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The role of error correction in language learning INTRODUCTION

There are many definitions of error made so far and there seems to be no consensus on a single definition. Researchers like Allwright and Bailey (1996) have rightly become aware of the importance of speaking context, the intention of the teacher and student and the prior learning of the students in the process of deciding what an error is. Therefore, researchers dealing with error treatment have chosen the definition applying to their own research context.

Making errors is the most natural thing in the world and it is evidently attached to the human being. But, how do we define error? There are different definitions of the word and as Ellis (1994) explains "learners make errors in both comprehension and production, the first being rather scanty investigated. Children learning their first language (Ll), adult nativ e speakers, second language learners; they all make errors which have a different name according to the group committing the error. Children's errors have been seen as "transitional forms", the native speakersones are called "slips of the tongue" and the second language (L2) errors are considered "unwanted forms" (George, 1972).

According to Lennon (1991) an error is "a linguistic form or combination of forms which in the same context and under similar conditions of production would, in all likelihood, not be produced by the speakers' native speakers counterparts". In the second language teaching or learning process, the error has always been regarded as something negative which must be avoided. As a consequence, teachers have always adopted a repressive attitude towards it. On one hand, it was considered to be a sign of inadequacy of the teaching techniques and on the other hand it was seen as a natural result of the fact that since by nature we cannot avoid making errors we should accept the reality and try to deal with them. Fortunately, little by little the error has been seen from a different point of view being made obvious that we can learn from our mistakes.

From another perspective of viewer, error correction is a response either to the content of what a student has produced or to the form of the utterance (Richards and Lockharts, 1996: 188). When the focus is on forms, it is supposed to help learners to reflect

on the wrong forms and finally produce right forms (Krashen, 1987). More specifically, as Truscot (1996, cited in Ferris, 2003: 42) states, the correction of grammatical errors can help students improve their ability to write accurately. Stern (1992: 51) includes it as a part of the grammar learning processes.

An oral error is broadly defined as a form unwanted by the teacher in the given teaching/learning context (Mosbah, 2007). Also, the term corrective feedback or error correction needs to be defined. It is the teacher reaction that transforms, disapproves or demands improvement of the learner utterance (Chaudron,1977). Another term in need of clarification is uptake that refers to different types of student responses following the feedback, including responses with repair of the non-target items as well as utterances still in need of repair (Lyster &Ranta, ibid). The correction may come from the student, a peer or the teacher.

It is quite obvious that errors are integral parts of language learning and error correction has a significant role in improving learners writing accuracy. However, there are many issues which need careful consideration such as teachers and learners roles in error correction, what errors to correct, how much, who, and how. In addition, learners level and attitudes need to be taken into consideration. Hence, error correction can be very complicated since all these factors will influence its efficacy.

LITERATURE REVIEW An article related to this topic is written by Azizollah Dabaghi from Iran. This article reports on a study which investigated the effects of correction of learners' grammatical errors on acquisition. Specifically, it compared the effects of timing of correction (immediate versus delayed correction) and manner of correction (explicit versus implicit correction). It also investigated the relative effects of correction of morphological versus syntactic features and correction of developmental early versus developmental late features. Data for the study were collected from 56 intermediate level students of English as a Foreign Language in Iranian university and private language school settings. Each participant was required to read and then retell a written text in their own words during an oral interview with the researcher. During or following the interview, the researcher corrected the participants' grammatical errors implicitly (using recasts) or explicitly (providing metalinguistic information). Individualised tests focusing on the errors that had been corrected were constructed for each participant and administered. Statistical analyses were conducted on the scores participants received on their individualised tests. Results showed no significant differences for the timing of correction. However, significant differences were found for the manner of correction. Participants who received explicit correction gained significantly higher scores than those who received implicit correction. This finding lends support to the argument of Schmidt (1994) concerning the role of metalinguistic awareness in language acquisition. Correction of morphological features was found to be more effective than that of syntactic features. It is argued that morphological features are generally learnt as items whereas syntactic features involve system learning. Correction of developmental early features was found to be more effective than correction of developmental late features.This finding lends support to suggestions that corrective feedback (like other types of form-focused instruction) needs to take into account learners' cognitive readiness to acquire features (Pienemann 1984; Mackey 1999). Another research that related to this topic has been conducted by Icy Lee from Hong Kong. This research has focused mostly on whether teachers should correct errors in student writing and how they should go about it. Much less has been done to ascertain L2 writing teachers' perceptions and practices present as well as students' seeks beliefs to and attitudes the

