Error Correction in ESL Writing

Written by Valentina Temina-Kingsolver

Written on . Posted in Teaching Writing.

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Tagged with: Teaching Writing, Error Correction, English Learners

The problem of correcting errors that ESL students make in their writing has been extensively discussed in professional literature on ESL writing.

Krashen (1984) claims that no matter how persistently a teacher is trying to draw students’ attention to their mistakes in the language use error correction has no effect on the acquisition process in general and on students’ writing abilities in particular. He asserts that students’ errors will disappear as soon as they acquire certain features of the language correctly; therefore, error correction, or language instruction for that matter, is useless.

Krashen sees comprehensible input in the form of reading as the only means of acquiring written language and stimulating students’ creativity. Learning the rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. is necessary only for activating the Monitor Model, i.e., monitoring/editing one’s work. According to him, error correction may put obstacles in students’ attempts to write.

Leki (1992:22) refers to some studies (Rossman, 1981; Hatch, Polin, and Part, 1970) that provided evidence for cognitive overload hypothesis which confirm that for “writers who must still focus a great deal on form, little cognitive energy remains for attention to meaning.” I believe that this problem can be easily solved if at initial steps of the writing process (prewriting and drafting) students are allowed to focus on expressing their ideas and thoughts, and required to attend to the form and writing conventions at the editing step.

My view on this issue of the error correcting is the following: I think that different errors in students’ writing should be treated differently. There are some developmental errors, such as the use of articles and prepositions, which can be ignored by the teacher to a certain extent, because most students are expected eventually to fully acquire these complex aspects of the language. However, some errors need to be addressed by the teacher to prevent fossilizing of those errors. The latter might include errors in subject-verb agreement, double negatives, irregular verb forms and irregular plural nouns.

I strongly believe that the essence of error correction lies in the fact that students must realize what mistakes they make and how they must correct them. That is why I consider underlining errors and not correcting them to be my main approach to this problem. In this way I anticipate students to find the errors and correct them. Learners must acquire the habit of noticing mistakes in their own writing. This habit can be acquired if students are properly trained, if the teacher develops these habits in his/her students. I suggest using, for example, such strategy as daily editing activity in which the teacher can include mistakes that are commonly and frequently made by his/her students or simply refer students to the underlined parts in their writing and ask them to identify their own errors. This kind of training that allows students to become aware of their own mistakes has to be gradual and continuous. I agree that the effect of the teacher’s corrections on the students is usually very small. Therefore, students must be trained to correct mistakes that have been made. The better the teacher trains the students the less work he/she will have to do in the grading their writing and the more proficient writers the students will become.

There are two areas of linguistics that deal with language errors: contrastive analysis and error analysis. Contrastive analysis includes comparing two languages and determines similarities and differences between them. Error analysis identifies deviations from target-language norms in the course of second language acquisition, especially in terms of the learner’s developing interlanguage. As a result of these studies linguists were able to conclude that the most difficult features of L2 are not the ones that differ largely from L1 but the ones that are very close though not identical to L1. Thus, these language characteristics cause a lot of errors in students’ writing and it takes a long time for students to acquire the proper forms. Unfortunately, these kinds of errors cause also a lot of irritation on the part of native speakers as they are view them as so called illiteracies.

Taking into account obvious difficulties of ESL students with writing conventions many teachers, in my opinion, rightfully insist on gradual and systematic training of L2 learners in grammar, rhetoric, spelling, and punctuation.


Krashen, S. D. (1984). Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Leki, I. (1992). Understanding ESL Writers: A Guide for Teachers. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Publishers.

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Error Correction in ESL Writing

| Valentina Temina-Kingsolver | Teaching Writing
The problem of correcting errors that ESL students make in their writing has been extensively discussed in professional literature on ESL writing.

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