Published 11th April 2017

The one goal of all our EFL learners is to speak English effectively, appropriately and, preferably, without errors. This is why, over the years, there has been a lot of focus on error correction in the classroom and how and when it should be done, with the result that error correction during speaking is now an integral part of our EFL lessons.

But are we sure that error correction actually works?

There are a number of arguments these days that error correction during speaking is intrusive and disturbing and will cause our learners to feel shy to speak up, afraid to make a mistake. The last thing we want to do is make our learners lose confidence so perhaps we should let them make mistakes and stay out of it?

Thankfully for us, whenever we have questions regarding EFL or our classroom practices, there always seems to be someone who has had the same question before us and who has had the time to do research on it, which is the case with error correction.

The research clearly shows that error correction is useful and it improves fluency, accuracy and communication. Studies have even shown that learners who received error correction learnt a language point better than those who did not. However, a necessary factor affecting the usefulness of error correction is whether or not the learner notices the correction; error correction needs to be explicit in order for it to be effective.

What’s more, the argument about the confidence-damaging effects of error correction are largely unfounded. In general, learners understand the reason for error correction and appreciate it. As their ideal is perfect language, they know they need to go through a process of error correction to get there.

So how can you incorporate error correction in speaking in our EFL lessons?

Be smart about it. You obviously don’t want to interrupt someone mid-sentence every time they make a mistake but if you choose your interruptions it can be a very effective way of drawing your learners’ attention to their mistakes.

Be sensitive too. Students may appreciate error correction but you may still find students can be a bit sensitive at the time they are corrected, so make sure you correct in a polite and gentle manner.

Lastly, make sure that they are aware of the error correction – what the error is and what the correction is – or the effectiveness will be lost.

If you are not convinced your students will appreciate error correction during their speaking activities: ask them. You might be surprised by how they feel.