regarding errorfeedback. The



existing error correction practices in the Hong Kong secondary writing classroom from both the teacher and student perspectives. Data were gathered from three main sources: (1) a









teacher error correction task, and (3) a student survey made up of a questionnaire and followup interviews. The results revealed that both teachers and students preferred

comprehensive error feedback, the teachers used a limited range of error feedback strategies, and only about half of the teacher corrections of student errors were accurate. The study also showed that the students were reliant on teachers in error correction, and that the teachers were not much aware of the long-term significance of error feedback. Possible implications pertaining to ways to improve current error correction practices were discussed. Nevertheless, few issues in second language teaching have generated as much controversy as that of error correction. In fact, one of the most discouraging experiences of L2 teachers is correcting errors especially those that recur in their students' production. A possible explanation may be the mismatch between what teachers and students consider to be effective feedback on error correction. Although much has been published on

error taxonomies, detection, analysis and evaluation, there is a dearth of research studies comparing teachers' and students' perceptions. An article have been written by David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra endeavours to help fill this void. The study involved 21 informants. Eleven of them were undergraduate students who had no teaching experience or qualifications, whereas the other 10 were qualified teachers of English as a foreign language with between three and 13 years' experience. After watching an excerpt from a commercially produced teaching video twice, the participants were asked to detect the errorcorrection moves made by the teacher, classify them, judge their efficiency and record their opinions individually and in groups. The results indicated that a significant percentage of the teachers' error-correction moves went unnoticed. Teachers and students agreed that the most efficient corrections occurred when more time, longer explanations, and use of

different correction strategies were utilised.

Roles of teachers in error correction

Language teachers hold the authority to correct learners errors, especially regarding the fact that the learners value and expect teachers feedback on their written work. Thus, language teachers play several important roles as follows:

Judges As the one being authoritative in the classroom, teachers have the right to set the standard of what the learners have to achieve in the writing course (Creme and Lea, 1997: 44; Scott, 1996: 120). However, learners level has to be taken into consideration so that they are capable of achieving the expectation (Ferris, 2003). Thus, teachers have to adjust their expectation and teaching method to suit the learners level. Teachers should also identify common errors learners make so that they have some thought of what to do next with their teaching methodology (Leech, 1994).

Designers As designers, teachers should always concern about what is best and suitable for learners. This way, they should update themselves with what is going on inside their classroom, to be able to make right pedagogic decision to apply particular error correction methods. Preferably, teachers are advocated to exchange information and experience with other colleagues to expand their insight, and hopefully, to get new ideas on error correction methods.

Scholars In order to provide correction to learners, teachers must act as scholars, who are equipped with knowledge of the target language, such as grammar, vocabulary and so forth to enable them to provide correction to learners writing (Leech, 1994). In addition, teachers have to put themselves on learners shoes. For instance, by understanding the source of errors and implementing the process of simplification so that they are able to transfer their knowledge in such a clear and simple way to learners at different proficiency level (Leech, 1994).

Motivators Learners affective side also plays important roles in enhancing their language progress. Motivation is a powerful desire which drives learners to accomplish more. Generally, it is unpleasant experience to be corrected and some of learners may get frustrated and demotivated because they might not know what to do. That is why teachers have to inspire and convince learners that teachers welcome their questions and worries. Positive comments on their work are also accommodating to motivate learners to pursue more (Wright, 1987; Richards & Lockhart, 1996).

Trainers Teachers have to boost learners confidence and train them to be more independent in their learning. Teachers are encouraged to give learners more chances to have peer feedback session so that they will go through the process of correcting others work. Teachers should also help learners to identify their individual errors; thus, they have to pay more attention to those errors. This way, learners will be equipped to learn how to self correct their writing (Ferris, 2002; Xiang, 2004).

