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5 Ways for Language Learners to Get Better Corrective Feedback & Use It Effectively! (Tips for Language Learners!)

你好! Boa tarde! In this article, we’re sharing 5 easy tips that’ll help you make the most of the Corrective Feedback that you receive along your language learning journey. Now – what is Corrective Feedback and why does it matter? To answer the first question, Corrective Feedback is a term that means exactly what it sounds like: feedback given to correct. For language learners, this refers to feedback that corrects things like our grammar errors, our vocab mistakes, or our awkward ways of phrasing things. To answer the second question, Corrective Feedback is important for language learners because in order to get the fluency level you’re after in your target language, you need to receive good Corrective Feedback – and you need to know how to use it. Problem is – we don’t always get the corrective feedback we need – and even when we do get it, we don’t always make the best use of it. If any of that sounds familiar to you, then stay tuned because this article is for you.   Now, sin dorar más el lirio, let’s dive into the 5 tips that will help you effectively navigate (and get the most out of) the language feedback you receive…

Coordinate with professors and staff.

To ensure there’s adequate information for a flipped classroom, work with professors and TAs teaching each class to make it easy for students to find the resources they need. Come up with a reading and resource list for each class, and place the necessary books on hold for the students taking that course. To further the experience, determine if there are supplementary resources, including multimedia offerings, to bolster students’ understanding. This is not only a fun way to engage with the faculty at your institution, but it provides you a way to show off the awesome resources your library offers.

Tip #1:

Be adventurous with the language.

In short – you need to put yourself in situations where you’ll make errors! If you want to get better in the language, you need to receive corrective feedback. In order to receive that corrective feedback, you need to make mistakes. To make mistakes, you need to produce, produce, produce.  Bottom line is this: when it comes to your target language, don’t “play it safe.” Trial and error is a powerful part of learning. So, try longer sentences, use more complex vocabulary, and make a million mistakes! Then let the corrective feedback roll in. Which brings us to Tip #2…


Tip #2:

Tell people that you want to be corrected.

Some people are anti-correction by nature, which means they’ll need an invitation from you in order to feel comfortable correcting you. So, if you want corrective feedback, you need to let them know. Be clear with them about how you’d like their feedback – and also be open about how much correcting is too much or when you’re not in the right headspace for being corrected. Important note: some folks may still might not be comfortable correcting you – and that’s okay. One way to elicit feedback from folks who aren’t likely to provide you with unprompted corrective feedback is by asking this one simple question: “Do you understand what I’m saying?” You can say, “Just to ensure that I communicated myself correctly, can you tell me what you understood from me?” Then listen very carefully. You will catch idioms and expressions that you didn’t know. You will learn new vocab and hear authentic grammar – and most importantly, you’ll get a gold mine of awesome corrective feedback. Now, this tip of course implies you’ve surrounded yourself with folks who speak the language. If you’re enrolled in a language class, then this could be your teacher and classmates. But beyond the classroom, you may consider seeking out connections with others who speak the target language. Pro-tip: if you’re having trouble finding folks in your area to talk with (or if face-to-face interactions simply feels like more social pressure than you’re in the mood for), there are a plethora of digital communities out there where you could build community and get corrective feedback!


Tip #3:

Listen closely for subtle error corrections.

This one really boils down to being an active listener. But in particular, it means listening for something called recasting, which is a corrective feedback method by which the corrector repeats your utterance but subtly corrects the error it originally contained. This method can be so subtle that it oftens flies under the radar if you’re not paying close attention. For example, imagine a student says the following sentence: “Yesterday, at the cafe, I ran into they.” A teacher might use recasting to subtly correct his error: “Oh, yesterday you ran into them? That’s nice!” See how subtle that was? Now, depending on the situation, the student might know why the error was corrected and need no further clarification. But they might need to ask a follow-up question, like “Hey teacher, why did you switch the word ‘they’ for ‘them’ in that sentence?” In either case, it would behoove the student to pause and register that corrective feedback in their mind. This might mean taking a mental note of it – or an actual note, which brings us to Tip #4…


Tip #4:

Store it, review it, repeat it.

