Typos have always been a nightmare for me. The thing is that I can never spot them in my work. Not that I’m a careless person. On the contrary; since I started sharing my blog posts publicly, I’ve been extremely grammar conscious. Ironically, the more I look for typos in my writing, the worse. I always run a spell check which, unfortunately, often perfectly camouflages some types of typos. ‘I hate when my computer brakes down’ sounds perfectly all right for my spell checker. Anyway, homophones are always tricky (my ‘favourite’ ones are ‘I love plane clothes’ or the non-existent ‘I’m really greatful’). For obvious reasons I usually follow a tedious procedure of reading everything I write three times at least, spell checking it and coming back to it the next day. Leaving out one step can be fatal.
It’s the same with speaking. There are certain types of errors which, when uttered in a spontaneous speech, remain unnoticed by the speaker, even at very advanced levels (My brother sleep in the other room or Where did you went yesterday?). Not to mention the notorious error of confusing he with she and vice versa, which occurs across all levels of proficiency, and which, I suspect, has little to do with L2 development. Here I come to the point: what does this mean for the language classroom?
- Our students don’t usually make mistakes on purpose. Neither I nor my students speak and write incorrectly because we think it’s cool. We all want to become perfect in the end (or at least good). Our students simply make errors because their language is developing. The question is: should we penalize L2 learners for slips of the tongue and various kinds of typos? Should we subtract points for incorrect use at all? My answer is: no, provided learners do their best to avoid errors. In other words, L2 learners should undoubtedly become grammar conscious, more careful when producing L2 but definitely not discouraged by constant correction and failure. The problem is that we usually compare students’ performances with standards and against each other’s. If we compared a student’s performance against his/her previous one, it would be much more objective and just.
- Our students don’t sometimes notice their mistakes unless we highlight them in some way (even by encouraging peer correction). Well, the question is whether learners would finally improve without explicit correction. Some maintain they would because kids eventually acquire their mother tongue without really getting much correction from their parents. But in an L2 classroom, the situation is diametrically different. L2 learners are not exposed to the target language so intensively. Moreover, in homogenous classes (those consisting of learners with the same L1 background), errors may become fossilized because the learners don’t experience communication breakdowns, i.e. everybody understands everyone and so everybody is happy.
- Our students make progress but each of them at a different pace. So while some learners need just a slight hint to spot an error, others need more time, practice and feedback. Not to mention the fact that spotting and becoming aware of an error doesn’t necessarily mean one will use the language item correctly next time. This is not always respected at schools. All students are supposed to acquire the matter at the same time – ideally by the time of assessment. This expectation is unrealistic; it’s like expecting all babies to start walking at the same time.
The aim of this post is to raise awareness among teachers. I’m trying to spread a message. I only ask for more patience because I know what it feels like to fail. I also ask for more meaningful practice. Once our students get real audience, they’ll naturally want to improve. So let’s do our best to promote written production, such as blogging, in our classes. Let’s do more team work and project work because correction occurs spontaneously and naturally there. Let’s encourage our students to get used to being listened to. I have no doubt that those who’ve read this post don’t need my advice anyway, but isn’t it good to know that there are some teachers out there on the same wavelength?