Roles of learners in error correction

Teachers effort will be less effective unless learners want to give right responses. Thus, learners have to involve themselves in the error correction process by playing the following roles:

Active participants in the class Having good interaction between teachers and learners is crucial to establish a conducive learning atmosphere. It is not an easy task for teachers to identify and acknowledge each language problem of their learners; thus learners cooperation is needed. They are expected to help teachers set expectations of the classroom, possibly by expressing their problems in writing and how they want to be corrected. Thus, they help teachers to make the right pedagogic decision on error correction methods.

Attentive monitors of learners progress Learners are encouraged to monitor their progress by paying more attention to their common errors. Learners can take notes of their errors and correction, for instance, on their notebook or error awareness sheet. Then, they can always review what they have read so that they can ask their teachers for help or further practices.

Autonomous learners Learners progress depends not only on the teachers effort, but also on their own. So, learners need to be engaged in the error correction process because it will enhance their language acquisition. This step will lead them to be autonomous learners that are able to self correct their written work (Gower, Phillips, & Walter, 1995: 165; Xiang, 2004).

Suggestion methods of teaching in error correction Knowing teachers and learners roles in giving feedback to learners learning is only the beginning to ensure correction efficiency. It is crucial for teachers to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of correction methods according to the learners real situation. The following will be devoted to the explanation of coded feedback and direct correction. Furthermore, the necessity of adopting reformulation for the sake of learners improvement in learning skills is also explored.

Coded feedback VS direction correction

Among the methods used in error correction, direct and indirect feedback constitute the most important dichotomy (Ferris 2002). Direct feedback, as the title notes, requires the teachers responsibility to offer the correct forms to learners, whereas indirect feedback involves both teachers and learners in the error correction process, in which teachers indicate the errors and its learners who correct them (Ferris 2002). Coded feedback and direct correction are two strategies which can respectively reflect the main features of indirect and direct feedback.

Coded feedback does not only indicate where errors are located, but also types of mistakes by using a correcting code (Bartram and Walton, 1991: 84). In real pedagogical situation, the codes are designed according to learners common errors as a class group. In real pedagogical situation, the codes are designed according to learners common errors as a class group. In our teaching experience our error codes serve to indicate learners common errors in grammar, vocabulary and spelling. Direct correction, as one common form of direct feedback, is implemented through underlining the errors and providing the right forms in the learners written work. The definitions show that both of the correction methods indicate learners errors but differ in how to indicate errors and who to correct them.

Coded feedback makes correction much neater due to the simple and systematical codes (Harmer, 2001). Besides, this method involves learners in the self-correction process and helps them learn more effectively (Gower, Phillips & Walters, 1995). Meanwhile, it arouses learners responsibility in correction and improves their writing accuracy in the long run (Ferris 2002). However, since codes just cover the common errors and limited, those

individual errors may be ignored. This is quite understandable since errors are usually made by individual students (Gower, Phillips & Walters, 1995:168). In addition, coded feedback is threatening and hard to be self-corrected for low proficiency learners (Ferris, 2002). Also, when coded feedback is used, one point teachers and learners must bear in mind is that they must understand what the codes mean, be consistent with and accustomed to the codes (Bartram & Walton 1991; Ferris 2002). Otherwise chaos may occur due to the misinterpretation of the codes.

Direct correction gives learners right answers beside the marked errors, learners especially those with low proficiency find direction correction less threatening and thus helpful before they have acquired the ability to correct their own errors (Ferris 2002). Our learners all looked relaxed when we required them to rewrite their writing marked with direct correction. They seldom asked us questions about how to correct, but learners who got coded feedback looked confused about how to correct and asked for a lot of help from their classmates and teachers. Nevertheless, the dangers of its spoon-feeding effect are that learners overlook their own role in the correction process and may become passive (Hedge 2000).

Although teachers can let learners revise their writing, learners can just mechanically copy the ready-made correction without figuring out the reasons. The learning results through direct correction are worse than coded feedback to some extent.

To make full use of the advantages of coded feedback and direction correction and avoid their disadvantages, teachers can consider combining them together. For instance, coded feedback is too limiting because not all errors are meant to be coded and some errors are too complicated for codes, thus direct correction is necessary to create the convenience.

