Lies in Language Learning!

Ok, I got your attention.  Honestly the whole reason that I have to write this post is because I fell asleep as the clouds moved in on my lovely Easter Sunday and I dreamed that another teacher approached me about using 90% TL in the classroom.  Her problem was not using it herself, her problem was with her students.  She said “They just make too many errors.  I can’t have that.  It bothers me.”  Of course in my dream I didn’t answer her, I turned and began to plan and plant a garden in containers on my deck because I was concerned about weed growth… But MAN what a great question this dream teacher brought up!  What do we do about the errors??

My answer?  Nothing.

Did you just die?  I bet you did.  Your mouth is open and you are considering walking away right now… but wait!  I’d do nothing.  I would just keep giving more great 90% input before I ever expected any output.

But what about error correction?  My research in the classroom says that error correction does more harm (makes them scared to say anything, stifles creativity) than good! In fact, when I did nothing but correct their mistakes, they barely even looked at my hours and hours of feedback… They just wanted to see what they got!  Some of the things I was counting off on their papers are late acquired and I (as a teacher) was still (or still am) making mistakes and correcting myself after I saw it on paper…  How could I expect a Spanish 2 to be perfect?  Or a 4 for that matter?  They’ve asked me to proof their English papers before… That’s 16-18 years of English and still not perfect! 🙂

But what about pronunciation?  Still doing nothing.  They will hear a lot of rich language in my classroom and the vast majority will leave with excellent pronunciation.  Those who don’t, I find,  are students who would have failed in quarter 2 of Spanish I of a more traditional classroom but have stuck with me for 4 years of the joyful ride we call TCI!  Why would I penalize them for leaving high school with Novice High level language under their belts?   I’m planting seeds!  I want those seeds to germinate in my room and flourish in their lives afterward!

But what about (insert advanced grammar stuff here)?  Don’t sweat the small stuff!  You can teach so many chunks of those grammar things that the seeds are ready for college level fertilization!  Use your high school time to build strong skills in present/pasts/and future over and over again.  The more pathways they have to get there, the better their language production will be and the more likely they’ll be to leave your class an upper intermediate language speaker.

Fight the stigma of being a monolingual nation!  Make language learning about proficiency not perfection!  You’ll attract more kids (because most kids aren’t perfect), you’ll have more time on your hands (because your feedback will be so much easier without hours of error correction), and you’ll have so much more fun seeing them CREATE with those seeds you have planted!

By the way, I didn’t answer that teacher because I had to plant a container garden of giant watermelons on my deck… Apparently I was going to also grow them up trellises to keep the watermelons round?  What did I eat for lunch?


  1. This is the hardest thing for me to come to terms with. I love hanging out with my students in the language but fear for some of them when they get into another teacher’s class who might constantly correct them and ask for perfection when I try to figure out if they answered the prompt even with albeit limited language in a comprehensible way.

    I’ve been wanting to post about this lately. How the most important thing we should grade is the content. If they can still answer a higher level thinking question with lower level language than peers, haven’t they accomplished the goal, therefore they should get the grade, which will encourage them to take the class for more years (thus pushing them closer to proficiency)? 😉

  2. I have been studying English for the past 15 years and I still struggle with the use of certain prepositions (Especially in/on.) So why, do we ask our students for perfection? Why is it that after only two years of Spanish instruction, we expect our students to experts on complicated concepts such as ser vs. estar?

  3. Words of wisdom with some dream humor wrapped around it. Excellent.

    I often need to remind myself to relax the error marking red pen. Communication is the golden egg or maybe in your case the golden watermelon this is growing on a trellis reinforced with steel beams.

    Thank you for the encouragement and the wealth of resources you share on this blog.

  4. Thanks, Carrie for this awesome post and reflection! I always think about this when I am grading writing and speaking assessments. I know they will make errors (errors are good and part of the acquisition process) so what grade should I give them? I know there are errors that they should not be making at their level so I usually focus on those. Errors in language that they don’t know yet is fine with me so I don’t punish them for those kinds of errors!

  5. Thanks for sharing! I am a new language teacher in a rural setting and REALLY struggle to get the kids to speak in the target language. Of course then, by default, I do not use as much target language as I should. What are some suggestions that you have to using more TL in the classroom? 90% would be a dream and I would LOVE to get there!

  6. Great post, Carrie–as always, well articulated. I need to remind myself of this so often.

    The next issue, then, becomes these students’ experiences in college Spanish classes. I had a student come back and let me know he really struggled with the grammar focus in his college class at a major university. (He placed into 3rd semester after 4 years of HS study). His teacher and classmates couldn’t believe he didn’t know how to chant the 6 box verb charts in all tenses. Once my student figured out the box thing, they were on to the next tense.

    He was so frustrated, and he finally got help from a tutor who helped him sort out the “6-box thing”. He really felt like he has an inferior HS experience because he was “behind”. He asked me why I didn’t teach him any grammar.

    Then the conversation got interesting.

    I asked him if he were given options between how to use words in different tenses in context if he could make the right choice, based on what sounded right. He said yes.

    I asked him how his teacher and tutor said his speaking and writing were. He said he “nailed” the one speaking assessment he had, and that they were both impressed with the quantity he was able to write (albeit filled with errors). He also said his other best grades were on the novel they read (La Calaca Alegre!). Unfortunatly, the latter were only 20% of the semester grade…the other 80% was on grammar units.

    He also told me about his most recent missions trip to Nicaragua with his church. He said the directors of the orphanage (their partners In the program with his church) were very impressed with his ability to communicate in Spanish. He said he felt very confident he could get his point across ‘circumlocuting when I had to’ even if he didn’t know some words or advanced structures. If he asked the Nicaraguans to slow down he could understand them very well.

    So….I asked him what he really wanted to do with Spanish: conjugate the 6 boxes in all tenses, OR communicate. He said, “well…obviously communicate. I want to live in Micaragua for a few years after graduation, and they’ve offered me a job at the orphanage.”


    So there’s the disconnect. I’m so sad that this boy who can really COMMUNICATE in Spanish was made to feel by higher ed folks that he doesn’t “know” anything, and that his HS classes were inferior and didn’t “teach” him the grammar.

    When will that change?

    I left the conversation feeling good about the experiences he had in HS at a TCI focused school, but so sad for future students in his situation who may have to get the same message in college.

    • His experience is what some of mine have experienced too! Their professors rave about their ability to communicate and some are very helpful with fine tuning grammar and some very impatient! If the goal is to use language, making errors shouldn’t be a crime!!!

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