Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Error Correction Practices of Polish and American Teachers. (Linguistics)

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Error Correction Practices of Polish and American Teachers. (Linguistics)

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

If a layperson were to be asked to enumerate the most distinguishing features of interaction in the foreign language classroom, he would probably insist on placing the provision of corrective feedback at the top of his list alongside direct instruction, teachers' questions, directives and explanations. The place of error correction in instructed second language acquisition is a highly controversial issue, however, and the attitude to errors committed by learners has undergone considerable modifications in the last few decades.

At the time when audioligualism was in its heyday, teachers, educators and researchers went to great lengths to prevent learners from making mistakes as it was believed that otherwise erroneous habits would be formed and a lot of time would have to be spent attempting to eradicate them. (1) Since, at that time, errors were generally considered to be the outcome of learners' mother tongue interference, Contrastive Analysis was employed to pinpoint the similarities and differences between pairs of languages and, thus, help teachers predict and focus on areas of potential difficulty. The situation changed dramatically with the advent of Error Analysis thanks to which it was discovered that the majority of errors made by second language learners were intralingual in origin rather than related to first language interference (cf. Ellis 1985), as well as the development of interlanguage theory with its claim that learner language was a system in its own right and that second language acquisition was the result of th e process of hypothesis formation and testing (cf. Corder 1967; Selinker 1972). Such views cast doubt on the notion of error itself as inaccuracies in learners' linguistic production could be interpreted as indispensable for language development, and it could be claimed that although some forms in their output did deviate from the native-speaker norm, learners still behaved grammatically in the sense that they drew on the rules they had internalized. The changing views on the nature of language development soon brought about significant modifications in second language pedagogy, which is best exemplified by the appearance of communicative language teaching with its focus on meaning and fluency rather than form and accuracy. Consequently, correcting learners' errors began to be looked upon with suspicion and some researchers went as far as claiming that it might even be detrimental.

However, as is the case with such controversial issues concerning language instruction as teaching the formal aspects of the language code or using the students' mother tongue in the classroom, adopting extreme positions of the kind discussed above does not appear to contribute anything of substance to second language pedagogy. Quite a few researchers currently agree that communicative language teaching in its pure form may not be sufficient for the development of full-fledged communicative competence in the target language and argue that, ideally, second language classrooms should create opportunities for students to participate in both meaning- and form-focused instruction (cf. van Lier 1991; Ellis 1992; Johnson 1996). If such a line of reasoning is adopted, skillful and timely provision of corrective feedback can be viewed as an important tool assisting learners in testing their hypotheses about the target language and, thus, moving along the interlanguage continuum. It also becomes fully warranted to inve stigate the nature of teachers' error correction practices, the impact of these practices on students' output and, most importantly, their contribution to the development of target language proficiency.

This paper attempts to build on the reasoning presented above by discussing the influence of such variables as teachers' linguistic background and teaching experience on the provision of corrective feedback as well as assessing the potential effect of that feedback on the development of the students' communicative competence in the foreign language context. …

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