Reformulation as a supplementary method

When giving feedback to learners written work, teachers normally focus on correcting the wrong use of basic vocabulary, grammatical forms, spelling and punctuation to make the written work acceptable. However, Cohen (1990: 117) claims that the evaluation is partial since it mainly focuses on the low-level accuracy, but ignores the higher-level style, such as appropriate word dictions, native-like organizations of the whole writing. That is to say, learners who receive only corrective feedback still need to go a long way to improve their

target language writing style. Actually, learners with a certain level in the target language have the intention to produce natural target language writing and have a stronger desire for evaluation on this aspect. They are not satisfied with their errors being corrected, but also want to know how to rework their expression to make it sound natural (Bartram & Walton, 1991).

Reformulation, as another form of indirect feedback, can meet learners need. Cohen (1990) suggests that learners should revise their writing until its well formed in grammar and mechanics, then reconstruct it to make it reflect what they mean to say based on a teachers or a native speakers comment, and finally learners can ask a competent native speaker to reformulate the entire reconstructed writing or part of it. Learners are expected to be exposed to native-like expression for the same idea and thus improve their writing skills as they compare the reconstructed and the reformulated version. Also, the personalized feedback can motivate learners to pay much attention to and benefit form it.

Nevertheless, reformulation is primarily for intermediate and advanced L2 learners because they have acquired the ability to learn form it. And the reformulator should be reminded not to twist the original meaning of the writing so that learners can really recognize the gap between their acceptable writing and the stylistic one produced by a native speaker. For learners who can not find a native reformulator, they may ask their nonnative L2 teachers with high proficiency to do the job. However, it is predictable that there is still a gap of realizing some of the stylistic subtleties of the language between a non-native teacher and a native speaker (Cohen, 1990). So, teachers should try to offer learners chances to know some native speakers or help them ask for help through the pen-pal channel through internet. Of course, teachers should make great efforts to improve their L2 level to help learners as much as possible.


Developing learners positive attitudes towards correction in L2 learning

In order to achieve an effective error correction method, it is very important for teachers to have a clear understanding of the nature of errors. As Corder (1967, cited in Cook, 1995: 22) explains that errors are learners way of testing their hypothesis about the nature of the language they are learning; hence it should be viewed with openness and acceptance especially during their early stage of language learning. As Krashen (1987: 74) says that they are inevitable and plentiful as learners learn and experiment the use of the language they are learning. In short, errors are inherent to learners works and the feedback teachers give to their works play a vital role in developing their writing skills. As Raimes (1998) points out the tremendous impact of feedbacks and their potential to influence students attitude in writing, it is, therefore, necessary for teachers to reflect on the manner for which corrections are given. More importantly, students responses to these corrections should be taken into consideration. Error correction touches not only the cognitive skills, but also the affective aspects of language learning, which include feelings and attitudes (see Bates, Lane and Lange, 1993: Krashen, 1987; Arnold and Brown, 1999; & Cathcart and Olsen, 1976, cited in Ellis, 1994). However, the following negative reactions frequently manifest in L2 error correction, which need to be understood by the teachers: Discouragement Learners who lack the confidence about their L2 knowledge will likely to be discouraged with correction feedback. This attitude comes from fear of not knowing what to do with the correction given by the teacher, especially when corrections are given without explanation. Also, comments like whats this? or I dont understand what you are saying here? are harmful to learners self-esteem. Resistance It is based on the learners belief of what is right and wrong. In terms of language learning, it depends on their level of proficiency and previous knowledge. Therefore, it is a must for teachers to know learners level and previous knowledge to avoid this reaction.

Passiveness This is a difficult reaction to deal with, but with the right and businesslike approach it can be overcome in due time. There could be various reasons for this attitude and they require teachers generosity to spare their time and effort in order to identify them.

