Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

An Algorithmic Approach to Error Correction: An Empirical Study

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

An Algorithmic Approach to Error Correction: An Empirical Study

Article excerpt


This article reports on the results of a research study that investigated the effectiveness of using an algorithmic approach to error correction to help Hong Kong English-as-a-second-language (ESL) learners overcome persistent lexico-grammatical problems. Ten error types were selected for the experiment, and one set of remedial instructional materials was designed for each error type. The materials were implemented with more than 450 students at both secondary and tertiary levels. Pretests, posttests, and delayed posttests were administered to test the effectiveness of the approach, and a plenary review meeting was organized to gather feedback. The results showed that the approach was versatile and effective and that the students showed significant improvements for the items taught. It is argued that form-focused remedial instruction is effective in enhancing learners' language accuracy in their second language (L2) output.

Key words: algorithmic approach, error correction, ESL (English as a second language), lexico-grammatical errors, second language acquisition (SLA)

Language: English


According to the advocates of the communicative language teaching (CLT) approach, language is acquired through communication (Howatt, 1984) rather than through overt teaching of the patterns of the system. Meaning is seen as of paramount importance and communicative competence is the desired goal (Richards & Rodgers, 1986). CLT advocates believe that learners can develop greater communicative skills through a natural environment and that if they get enough exposure to the language, they can master the target language in much the same way that a child's first language (Ll) is acquired (Krashen, 1982, 1985; Lightbown & Spada, 1990). Through learners' language production, either spoken or written, language acquisition may occur (cf. The Output Hypothesis, Swain 1993; Swain, 1985), as language production provides one with the opportunity for "meaningful practice of one's linguistic resources permitting the development of automaticity in their use" (Swain, 1993, p. 159). On the other hand, the use of explicit grammar rules and the correction of grammatical errors are often seen as counterproductive to learning, on the grounds that learners' motivation to use the target language may be impeded (Li & Chan, 2001).

Despite CLT advocates' disregard of the importance of error correction, handling students' grammatical accuracy is often regarded by second and foreign language teachers as one of their most trying tasks. From time to time, teachers' complaints about students' recurrent grammatical or structural problems and their difficulties in mastering the language norms may be heard in and outside of the staff office. Recent research in second language acquisition (SLA) has shown that learners may or may not notice the errors that they have made (Schmidt, 1990, 1992), and even if an anomalous form is noticed, the learners are often not equipped with the linguistic competence to self-correct the anomaly. Because errors cannot be self-corrected until relevant input has been provided and converted into intake by the learner (James, 1998), teachers' intervention in the form of explicit correction is essential. If errors are not corrected, then various aspects of a learner's interlanguage may fossilize, and he or she will not be able to "progress to fully mature linguistic competence" (Tomasello & Herron, 1988, p. 237).

Several recent studies in SLA research have shown that explicit second language (L2) instruction does make a difference in learners' acquisition of target language norms. Doughty (1991), for example, argued that "attention to form, either via detailed analysis of structure or highlighting of target language (TL) structures in context, promotes acquisition of interlanguage (IL) grammar" (p. 431). Lando (1998) showed that explicit and intensive form-focused instruction encourages an increased and more accurate use of other features that are closely related to the targeted ones when they are combined with continuous meaning-focused practice of instructed features. …

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