Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"Errors" in student production?

So I do my best to teach with Stories and Comprehensible Input.

But really, if you don't want me to hide behind a title, I find where the kids are at, and we talk about things that are interesting to them. And I shelter the vocab so we can talk about it and repeat the important stuff so they can use it later in new ways.

With that said, I talk to a colleague about how Spanish 2 is going. The colleague talks about the students' errors in the language and how they will not be successful with a native speaker because they use the wrong form of the verb, etc.

And while I talk to this colleague (who wants the best for their students), what I see is me. I see me when I was a Spanish student in High School (having learned all the rules). I see me when I was a Spanish student in college. I would scoff because my Spanish was more grammatically correct than other students and assume that I would fair better than them when it came to talk to a native Spanish speaker.  I would conjugate for fun. FOR FUN.  Because it was easy and I knew that it needed to be right.

Then, a few things happened:
1. I started going to a Spanish speaking church (where people didn't care how well I could speak about novels and poetry. I had to learn an entire new set of words with migrant workers and non-academic native Speakers.)  I also saw how they would communicate with others in English and carry on conversations all the while focusing on the meaning (and making mistakes).

2. I got married to a wonderful woman from Mexico who knew no English.  And saw first-hand how learning a second language to communicate is so vastly different than how I had learned it.  And it's a long process.  But each holiday with my family, she is more and more confident and able to understand and communicate her ideas (not focusing on the form).

3. I had children with aforementioned wonderful woman. One is 3 years old (almost 4). And to see her acquiring two languages every day and how amazing the human brain is, I notice that I don't care how she says something. I only look for the meaning. And she gets better every day.

And so today when I had random students retell a story, I found myself internally scrutinizing their every minor error instead of looking at the beauty that they were creating meaning in a new language. A language that a few months ago, they had no exposure to.

They were communicating ideas to me that I could understand and the class could understand (and while they said "quiero" instead of "quería", or "el dijo" instead of "le dijo", we were all following the story.

Does it matter that they make mistakes in their second language they barely have exposure to?

Can't I expect mistakes?  If we look at what a novice low-mid is capable of, their speech is going to have plenty of mistakes and they will default to the first language.  So why should I be expecting anything differently in my class?

Are these truly errors or are they part of the brain working through all the different patterns while acquiring the language?

I think my students are a lot like my daughter on her way to learn her first two languages. I must remind myself to listen for the message and not worry about the form. The form will come in time.


  1. I totally agree, the form will come in time. If they enjoy the classes, the experience will be positive and they will learn almost effortlessly and perhaps even be more motivated to study harder to improve even more. That's been my experience of learning languages - way more fun than geeking out over conjugations (although I do love a bit of that too!) :-D

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! And I have to say, you have a very cool blog! I enjoyed learning some new phrases! :-)

      *And I love geeking out about conjugations too! But I have to accept that my students don't and won't.