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!

Learn English with coach Brittany from USA

Hello, can you tell us more about you?

My name is Brittany from New Jersey, USA. Currently, I live on a beautiful island called Puerto Rico. I have 2 brothers and 1 sister who live in New Jersey. I make every effort to try and visit them often.  

Have you always been a teacher?

I have been a teacher for many years. While I was in high school I started out tutoring students.  I have a special fondness for helping people learn new things. This is why  I went to school for cosmetology because I also have a passion for hair styling and making people look beautiful. Later on, I found myself working as an event and wedding planner.  

What do you like best about teaching your language?

The art of communication. English is a very expressive language. We don’t just speak with our words but we also speak with our facial expressions and our body language. My most positive experience in teaching English is that I have met hundreds of wonderful and interesting adults and children over the ye

What is your best memory about teaching?

I had a very difficult 5 years old student. He never wanted to sit down, never wanted to learn, and never wanted to engage me. After about 3 lessons, I felt like this was a lost cause. I really wanted to give up. Then this determination and drive just came over me and I said to myself “What can I do differently?”  Well, I dressed up like a crazy person :). One side ponytail. Bunny ears. Crazy makeup. Instead of teaching him sitting down I taught the whole class standing up. Instead of teaching 0 minutes in a 25 minute class I was at least able to get about 7 minutes teaching him. So I learned that moment that if I continue to create a fun loving experience really and put my love into the teaching to draw him out little by little, I’ll be able to complete a 25 minute session.

Do you have any favorite place in your home country? Why?

New York City ! I love all the lights. I love the fact that there’s always something to do. Broadway shows, food, jazz, walking around the city, museums, etc. NYC is known as the city that never sleeps and I love it !

What does a working day look like for you?

I wake up at about 6 o’clock in the morning and prepare my schedule for the rest of the day. I’m not really a breakfast person so I will only have tea or coffee. Then I check my emails and get dressed and ready for the day. Some days I teach in the mornings.  Other days I teach in the afternoon. On the days that I’m not teaching, I am involved in my volunteer work teaching people about the Bible in English. When I return home I always prepare my classes for the next day and send out any emails needed for my students and their parents. Sometimes I like to watch a movie or TV show with dinner and head off to bed.

What is your favorite hobby?

I love singing, dancing, and traveling.

Why do you think learning languages is important in life?

Where I currently live in Puerto Rico, I do not speak the language fluently, but I work diligently to communicate as best I can with these beautiful people.  Of course, I wish I had learned Spanish much earlier In life. The mind of a young child is like a sponge and it can absorb new information much more rapidly than adults at an accelerated rate. Being able to teach young children English is vital for them to be able to succeed in life. The world has become a melting pot of different languages and when you’re able to communicate even just a few words, it builds a common ground with whomever you encounter.

In one word, why should a child have language sessions with you ?

LOVE !!! I realize that I have great chemistry with children. My goal is to make learning English not only challenging but great fun. I love listening to children struggle through the activity of learning a new language and then successfully communicate the language with great ease. I love what I do!

Learn English with coach Ilse

Hello, can you tell us more about you?

I am Coach Ilse. I live in the breathtaking city of Cape Town in South Africa. I grew up in a small town called Somerset West. I have two naughty but adorable dogs, two beautiful cats and about ten Koi fish. I love hiking, camping, surfing and the outdoors. I don’t have a sweet-tooth at all, but I love baking for friends and family

Have you always been a teacher?

No, I studied CAD drafting and worked at an engineering firm. I used to teach Sunday-school classes and tutored a few students. I started working as an online teacher more than two years ago and I still love my job every day.

What do you like best about teaching your language?

English is and has always been my preferred language, as some things just sound better in English. I feel there is so much we can learn about the language, once you dig a little deeper. Idioms, poems, simile and phrases, to mention a few just makes life sweeter.

What is your best memory about teaching?

I would have to say the unique way in which my students surprise me. To see my students improve and to be able to help with their progress. Seeing how proud they are once they get there.

What is your favorite place in your home country? Why?

My favorite place is the beach. The crashing of the waves, the birds in the sky and sand between my toes, is better than therapy.

What does a working day look like for you?

I wake up and have a healthy breakfast. I start my sessions with my students, complete progress reports and after that I prepare my lessons for the following days.

What is your favorite hobby?

I have a lot of hobbies and changes with the seasons but at the moment my favorite hobby is definitely hiking.

Why do you think learning languages is important in life?

The world cannot function without language, we need a way to be able to communicate with ease. Learning a new language broadens ones listening skills and memory. It also helps us improve on our own languages.

What is the most important value of learning a language at an early stage for you ?

It is easier for younger learners to learn and remember a new language and it enhances future career opportunities.

In one word, why should a child have language sessions with you ?

Because of my enthusiasm! 🙂

learn french with VivaLing

Meet Laetitia, French Coach at VivaLing: ” I find it fantastic to talk to people on the other side of the planet and feel like they’re in the same room as me.”

My name is Laëtitia and  I grew up in Normandy.  I’ve lived in Paris and Belgrade (Serbia) and now live in Camarès, a tiny village in the South of France.

French coach VivaLing

I have been teaching French for 8 years, to adults and children in variety of situations: abroad and in France, FLE,  tutoring French as a mother tongue and one-to-one courses at college, university …

I have studied philosophy, obtained a master in Serbo-Croatian and a PhD in anthropology. I am currently preparing my teaching diploma (CAPES) in philosophy.

I have done dozens of jobs including: phone sales, shoe sales, bakery, babysitter in luxury hotels, helpdesk at Europ-assistance… But for the past ten years I have mostly done school tutoring and language teaching.

 

Why do you like teaching French?

I like to be able to give keys to my students to make things clear. I find that helping someone to understand something new is, in itself, a reward.

Why do you like teaching online?

I find it fantastic to talk to people on the other side of the planet and feel like they’re in the same room as me.

learn french VivaLing

How many languages ​​do you speak ?

I speak French, English, Serbian and I can understand a little German

 

What is your favorite place or monument in France?

I find the tower of Saint-Jacques in Paris, fascinating.  It’s very simple and very tortuous at the same time..

 

What is your favorite French tradition or festival?

I love the epiphany, I cooked my first cake of kings last year, puff pastry included J

French coach VivaLing

What are your passions ?

The history of the United States, Beyonce, the Balkans, Ashkenazi culture, British romantic comedies, cooking, social cinema, historical documentaries and archival images, swimming, yoga, Game of Thrones,

 

What is your favorite food ?

Chocolate fondant with custard

 

Your favorite book or movie?

The Little Prince (I collect them in all languages)!

french coach VivaLing

What is the place on earth where you would like to live or discover?

I have already discovered many places that I wanted to see, I am going to Vietnam in April, then Cuba will be next on my list 🙂

 

What are your tips for learning French?

Listen to a lot of songs and try to understand the lyrics! That’s how I learned English … 😉