back the sentence where the error is, writing the sentence on the board and underlining where the error is. writing the sentence on the board and asking others to identify ony where the error is (not what it is or how to fix it)...

3)If that's not enough then begin to give hints about what the error is. This is a highly creative and artistic process that depends on the student. Some simple examples are to give the first letter of a missing word, or say the first sound of a missing word, refer to some previous context when the word or grammar was discussed previously (remember when Akiko was talking about her dog...), gestures, body language, showing an example of the same mistake in a different sentence that you know they'll get. (I recently had a student who said "is" instead of "are" in a sentence and got her to realize this by completely changing course and asking her "What is this? while holding up one pen. puzzled she answered a pen. No give me a complete sentence. That is a pen. Good, now what are these? These are pens. You got it. and she did. She immediately realized that that she needed to use the plural form of be in the original sentence.)

4) This step is very important. Ask them to say the entire sentence again. Did they make a small mistake, the same one, another one. Go through the entire process with them until they get it perfect. When they do, congradulate them on a job well done. They earned it.

5) Also very important and largely ignored: ask that student to make the same sentence again later that class. Make sure they get it perfect. Notice how much quicker they got it this time? Try it again later on when they least expect it. A faster response. Good. They next time you have class, ask them again. Do this until they immediately can answer without hesitation with perfect grammar. In order to this, it means that you must wrire it down in your notebook, so you can remember it.

Don't do it relentlessly and fill up the whole class with it. It usually only takes a few moments to do and it's something that you're doing with all of the students. It's a class ritual for me. The beginning and end of every class I do these kinds of things.

In my experience, the most important part of this process rests in guiding the students at they moment they utter whatever it is they are trying to say. This is the moment when their minds are focussed on that language naturally of their own accord and already thinking about how to say it. It is the most fertile ground.

However, this is very challenging and requires great focuss on the part of the students and teacher, so it can't completely dominate the class. Combine this with free talking time when mistakes are ignored for the benefit of communication. Maintain balance and flow.
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 27, 2003 12:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi noonlite:


I'm curious about how your technique is working. I don't know the specifics of what you are doing and have discovered by observing many different teachers that different approaches work better with different people. In my experience, however, after the fact handouts, though appreciated by students, have a much smaller impact on changing the language habits than when their speech is captured in the moment it is uttered.

Shouldn't it be works? Twisted Evil

If students make bad mistakes whilst they are speaking- I raise my eyebrows. Usually another student then corrects the mistake.
If not I do.

I teach adults.

However I am certain the handouts are an additional help as I recycle them after a few weeks. Students tend to forget.....

Best wishes
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Location: Aguanga, California (near San Diego)

PostPosted: Sun Jul 27, 2003 5:34 pm    Post subject: Guiding students to self correction. Reply with quote

Thanks, noonlight, for your reply. It is clear you have thought about this quite a lot and have developed your methods carefully and with full awareness of what you are doing. Your students surely must be profiting from your work. Would that all teachers were so thoughtful.

The only niggle I might have with you is that I personally would probably feel that if I had to go so far as to start giving hints about the error itself because the particular student just was not seeing where the problem was, I think I'd just move ahead on the justification that for this student at this time and with this error, personal awareness is simply not going to come. There will be another occasion. Sometimes, I think, pounding correctness into their heads at all costs may risk more negative effects than positive. But that's just my personal take on all this stuff, and every teacher ought to follow his or her own gut feelings. Different students and different classes also matter a lot. With some, you can do things you might not try with others.

And for sita,
Shouldn't it be works? Twisted Evil

Not to pick on sita here; quite the contrary. My compliments to her Wink for providing a classic example of one of the major problems with teacher correction. There is absolutely nothing wrong with noonlight's original comment:
I'm curious about how your technique is working.

Sita, of course, knows that too, but she called him to task above on her assumption that he ought to be asking a simple question (requiring a simple, unmarked, tense verb). However, in noonlight's head, at the moment of his writing his comment, there was evidently an element of timing. He apparently assumed that sita was describing a technique that was an ongoing method. He was, in fact, asking whether it continued to be successful, not "how it works." My point, here, is that when teachers decide they need to correct their students, they run the rather large risk that they will often "correct" language that doesn't need correcting, thus confusing the student. In the instance above, for example, the error was sita's, not noonlight's. When students say something that seems to be incorrectly put, those who would correct them had better be sure they know exactly what the error-maker really meant to say.

Thanks, sita, for providing a great example. Very Happy I hope you'll forgive me for pouncing on it. Exclamation

Larry Latham
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 3:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Larry:

What I've been describing is a process that is a part of each of my classes. IT's probably difficult to imagine it in context and practice as it actually happens. Pounding something into their heads at all costs, however, is far from what I do. It is almost the opposite, in fact. By putting the ball into their court, I place them in a position where they may choose to open a door into their own minds. By bringing the same situation to their attention often, I help them to keep that door open. This occurs in the midsts of a very good atmosphere or not at all. When students feel tired and worn out, it doen't work very well.

