Corrective Feedback in the Foreign Language Classroom

Corrective feedback (CF) has always been a challenging issue for foreign language learners and teachers since the effectiveness of various types of CF is questioned by proponents of different approaches to foreign language teaching which makes it difficult for the teachers to decide when and how to correct students. Some theories and research claim that providing any type of correction for foreign language learners is not effective and causes anxiety among learners. They claim that learners’ mistakes will take care of themselves as long as they are provided with enough target language input. This may be right for kids learning a second language in the classroom or outside of classroom. However, it may not be the same for adult foreign language learners who have different perceptions of making mistakes, preferences and knowledge of the world than kids do. Most adult foreign language learners may clearly ask their teacher to correct them when they make a mistake. Some learners may ask their teacher for implicit error correction whiles others may ask to correct them on the spot. The latter group might be afraid they will repeat the incorrect language form over and over until it is automatized and then it may take them more time to correct it than learning it correctly on the first place. These learners usually take their time to think first and then speak which can cause some long pauses in the speech. On the other hand, there are some foreign language learners who are not afraid of making mistakes and they may speak fluently, but native speakers may not understand or misunderstand them due to a large number of mistakes they make in the target language. They will continue making the same mistakes even after they hear the correct form repeatedly from the native or proficient speakers.

Based on the above scenarios, it is apparent that foreign language learners do need to be provided with CF, but it is necessary to identify what type of corrective feedback, how often and how it should be provided. It is important to remember that explicit CF increases accuracy while slows down learners fluency. Now it is the language teacher’s job to use a variety of different types of corrective feedback to help learners in areas they need more help. If a student needs to improve their fluency, the teacher should decrease explicit CF and provide more implicit CF, but s/he may need to provide explicit feedback if a student is making the same mistake over and over which hinders understanding or causes misunderstanding. Finally, it is important to remember to not treat minor discrepancies between the student’s speech and the second language as mistakes. As long as learners can communicate clearly with native speakers, there is very little room for CF.