1000 words on… Correcting spoken errors

This is an interesting topic I’ve been revisiting this week. I wrote about it during my diploma (see here) and I like how relevant and applicable this topic is to my classroom practice.

Lyster and Ranta (1997) suggest that there are six common correction techniques used by teachers. That is, when they are correcting spoken errors. These techniques are:

Technique Description Example
Explicit correction clearly indicating that the learner’s utterance is wrong and correcting them. Student: *He’s a sinGER  

Teacher: No, it’s SINGer. He’s a SINGer.

Recast not directly indicating that the learner was incorrect, but reformulating the error to provide correction. Student: *I go to London yesterday

Teacher: Ah, you went to London yesterday

Student: … er, yeah.

Clarification The teacher indicates that the learner’s utterance was incorrect in some way through phrases like ‘sorry?’, ‘What was that?’ etc. This prompts learner to reformulate Student: *I don’t do many mistakes

Teacher: Sorry?

Student: I don’t do…

Teacher: Huh? What was that?

Student: Make! I don’t make many mistakes

Metalinguistic clues Without providing the correct form, the teacher asks questions or provides comments

related to the formation of the learner’s utterance

Student: *He work in an office most days

Teacher: Is that the correct form of the verb? Do we say ‘He work?’

Elicitation Teacher elicits correct form from learner As with above example, something like…

 Teacher: I work, you work, he/she ….?

Student: works

Repetition Teacher repeats the error, using voice/intonation etc to show that an error has been made and prompt reformulation Student: *He not like football

Teacher: He NOT like football?

Student: doesn’t! He doesn’t

Note: some of my descriptions above are from a great overview from Tedick and de Gortari (1998). More on that in a sec…

Some general points

  • I’d say this categorisation is pretty clear, but there’s definitely overlap at times between the techniques. Like, for example, when you are eliciting but doing so using metalinguistic clues – that kind of two techniques in one.
  • It’s interesting to think about your own use of these techniques and recognise patterns. For example, I naturally use more explicit correction for pronunciation errors, because I’m not sure learners know the correct form. However, I elicit more when learners make spoken errors related to grammar, if I’m confident that it’s more of a slip and they know the correct form. This might all sound intuitive, but it’s worth thinking about.
  • I like focusing on error correction techniques when I observe other teachers. It’s amazing how teachers vary when it comes to use of these errors. There’s one teacher at my centre who I’ve dubbed ‘Mr Recast’, and another I’ve labelled ‘The Elicitator’. They don’t know I’ve given them these titles.

Which techniques are the most effective?

Effectiveness of the techniques (as reported in research) is based on ‘learner uptake’. This is basically how the learner responds to the teacher’s feedback: do they recognise the feedback as a correction? Do they act on the correction? If so, how? Etc.

This snippet from a table in Lyster and Ranta (1997) shows some of the categories of learner uptake:

It seems there are levels to learner uptake. The target is for learners to ‘repair’ their error – whether that means self-repairing, repeating the correct form, etc.

I find some learner uptake categories are a bit ambiguous. Take ‘acknowledge’ for example and consider the example of a recast I gave earlier:

Student: I go to London yesterday

Teacher: Ah, you went to London yesterday

Student: … er, yeah.

It could be that the learner is acknowledging a correction. Or, it might be that the learners response actually means ‘Er… yeah. That’s what I said. Why are you kind of echoing me? That’s weird…’. In that case, they’re not actually acknowledging that they made an error.

Anyway, getting a bit sidetracked. Sorry.

Lyster and Ranta findings based on a fairly large data set of student turns/errors:

General findings:

  • Recasts were a commonly used correction technique
  • Recasts were generally an ineffective correction technique (based on this study)
  • Elicitation and metalinguistic feedback yield a high percentage of repairs by students

There has been a lot more research following up on this study. Russell (2009) has a great overview of this research, and focuses quite a bit on the discussion around whether recasts are effective. Here are some of the general points made – see Russell for the references:

  • Context is important. Uptake of recasts varies based on instructional setting. There is evidence to suggests that there is more uptake of recasts in form-focused classrooms (e.g. Oliver and Mackey, 2003)
  • Immediate learner uptake is not a fair way to judge effectiveness. What if using recasts has some longer term benefit? (e.g. Long, 2006)
  • Is the focus on correction or interaction? Maybe recasts facilitate interaction better than other techniques? (e.g. Mackey and Philp, 1998)

And there are some other good points made. My favourite is…

  • What about learners? What do they want? We might think certain techniques are more effective based on research, but what if the learners actually expect certain forms of correction? This may be true in some contexts with regard to explicit correction.

This is a really interesting topic, and it’s pretty easy to find open access articles on it with a quick Google search. I’ve just skim read this one by Ito (2015), some evidence in favour of elicitation techniques over recasts.

Practical implications

The Tedick and de Gortari (1998) article I mentioned earlier has some useful practical points to consider about correcting spoken errors. Have a skim read of this – common sense and useful.

Follow up

If you use Active Inspire, then I’ve written an INSETT on this topic with some practical tasks. Get in contact if you want a copy (I can’t upload in Active Inspire file format here).

  • What are your thoughts on these correction techniques?
  • Do you think you use certain correction techniques more than others?
  • Do you think that these techniques are suitable for all ages and levels? What works in your context?

Happy correcting!


Lyster, R., & Ranta, L. (1997). Corrective feedback and learner uptake: Negotiation of form in communicative classrooms. Studies in second language acquisition19(1), 37-66.

Russell, V. (2009). Corrective feedback, over a decade of research since Lyster and Ranta (1997): Where do we stand today. Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching6(1), 21-31.

Tedick, D. J., & De Gortari, B. (1998). Research on error correction and implications for classroom teaching. ACIE Newsletter1(3), 1-6.

(feature image: Gary Conkling life notes)



  1. An interesting read, thanks for sharing your research! When I’m teaching pronunciation, I’ll make a small sound to alert the reader of an error. I think it’s important to avoid knocking their confidence by wading in with an explicit correction. Just a “Hmm?” or say, “Again, please.” I give the student a chance to correct themselves before we drill as a class.
    For grammar, I agree with your method. I tend to elicit the answer from either the student or their classmates. If it is a common mistake, we’ll spend a couple of minutes doing another example together, working out the rule, then reapplying what we’ve learnt.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s