I'm able to do this playfully and joyfully and that is a part of the recipe of any good technique in my view. When this technique is employed well, it is similar to a good game of tennis that required a lot of effort, but yielded such awsome play that nobody really cared who won or lost at the end of the point.

Generally the fact that they have chosen (unless you're dealing with compulsory education which has many barriers and concerns that must be addressed before anything like this can be effective) to come to a class indicates their willingness and readiness to advance in their skills.

In my experience, the best measure of when they are ready for something or not is not found by wether or not they are aware of it on their own at the moment of speaking. The act of simply speaking at whatever level they are at is taking up too much of their attention for them to notice mistakes. Eventually, if they keep at it, they may begin to notice all by themselves, but why is this important when a teacher can bring them to this same awareness and beyond so much more quickly by using expertise to guide them?

In my experience, what a student is or is not ready for is determined by what she is or is not able to do. No other measure makes any sense to me. If I can work with a student and get them to be able to talk about what they did on the weekend with no grammar mistakes and good pronunciation, I don't see why the fact that they haven't noticed the missing article or the misplaced preposition of their own accord should stop me. The fact is that when I help them to be aware of these things the first time, they do notice them on their own the next time...and that is the whole point of bringing them awareness. Why wait for it?

Interestingly, I began my teaching, especially after graduate school, in a totally different vein. Probably something similar to what I imagine Sita does (though I don't presume to know). I'm really a softy and don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I believed that creating a fun atmosphere and evironment and providing opportunities for meaningful interaction were the most important things.

I noticed, however, that my students were able to communicate very well and to have a good time, but that they always communicated in nonstandard forms of English. I began to wonder when they would start to actually speak English as a native understands it. I began to ask the question that I suspect you were asking Larry way back when I first encountered you. "How do I know when my students are making real progress?" At some point I began actually keeping track of students mistakes in my notebook while trying different things. Much of this was somewhat unconscious, however. It just kind of happened gradually that I began to realize that my students were not going (at least most of them, there were always a select few who seemed gifted and excelled no matter -or perhaps despite- what I did or didn't do) to be able to produce anything close to native-like speech until I started providing a context that encouraged it to ocurr. What I have been describing to you is what has evolved from there. It is that context. So far, it is the most effective thing I have come across. If any of you out there have soemthing else please tell me! I know there is always more. (One of my interests now is states of consciousness and creating different ones that are more conducive to learning -but not in a passive suggestopaedic way.)

Anyway a question I have for anyone out there doing their thing is this:

Are you keeping track of it? Are you're students continually making the same mistakes over and over despite whatever it is you are doing? If not please tell what you are doing! If so, then why not try this out and see what happens? My students don't keep making the same mistakes when I do it. Also, should you choose to try, please give me your feedback as it will help me in my own development of what I'm doing.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 4:14 pm    Post subject: Developing student's English Reply with quote

Hi again, noonlight,
The act of simply speaking at whatever level they are at is taking up too much of their attention for them to notice mistakes. Eventually, if they keep at it, they may begin to notice all by themselves, but why is this important when a teacher can bring them to this same awareness and beyond so much more quickly by using expertise to guide them[emphasis mine]?

Your point here is well taken. And I believe the essential key in your message might be summed up in what I've emphasized in the quote above:" using expertise to guide them." It is clear you have been doing your homework to develop that expertise. There is no doubt in my mind that such expertise does not lie in simply pointing out to a student that (s)he has made a mistake and the "correct way" is thus and so. Nor does it lie in "correcting" a student by merely reformulating what is said. Nor do I think much of having another student "correct" the mistake--there is too much potential for humiliation lurking there. There is surely an expertise to be developed--probably a different one for each teacher's personality, and maybe even to be customized to an extent for each class of students. You mentioned that you like to operate in an atmosphere of joy and fun. Bravo! That sounds good to me. Fun in the classroom is not merely for the sake of itself; rather it is (or can be) a valuable tool for establishing a relaxed and open ambience in which real learning can take place.

My congratulations, noonlight, on your disciplined approach to development of your skills. Your idea of writing down and tracking individual student's mistakes is excellent! I've recently retired from active teaching now, or I'd try it myself. I do enthusiastically recommend it to others of you who may be following this thread. I never did anything quite so scientific as that while I was teaching, although perhaps I may have kept something in my head. Writing it down is better, though.

Listen to this guy, folks. He has something to show us.

Larry Latham
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will mcculloch

Joined: 07 May 2003
Posts: 40

PostPosted: Mon Sep 29, 2003 12:32 pm    Post subject: Word Surfing and fossilization Reply with quote


The short article below is something that was written a couple of weeks ago for EL Gazette. It explains a bit more about some of the reasons behind WS....and it’s relationship with fossilization

The concept, which was put on the internet in April 2003 -
- shows the benefits of creating a well-organised vocabulary notebook that …

· helps students to move away from learning new words by translation as soon as possible
· moves learners towards getting to know new words through investigation and use
· promotes more use of dictionaries and complements all other resources
· encourages independent learning outside of the classroom
· prioritises the importance of different new words
· proves real progress.