Keep a language learning journal! This could be physical or digital – whatever works for you. We all know taking notes is a great thing in class — but it’s also a great habit to get into when you’re out “in the wild.” And it doesn’t need to be an old-school notebook either. You can take notes on that mini-computer you keep in your pocket or purse: yes, your smart phone. Just in the way that you might use  a note-taking app on your phone to keep track of your To-Dos list, you could keep a list to track the corrective feedback you receive when speaking in your target language. Did someone recast an error you made? Note it down. Did they tell you that you used the wrong word? Note it down. Then, the next morning while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, review your notes. [pause] And that’s how you can cement corrective feedback into your memory. Now, why exactly is keeping a language journal such a good idea? Well, keeping a journal allows you to offload some of the corrective feedback you receive. Offload it from your brain, that is. You see, when you’re learning a language, you receive a ton of corrective feedback – about grammar, vocabulary, slang, cultural norms – and bits of that corrective feedback can often fall through the cracks, never quite making their way into your long-term memory. There’s a really unhelpful and pervasive myth out there that we humans only use 10% of our brain’s computing power – but that’s false. It’s a 3lb organ, we actually use it all, and it does get overloaded (Boyd, 2008). But you can help reduce your brain’s cognitive load and prevent corrective feedback from falling through the cracks – by offloading it into a journal. Go ahead – give yourself  a mini-break – and set it up right now!


Tip #5:

Synthesize then prioritize.

Finally, you can’t master everything at once – you need to prioritize. Now, this tip is most applicable to learners who are in the situation of a teacher giving them too much feedback at once. For example, you may get an essay or an exam back and find that your teacher covered it in red ink – scattered corrections every which way. How do you make sense of it all? Where do you start? You start by synthesizing it. Can you organize the comments into just a few main categories? For example, perhaps there’s 50+ error corrections, but if you consider them holistically, maybe they all break down into just three main error types: past tense verb conjugations, prepositional word choice, and word order mistakes. Perfect – now you have a feasible starting point. You can even do this in real-time. When a teacher tells you that you’ve made an error, try to categorize in your mind what kind of error it is. That’ll help you make sense of it and remember to review that section of your textbook later. In short, this tip is really just about good old-fashioned intellectual hygiene. Pro-tip: If you’re really struggling to find overarching themes in your teacher’s corrective feedback, then ask them directly to help you prioritize what you should focus on. Lean on their expertise to guide you on your language learning journey.

Well, friends - that's it!

To wrap up, let’s review those 5 tips together:​

  • Tip #1: Be adventurous with the language.
  • Tip #2: Tell people that you want to be corrected.
  • Tip #3: Listen closely for subtle error corrections.
  • Tip #4: Store it, review it, repeat it.
  • Tip #5: Synthesize then prioritize.

Now that you’ve finished the article, we hope you feel inspired to try them out! But know this – you shouldn’t feel like you need to implement all 5. In fact, we actually recommend that you pick just your favorite 1 or 2 and run with those. Tell us in the comments which one you’re starting with and update us on how it’s going!

Thanks for reading! If you liked this article, please let us know by hitting that like button and subscribing to the podcast. And remember – if you have a question or idea for an episode you’d like to see from us, let us know! We’re always listening. 再见! Tchau – até mais! And we look forward to hanging out with you here next time! 

References and Suggested Reading:

  • Herculano-Houzel S. (2009). The human brain in numbers: a linearly scaled-up primate brain. Frontiers in human neuroscience3, 31.
  • Boyd, R. (2008). Do people only use 10 percent of their brains. Scientific American7.
  • Herculano-Houzel S. (2002). Do you know your brain? A survey on public neuroscience literacy at the closing of the decade of the brain. Neuroscientist 8,
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Meet The Author:
Author - Emily Rae Sabo
Emily Rae Sabo
Linguist at Mango Languages
Emily Sabo (Ph.D., University of Michigan): A travel-hungry content creator with a Linguistics Ph.D. in bilingual language processing, Emily has studied 7 languages and loves getting to use them to connect with people around the world. When she’s not creating content for the Mango community, you can find her dancing, yoga-ing, or performing some good ole’ fashioned standup comedy.

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