Second chances

Picture taken from

Picture taken from

I corrected my Spanish grammar as I came out of the shop, but by then it was too late; I had already had the conversation and couldn’t use my corrected version. I’m sure everyone has experienced this when learning a foreign language; you arrive at the correct version after the moment to use it has passed. A Spanish friend who is learning English mentioned this to me recently as one of her frustrations.

But we could look at this more positively-the opportunity to use the language incorrectly has been the springboard to learning it better. It means that you have been pushed beyond your proficiency in a constructive way. After all, if you are always producing good grammar you are probably not stretching yourself.

Second chances to use the same language may be rare in life, but in the classroom they should be common so that students have a chance to practise the corrected version. There are many ways to offer these second chances, for example:

  • do repeated pair or group work so that students can try the target language again with different partners
  • ask students to produce the target language again after correcting them (students often do this anyway, but not always)
  • set a ‘mini task’ at the start of the lesson which acts as an introduction to the main task and allows students to practise some of the target language before using it again subsequently. My favourite task-based language textbook, the Cutting Edge series, often does this.

All these, or versions of them, can be done online too.

However, revising the same target language quickly becomes stale or boring (whereas practising the same piece of music again and again might not, I’m not sure why). Reusing the language in different contexts (as in the first activity on the list above) is one way round this. Another is to add further challenges to revision (the Headway series of textbooks has ‘revision and extension’ sections, which is a good way of describing it). In language learning, as in life, second chances are precious.


September 15, 2015