Initial feedback to WS is positive and awareness is steadily growing – particularly since being spotlighted by the British Council’s “SearchEnglish” website and being introduced by some leading universities.

Anyone wanting to introduce the Wordsurfing Vocabulary Strategy to their students can now receive free sample pages for classroom use by sending a quick e-mail to [email protected].

Best wishes etc



Input. Output. That’s language acquisition in a nutshell. It may not be as extensive a theory as Chomsky or Krashen, but doesn’t language always develop in basically the same way for each and every one of us? Information comes in, we process it, and something new comes out. Communication occurs. If no information is put in, very little will come out.

Learning a first language is a piece of cake. There’s usually lots of input, friendly encouragement and practice to be had before the teachers have a chance to test our skills. Fortunately, we’re normally very well prepared for them by that stage. We already have an extensive vocabulary and by some magic are able to use our words in a mostly correct grammatical style. Teachers then help to refine and polish – under a good set of conditions.

Second languages cause more problems. There’s generally a lot less input and something called interference – when the first language hinders or distorts the learning of a second language. In addition, we seem to be encouraged to run before we can walk, with the result that we tend to fall over a lot.

The learning process might typically go something like this: A little vocabulary learning combined with lots of early grammatical input and exercises. The results of such early testing are usually far from perfect. Some questions may be answered correctly but a lot of errors are usually made as well. But do we really learn from these mistakes or do they just serve to create a confusion that can develop into bad habits? What does this process do to confidence, enjoyment levels, motivation and performance? Why is it so necessary to rush through a lot of grammar topics very early on in the learning curve? Can people cope with this approach? Or could it be a major cause of fossilization – when non-standard language becomes ingrained? What other approaches might lead to a more efficient and enjoyable language learning process? It is, of course, easier to ask such questions than to answer them.

Most people are aware of the fossilization problem, but its roots are hard to define and there’s no quick cure. Bad grammar and pronunciation habits can be increasingly hard to break over time. They occur once learners have developed a reasonable understanding of the language, but in the wrong order. With such an early emphasis on testing, it is also not surprising that students become disheartened at continually making lots of mistakes. Teachers feel forced to repeat and revise grammar, the process becomes increasingly tiring and some students may even switch off totally. Frustration understandably translates into a negative attitude towards grammar and they may even give up on it a little and let their problems deepen. Fossilization – or just bored rigid?

Meanwhile, their understanding is steadily improving through learning more vocabulary. This process often only involves remembering lists of translations, rather than using new words in an active manner. Such a learning strategy, combined with an early, shallow introduction to grammar topics, can also be counter-productive - a recipe for bad habits and the following typical scenario:

German students wanting to know the meaning of a new word will often ask their teacher

“what means ******** ?” instead of “what does ******** mean?”.

This “word for word” translation ( Was bedeutet ******** ?) happens on a regular basis even with so-called “advanced” students. Then, once corrected, they may well go on to say something like “ Yes, I must make more homework”!

How language seems to fossilize.

The example above describes what appears to be a common process. Students tend to gradually become more fluent and easily understood even though they are still making basic grammatical errors. Teachers and others tend to correct them less. Students therefore assume that what they are saying is correct or good enough and continue to speak and write using the same incorrect structures (probably from their own first language grammatical patterns, using word-for-word translations). Bad habits are developed that become increasingly hard to break and the incentive to correct them is low because of the effort required. Fossilization occurs with both teachers and students accepting it as an almost inevitable part of second language acquisition. First language interference and lack of exposure to the second language is usually blamed..

Students who are fairly fluent in the second language appear to be an endorsement of current teaching methods. But the inability to write a formal letter, for example, tells a completely different story. This criticism is only based on my observations but, assuming that these have some substance, steps can be taken to prevent fossilization happening in the first place.

Fossilization prevention:

1. Help students to concentrate more on vocabulary, understanding and exposure to correct structures during the early phases - in a manner that encourages more learner autonomy outside of the classroom.
2. Important new words should be investigated, practised, organised and checked in a more logical fashion. This process could take place in a well-organized vocabulary notebook which moves away from complete reliance on translations as quickly as possible. (see link to website below)
3. Earlier exposure to grammar should be more selective and deeper. Some good grammatical habits would, in any case, be passively gained by reading / copying down correct sentences found in dictionaries etc during the vocabulary development process.
4. Allocate more time to genuine classroom interaction and communication - encourage students to bring personally interesting material with them for readings, dictations, discussion and general language expansion.
5. Place greater emphasis on grammar at a later stage when students are far more capable of dealing with this vitally important topic.

The ideas above encourage more learning by doing. Vocabulary is seen as the starting point of the process, with individual words being the foundations on which to start building - after investigating how those words are correctly used. Reliance on translation and early testing is minimised, reducing exposure to the sort of errors that may later become big, bad fossilized habits.

Will McCulloch
Freelance Teacher
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