correction, your english is fine: addendum

Upon reflection of my previous post, I believe that I may have missed the main point I was trying to make and so, if one would indulge me a bit further, I will take a second stab at it.

Speaking with a friend of mine today about class he told me a typical story that I’m sure anyone in ESL has seen and heard before. A question was asked of a student.

T – What is your favorite way to shop

S- My favorite is online shopping, because it’s bast.

T- Sorry, why?

S- it’s bast?

T- no, no, if you want to say “best” you need to say “it’s the best”

S- no, no, it’s bast

T- Yes, “the best”

S- NO teacher, bast!

T- Fast?

S- yes, yes, bast!

What would you do in this situation?

The T in question is from Britain. The S has a Korean-American accent. The T, to his credit, told the S that they could pronounce it any way they like, but that the students F sounded like a B.

I also give credit to the student, 99% of mine would shut up after the initial “sorry, why?” thinking they had said the wrong answer.

And that’s the problem. Even when they do carry on, it ends up being “their” fault, their pronunciation/grammar causing the mix up, and hence demotivates them from speaking out again.

What is to be done?

If the student had realized that, perhaps their accent/structure was impeding communication, they could have changed track. Teacher, my favorite way to shop is online, because it’s quick. Both parties immediately understand each other and communication can continue with both parties being on the same page.

THIS is why it is necessary not to correct our students. We should help them navigate the language they do know to try and communicate what they want to say. Change tact, come from a different angle. Thus reminding them of what they do know, and motivating them to find better avenues of expression for the future.

Considering the majority of our students will be using English with primarily non-native speakers, it’s a massive skill to have, and one that’s notable by its absence in being taught. Part of that, here in Korea, is the expectation of perfection.

One of my brightest students has turned in a book report near weekly for the entire year. I have helped her hone her revision skills and she has gotten much better. However, I still see her face drop every time she sees my notes all over the page. We sit down and talk about it, and I point out what should be rewritten, to be clearer. All the while pointing out all the things she has done right, AND most crucially, that most of the fixes are for academic writing, not communication issues. Still, I received my book report on schedule this week, this time with a hand written note at the end.

“I’m sorry teacher. I tried really hard, but I know there are still so many mistakes. I just want to be perfect.”

My heart dropped. I can’t wait to get her back in class, sit her down, and explain to her that no one, NO ONE ever writes perfectly. We all revise and fix and change. That can’t be her goal. I think I will spend some time helping her think through some reasonable, SMART, goals to works towards.

Anyway, that little anecdote sums it up. We shouldn’t me making little language replicas of ourselves, but that’s what happens. “No no student, we say it like this…” Who is we anyway?

I truly believe by helping our students use and navigate the language they know they will be wholly served better than by simply being given “the experts” advice.


4 thoughts on “correction, your english is fine: addendum

  1. I just gave feedback on 38 paragraph assignments and am about to email each student the results. It’s a hard balance between what they want (“correct everything so I can be perfect!”) and the issue you describe above. I’ll never stop being in awe of the complex nature of our work. Thank you for writing this John and for bringing “Who is we anyway?” back to the front.

    • Hi Josette,

      I too, am in awe, and love! the complexity of what we do! There are so many things to discover and learn about. Thank you for sharing your story and the positive vibes 😉


    • That’s great info Willy! Thanks so much for sharing. I will be diving into those articles at the earliest opportunity 😉

      Thanks also for the kind words.


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