Optimize mistakes to learn foreign language

Mistakes, a tool to accelerate foreign languages learning

« When you forbid mistakes, you steal victory »  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Fear of error is the lock of learning. In the context of foreign languages, the avoidance strategy is its most common manifestation. The learner does not dare to answer, looks for the shortest and least risky sentences, or expresses himself in basic mode: “yes”, “no”, and “I don’t know”.

Are all mistakes equal when you speak in another language?
Is a fault more serious than a confusion?
Does a careless mistake carry the same weight as systematic misuse?
Can a false friend embarrass you?

Moreover, should errors be corrected?

To correct or not to correct errors when learning foreign languages

Using mistakes to give meaning

 

The question may come as a surprise, but the controversy is raging. Neuroscience supports correction. In his recent book, “Learning! The talents of the brain, the challenge of machines“,  neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene invites us to accept the error: “It is the very condition of learning, it allows the brain to update our mental models. »
(L’entretien du dimanche – Sud Ouest 21/10/2018)

When to correct? The dilemma in foreign language learning

When is correcting mistakes better?

 

“Mistakes should not be punished. They should be corrected. And the faster a correction is made, the more effective it is,” recommends Stanislas Dehaene. However, this advice is difficult to apply for foreign language teachers. Mastering a foreign language requires the acquisition of two skills: fluency and accuracy.

“Accuracy means the ability to speak correctly without mistakes. Fluency means speaking, reading, etc. with a natural pace and cadence without long pauses,” says Abbie, Master English Coach at VivaLingA language teacher must work to balance the emphasis on the two: not to ensure accuracy while sacrificing fluency and causing a learner to second-guess everything and speak with long gaps or pauses; at the same time, not only encouraging fluency with no consideration of correct usage, especially mistakes that can affect the overall meaning understood by the listener (such as using the wrong verb tense, a “false friend” from the learners primary language, or a word with the wrong connotation in the target language).”

Optimize mistakes as a learning tool

Mistakes as a learning tool

 

 

“Errors are part of the process of acquiring a new language. At VivaLing, our teachers spot which parts were hard for the students to learn and then reinforce and pay more attention to the similar points in the next sessions, explains Jing, Mandarin master coach.

“The most important thing I would like parents to understand, continues Coach Abbie, is that it is important that language learners develop accuracy and fluency simultaneously and that both are equally important. »

As is often the case, the solution lies in a wide range of strategies, to be adapted to the student’s situation and personality.

  When to focus on fluidity?

“If the teacher and student carry a meaningful conversation, communication should be the most important thing, points out Jing. Once students have expressed themselves, the teacher can repeat their general idea using the appropriate vocabulary, grammar or mode of expression. Most of the students will realize their mistakes.”

This constitutes the subtle principles of delayed error correction. “It means allowing the learner to finish their thought or sentence (fluency) before addressing the errors (accuracy)” states coach Abbie.

“If we are working on a free activity where there are no specific instructions (for example, “What do you usually do on a weekday?”), I don’t correct or only slightly” confirms Nuria, Spanish master coach. “I  just let the learner flow like it would happen in a real situation with natives (natives don’t correct you all the time).”

  When to focus on precision?

“On the other hand, when we are drilling a specific point of the language and the student makes mistakes, we correct them immediately. This part of immediate feedback is included in our Villa pedagogy,” says coach Jing, “so the students won’t repeat the same mistake over and over again.”

“In controlled practice activities,” Coach Nuria confirms, “the exercises involve specific instructions, such as: fill the gaps with the present tense. In this case, I try to point out all mistakes at the moment the learner says themI also go back, if needed, to read a certain word or a specific point, so it helps the student to remember and consolidate. »

Solutions in action

Solutions for optimizing mistakes

 

At VivaLing, our coaches use mistakes to transform them into a learning accelerator. The subject is too broad to cover in a few lines the full range of their pedagogical tools.  Let’s discover some of their basic strategies that will allow you to better decipher the videos of your children’s sessions….

   The coach helps the learner to focus on one or two specific mistakes at a time

Coach Abbie likes to identify specific areas rather than trying to correct everything at the same time. She uses goal-setting and cueing as a strategy.

“A lot of learners have fossilized errors that they carry over from their primary language or from years of bad habits. It’s important that they are aware of these trouble areas and know that their errors often come from the same core mistakes. By identifying a weakness, we can sharpen our focus and offer specific praise and practice to help them turn the “not yet” into a “yes!” For example, many French learners have trouble knowing which verb form to use in present simple tense: “He walks vs. They walk” or  “She has vs. We have.” Even when they do remember, sometimes they drop the pronunciation of the final “s”!!!

So I tell the learner that I’ve noticed they make this mistake often and I want to help them fix it. We come up with a cue or signal (such as drawing an “s” in the air with my finger) that we can associate with this specific error. Instead of interrupting them in the middle of a sentence, I will just make a motion with the signal, and the learner will restate what he/she has just said correctly. Another common error is forgetting to use the past tense. In this case, I just make a backward pointing motion with my thumb. The learner often knows the past tense form. He/she just forgot to use it and can fix the error without any interruption in fluency”

  The coach involves the learner in the correction process

“We play at solving the mistake together,” says coach Nuria, “as if we had to find the answer to a riddle.”

