As mentioned in Error Correction 1, students can differ greatly in their attitude to producing spoken English. Some are only interested in developing their fluency at the expense of accuracy while others are so focused on accuracy that they have no fluency.

Error Correction 2 - methodology article

While these are clearly extremes, it is not unusual to find students like this in a typical class. In Error Correction 2 we look at...

  • A basic approach to improving fluency and accuracy
  • Dictogloss - A way of raising students' awareness of their inter-language
  • Criteria for dealing with spoken errors
  • Practical techniques for correcting spoken English
  • Further reading

A basic approach to improving fluency and accuracy
In contrast to writing, students have very little processing time when it comes to speaking, so it is hardly surprising that the following may occur.

  • Students don't experiment with new language presented by the teacher.
  • At lower levels students' output is mostly lexical.
  • The more accuracy-focused students test the patience of the listener in the time they take to say something.
  • The speech of some very fluent students is littered with errors and therefore may have a negative effect on the listener.


Just as with writing we can help students to improve their accuracy and fluency. Teachers can help students improve their fluency by giving guided preparation time for a task. Students receive specific guidance in choosing appropriate language as well as rehearsal time. Task-based learning research shows that this leads to a greater range of language being used.

When it comes to accuracy, research into second language acquisition says that the first stage of improving accuracy is awareness-raising. Namely, raising students' awareness of gaps in their inter-language. You can do this by using a recording of teachers / higher level students performing the same task that your students have done. Use awareness-raising exercises to focus on specific linguistic areas in the recording.

Dictogloss - A way of raising students' awareness of their inter-language
Dictogloss (see 'Grammar Dictation' by R.Wajnryb OUP) is a very effective technique for doing this. After an introduction to the subject and some pre-teaching of essential lexis, students are read a text twice. The first time they listen to get the gist of the text. The second time they have to note down the key words. Then, in groups they work together to produce a version of the text. The emphasis is on successfully communicating the main points using their English. If they can reproduce the original text, that is great, but it is not essential. The teacher and groups then correct their texts and compare them with the original. The aim is to make students aware of the gaps in their inter-language.

Criteria for dealing with spoken errors
In 'Correction' by M.Bartram and R.Walton, these questions are presented as a guide to deciding whether to let an error go or not. Which do you consider to be the most important?

1. Does the mistake affect communication?
2. Are we concentrating on accuracy at the moment?
3. Is it really wrong? Or is it my imagination?
4. Why did the student make the mistake?
5. Is it the first time the student has spoken for a long time?
6. Could the student react badly to my correction?
7. Have they met this language point in the current lesson?
8. Is it something the students have already met?
9. Is this a mistake that several students are making?
10. Would the mistake irritate someone?
11. What time is it?
12. What day is it?
13. What's the weather like?

Practical techniques / ideas for correcting spoken English

  • On-the-spot correction techniques.
    These are used for dealing with errors as they occur.
    • Using fingers
      For example, to highlight an incorrect form or to indicate a word order mistake.
    • Gestures
      For example, using hand gestures to indicate the use of the wrong tense.
    • Mouthing
      This is useful with pronunciation errors. The teacher mouths the correct pronunciation without making a sound. For example, when an individual sound is mispronounced or when the word stress is wrong. Of course it can also be used to correct other spoken errors.
    • Reformulation
      For example:
      Student: I went in Scotland
      Teacher: Oh really, you went to Scotland, did you?
  • Delayed Correction techniques - For example, after a communication activity.
    • Noting down errors
      Either on an individual basis i.e. focusing on each student's mistakes or for the class as a whole. 'Hot cards', as Bartram and Walton call individual notes, can be used to focus on recurring mistakes. The student then has a written suggestion of what to work on.
    • Recording
      In addition to recording students (individually, in pairs etc.) during a speaking task to make them aware of errors that affect communication we can use a technique from Community Language Learning. Students sit in a circle with a tape recorder in the centre. In monolingual classes they check with the teacher, who is bilingual, about how to say something in English, then rehearse it and record it. At the end of the lesson they listen back to the tape and can focus on specific utterances etc. With higher level multilingual classes students take part in a discussion which they have prepared for in advance. When they have something to say they record themselves and then pause the tape. Just as with monolingual classes they can use the teacher as a linguistic resource. At the end of the discussion students analyse their performance with the teacher. The focus is on improving the quality of what they say and expanding their inter-language. Although this form of discussion may seem a bit artificial it has two main advantages:
      • Students pay more attention to what they say as they are taking part in a kind of performance (it is being recorded)
      • Students not only become more aware of gaps in their spoken English but also can see how their spoken English is improving.


Rolf Donald, teacher and teacher trainer, Eastbourne School of English

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