Given these negative reactions, the effectiveness of a particular error correction depends on its implementation. Both teachers and learners have to be willing to embrace the journey of transforming the negative reactions to positive outlook. Teachers must provide the necessary assistance. The following are some suggestions: Firstly, conduct an error correction orientation/workshop before implementing a particular method. The orientation will familiarize the learners with the method of correction to be used. This will also give them the chance to see for themselves if they could cope with the chosen correction method. In the orientation or workshop, give the learners the chance to evaluate the method based on their capacity to self-correct, that is, for example, coded feedback which requires self-correction. The important thing here is for the learners to build up their confidence in responding to their own errors through the error correction method used in class. Secondly, encourage learners to keep an error correction notebook. The notebook will contain error entries and corrections made. This will help learners monitor their errors and review the corrections made. The relevance of the error correction notebook will depend on how the teacher will use this in helping learners become independent. Perhaps the teacher could check the notebook once in a while or may complement it with a journal entry after two or three writing assignments. This will give learners the chance to reflect on their errors and hopefully avoid or lessen them. In additional, give positive comments and acknowledge learners progress in L2 learning. This self-evident suggestion touches on learners motivation and willingness to improve. A teachers response of This is wrong! Rewrite it! will not encourage a learner, but rather will discourage him/her. On the other hand, a comment like, Do you mean this? or This is not clear, perhaps you would like to revise it. What do you think? or something like I like what youve written here. Or this is interesting and so on will boost learners morale. The positive comments will neutralize the negative emotions created by the corrections on

grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. In short, the feedback should be for clarification of the learners ideas and meanings rather than for confrontation purposes. Lastly, give remedial session highlighting learners recurring errors to develop learners awareness of common errors. This is face saving for learners whose errors will be highlighted because it will console them that they are not alone in making those errors. Just make sure that no names are mentioned when highlighting the errors.


Error Analysis Error 1: Im not dare to ask my boss for a raise. Correction: I dare not ask my boss for a raise. (Details of speaker: Age: 25, Ethnic group: Malay, Education level: SPM level, Languages spoken: Bahasa Melayu & English, Mother tongue: Bahasa Melayu)

Error 2: Its raining out there, arent it? Correction: Its raining out there, dont it? (Details of speaker: Age: 25, Ethnic group: Malay, Education level: SPM level, Languages spoken: Bahasa Melayu & English, Mother tongue: Bahasa Melayu)

Error 3: The movie that i watched last night was such a amazing movie. Correction: The movie that i watched last night was such an amazing movie. (Details of speaker: Age: 25, Ethnic group: Malay, Education level: SPM level, Languages spoken: Bahasa Melayu & English, Mother tongue: Bahasa Melayu)

Error 4: My brother dont like coffee, but he like tea. Correction: My brother doesnt like coffee, but he likes tea. (Details of speaker: Age: 25, Ethnic group: Malay, Education level: SPM level, Languages spoken: Bahasa Melayu & English, Mother tongue: Bahasa Melayu)


Error 5: There is some milk in fridge. Correction: There is some milk in the fridge. (Details of speaker: Age: 25, Ethnic group: Malay, Education level: SPM level, Languages spoken: Bahasa Melayu & English, Mother tongue: Bahasa Melayu)

Error 6: There is a lot of apples in the basket. Correction: There are a lot of apples in the basket. (Details of speaker: Age: 8, Ethnic group: Malay, Education level: Primary school, Languages spoken: Bahasa Melayu & English, Mother tongue: Bahasa Melayu)

Error 7: Darshen Dave got come today. Correction: Darshen Dave is coming today. (Details of speaker: Age: 8, Ethnic group: Malay, Education level: Primary school, Languages spoken: Bahasa Melayu & English, Mother tongue: Bahasa Melayu)

Error 8: She is very beautiful woman. Correction: She is a very beautiful woman. (Details of speaker: Age: 8, Ethnic group: Malay, Education level: Primary school, Languages spoken: Bahasa Melayu, Mother tongue: Bahasa Melayu)



As a conclusion, teachers of English should get involved in classroom research and take the role of a pedagogic explorer in order to become aware of their current practices in the classroom. As Tedick and de Gortari (1998) suggest, teachers should take the teaching context into account and get to know what kind of classroom behaviors they display. They also point out that teachers should practice a variety of feedback techniques as different techniques might appeal to different students in terms of their needs, proficiency level, age and classroom objectives. Because these factors have an influence on whether to correct, which errors to correct and how to correct, studies done in some other settings can yield different results and thus there is a need for further research conducted with different classrooms and learners. Classroom research will help teachers gain the awareness that each class is a small world requiring special attention with its unique dynamics.


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