According to the principle of delayed error correction, coach Abbie waits until the learner has completed his sentence or exercise to throw a clue such as “Number 3 seems weird…What do you think?”

  The coach talks about mistakes in a positive way (and in affirmative mode)

“At VivaLing, “No, it’s not good” is prohibited,” explains coach Nuria. “We prefer to ask the learner, “Mh…. Are you sure about that?” because the last sentence stimulates curiosity and gives children a platform to think and decide for themselves. It teaches them to be critical of themselves. »

  The coach rewards the solution of the error

“I seek to reward my learners twice as much if they correct their own mistakes (even with help),” underlines coach Nuria. “Indeed, they are actively reflecting and consolidating the notion in their brains. It’s double effort and responsibility in their own learning process! ».
An approach approved by Carol Dweck, Stanford Professor of Psychology. Her research shows that it is better to congratulate the work done by the child (then the effort is rewarded, whether the result is correct or incorrect) than the child’s intelligence (mistakes would then be a sign of the limits of intelligence: “I am not good at it. It is not made for me”).

  The coach only corrects the necessary errors

How can a linguistic notion be corrected if the learner has not yet really learned how to use it? It is important to limit corrections to notions that the learner should already know. For the rest, the coach will be his student’s crutch to allow him to climb the successive steps.

Let us therefore encourage our children to consider their linguistic mistakes as an opportunity!

10 Popular Beliefs on Bilingualism and Bilingual Education

There are still many beliefs and cliches about bilingual education and bilingualism. This argument deconstructs the 10 most popular beliefs.

bilinguisme

1. Monolingualism is the norm and bilingualism is the exception.

Not true. We estimate that more than half the people on the planet are bilingual and 40% speak more than one language on a daily basis. Bilingualism is a phenomenon that exists throughout the world, on all continents and in the majority of countries. There are different ways of being or becoming bilingual: plurilingual family situation, living near a border, schooling in foreign language, working abroad, etc.

2. Being bilingual means mastering two languages and two cultures.

Mastery of two languages is rarely perfect and balanced. We estimate that only 20% of bilinguals are as at ease with one language as they are with the other. Being bilingual is first and foremost about being able to communicate easily in two languages, and being able to switch between languages depending on the situation and the tasks at hand: bilingual people develop and use their languages in different and varied social contexts, for distinct purposes. What’s more, we can speak a language without actually knowing and mastering all of the cultural values and practices associated with it: a bilingual person is not strictly bicultural.

bilingue

3. You will never be bilingual if you learn a second language too late in life.

There is no age limit when it comes to learning another language. The quality of exposure to the language and its teaching, along with motivation, are essential to successful learning. If an adult can learn quicker than a child, he or she will, however, find it more difficult to lose their accent.

4. One language must be mastered before learning another.

Mastering one language is an illusion, as we continue to learn it throughout our lives. Nevertheless, it is beneficial to be able to rely on past achievements in your primary language to develop skills in another language. In the same way, studying another language enriches the knowledge and mastery of the primary language.

5. A child who has a bilingual education must have at least one bilingual parent.

Bilingual teaching applies to all children. It is an educational device and not a school that is just for children from bilingual families. The academic success of children who attend bilingual institutions therefore does not depend on the linguistic skills of their parents. However, if they have the benefit of being exposed to the language outside of school, it means that their learning is enriched and consolidated.

enfant bilingue

6. You have to be a good student to undergo bilingual education.

Whether or not certain bilingual educational institutions decide to select only the best students, bilingual education applies to all children without discrimination. All students find added value in bilingual education, regardless of their level of learning. Switching to another teaching language can even sometimes help to relieve educational difficulties and encourage better learning.

7. The use of different languages must be avoided in the classroom.

On the contrary, bilingualism can complement the development of both languages: the teacher can then build on this observation to develop adapted teaching strategies, taking the linguistic level of students into account. Alternating languages from one activity to the next and exchanging points of view by comparing ideas and documents in the original language encourages reflection, memorisation or even conceptualisation.

8. You can’t study a subject correctly in a foreign language (history, mathematics, sciences, etc.) without mastering this language.

Not true, it all depends on the strategies adopted by the teacher, who must take the linguistic level of students into account. With beginners, for example, it is fluent and efficient to deliberately draw on the students’ native language. Additionally, studying a subject in a foreign language allows students greater and different practice of this language, and to be enriched by it.

bilingue

9. Educating a child in two languages increases the risks of difficulties in their learning.

Bilingual children have no greater difficulty in learning than monolingual children. The only situation that could lead to a bilingual child having difficulty in their learning is if they have not sufficiently mastered any of the languages before starting school.

10. The benefits of a bilingual education are purely linguistic.

Bilingual education allows students to deepen their knowledge of languages and cultures associated with them, which invites them to think and understand the world differently. Furthermore, it motivates students by offering an authentic and dynamic linguistic practice within the framework of different academic disciplines. By approximating language and knowledge, we encourage students to exercise mental flexibility, which translates to being better able to resolve problems in various situations, as well as making them more selfsufficient.

Source: Centre International d’Etudes Pédagogiques – www.ciep.fr