ESL teachers must walk a fine line.
Our goal is fluency in our students, and we design curriculum and lesson plans to meet that goal. We are excited when our students use language correctly and begin to attain fluency. Even when they have not reached fluency, we celebrate the little victories along the way. After all, language learning takes time, and no student or teacher should expect immediate perfection. But in our excitement, it’s possible to overlook errors in our students’ language use. We accept questionable pronunciation and grammatical errors because our students are doing more today than they did last week.
This isn’t necessarily a big issue in the classroom. All of your students are in the process of learning English, and you have the experience to know what your students mean even if it isn’t exactly what they are saying. But what happens when your students leave the classroom? What happens when they need superior language skills for their careers or when speaking with unsympathetic English speakers? In these and other situations, accurate language use is important.
The Fine Line
If we think about it, we know that accurate language use is important. We want our students to have good pronunciation, choose language appropriate to the context, and speak fluently and free of grammatical errors. This goal, though, is difficult to achieve. And to get there, teachers must walk the fine line between correcting their students’ incorrect language use while not discouraging them from speaking. If our students feel overcorrected, their speech is likely to become slow, choppy and hesitant. The good news is you can make efforts to foster accuracy in your students in ways that will not discourage them from using the language they know. Here are four simple ways to do that.
It is easy to emphasize courageous language use so much that accuracy is less than a second thought. To avoid this trap, emphasize accuracy issues early in your lessons. Make sure, when you present a lesson to your students, they are clear about correct language usage, the right pronunciation and the potential errors they could make. Take time to point out how to use this language accurately. By emphasizing accurate language use early, your students will be thinking about their own accuracy as they experiment with the new language structures they are learning.
Can You Repeat That?
Another key element to fostering accuracy in your students is repetition. By offering your students many opportunities to see and practice correct language usage, you will engrain in them the language patterns you want to see. Keep in mind you do not have to limit repetition to one lesson. Consider covering the same grammar topics or vocabulary several times throughout the year. There is no reason you cannot teach noun clauses in the career unit and then again in the food unit of your class. You could also teach food vocabulary a second time when you talk about restaurant careers. Don’t feel as though you are wasting your students’ time when you go over a topic more than once. It often takes several times going over the same material to really cement it in their minds.
Make a Point
Communication is of utmost importance, and you should encourage your students to use the language that they know. But you can balance this emphasis on communication with reminders of the need for accuracy. If your students do not know why they need accurate language usage, they may not be motivated to strive toward it. Take every possible opportunity to stress that accuracy is important in language use. When your students see that accuracy is important to you and they understand why it is important in real world language use, they will value it themselves and as a result will try to achieve it.
You’re Not the Boss of Me
When teachers correct and over correct their students, there are several possible negative outcomes. But who says you have to be the one to point out all the language errors in your classroom? Make your students responsible for noticing and correcting their own errors. Teach them how to make corrections as they speak. Give them tools for self-evaluation. And do not discourage peer correction. When everyone in the class plays a part in fostering accurate language, you are no longer the bad guy who loves to see your students make mistakes.
Accurate language is important for language fluency, and with these simple strategies you can encourage accurate language in your students. Give attention to accurate language early in your lessons, teach your students the value of accurate language use and encourage them to be aware of their own mistakes. If you do these things, you will see your students reaching new heights in their language fluency.