TEFL Methodology: Mistakes, Errors and Correction



Remember that effective communication is still more important than correct linguistic forms... even in the classroom!


Areas of language affected by mistakes:


  • pronunciation (sounds, stress, linking, rhythm, intonation, etc.)
  • grammar
  • vocabulary
  • appriopriacy
  • discourse organisation
  • distribution (e.g. short answers with subject and auxiliary verb, frequent repetition)
  • avoidance
  • fluency (no hesitation devices, no indirect approaching)










Reasons for making mistakes:


interference (other languages and / or mother tongue)

overgeneralization or overapplication of a rule / structure

poor teaching or shortcomings in teaching material

psychological factors (tiredness, hurry, lack of concentration)


Types of mistakes:


MISTAKE / SLIP is what a S can self-correct.


ERROR occurs when it is clear which form / vocabulary item wanted to use and the class is familiar with this language item.


ATTEMPT occurs when Ss have no idea how to structure what they mean or when intended meaning and structure are not clear to the T.


Working with errors in class:



  • what kind of error has been made
  • whether you should deal with it
  • when to deal with it
  • who should correct it
  • on an appropriate technique to indicate than an error has occurred
  • on an appropriate technique to encourage correction









To correct or not to correct - that is a question. Before you make the decision, answer the following:


  • what is the aim of the activity (accuracy or fluency)?
  • will it help of hinder learning?
  • am I trying to correct something Ss haven’t been taught?
  • how will Ss take the correction?
  • what is my intention in correcting?







Criteria to consider in order to decide whether to correct:


  • central to teaching focus
  • intelligibility
  • globality
  • social acceptability






Factors to consider before correcting:


  • frequency
  • likelihood of success
  • irritation potential





When to correct?


1. if you focus on accuracy:

  • immediately
  • after a few minutes




2. if you focus on fluency, use delayed correction:

  • after a few minutes
  • at the end of activity
  • next lesson
  • later in the course
  • never








Bartram, M. and Walton, R. 1991. Correction. Mistake Management. Language Teaching Publications: 1991.

Brumfit, C. 1994. Communicative Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Byrne, D. 1990. Teaching Oral Skills. Harlow: Longman.

Byrne, D. 1990b. Teaching Writing  Skills. Harlow: Longman.

Harmer, J. 2001. The Practice of English Language Teaching.  Harlow:  Longman.

Ur, P. 1996. A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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