The self-correction of speech errors (McCormick, O’Neill & Siskin)

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The self-correction of speech errors

McCormick, O’Neill & Siskin


The purposes of the second year of this project are: 1) to continue to examine and describe the extent of self-correction among English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students of varying proficiency levels during recorded speaking activities; and 2) determine if the self-correction process has an immediate impact on spoken production. Despite the myriad studies on corrective feedback in second language acquisition and second language pedagogy research literature, few studies address the issue of the learner as the source of feedback. This study, in contrast, will focus on the learner as a primary source of corrective feedback. Based on classroom anecdotal evidence, we believe learners are an effective source of corrective feedback if provided with opportunity, time, and support.

Background and Significance

When we searched the ESL pedagogy literature on self-correction, we found few mentions of student self-correction as we are defining it. One related area that was mentioned was student self-assessment; in other words, students evaluating an aspect of their own second language performance. Genesee and Upshur (1996) suggest that self-assessment provides students with some of the same benefits for which we were looking, including an opportunity to share responsibility with teachers, an increase in individual feedback and learner involvement, and an expansion of the basis of evaluation by the teacher. Lazaraton (2001) mentions “one of the most recent trends in oral skills pedagogy is the emphasis on having students analyze and evaluate the language that they or others produce” (p. 108). She continues to argue that this analysis and evaluation helps students become more “metalinguistically aware” of the language they need to interact in the target language. Although we were not interested in student self-assessment at this time, we believed that the issues raised by Genessee and Upshur (1996) and Lazaraton (2001) related well to student self-correction in that both self-assessment and self-correction involve students in a “meta” activity and increase student involvement in general.

In a discussion about providing pronunciation feedback, Goodwin (2001) mentions self-correction, first in reference to students’ correcting an error after the error is cued by the teacher, and later in reference to students’ monitoring a recording of their speech. Goodwin (2001) states that: "A second way to encourage self-monitoring is to record student speech, in either audio or video format. This is particularly effective if the learners’ first task is to transcribe their speech (not phonetically, just regular orthography). Working with their transcript while listening to their tape, learners can monitor for a specific feature" (p. 130). Our project, then, utilizes Goodwin’s idea, although in a broader context.

Within the research literature, studies by Golonka (2000) and Shehadeh (2001) provide examples of research that involved aspects of student self-correction. In her dissertation, Golonka (2000) investigated variables that predicted oral proficiency gains in 22 adult learners of Russian who studied abroad. One of the categories of variables was “metalinguistic variables,” which included various self-correction and sentence repairs. Within the three groups, nullgainers (those who did not achieve a measurable gain in proficiency after their study abroad experience), gainers (those who progressed from Intermediate High to Advanced on the ACTFL OPI scale after their study abroad experience), and high gainers (those who progressed from Intermediate High to Advanced High on the ACTFL OPI scale after their study abroad experience), differed in regard to self-correction.

Within the first analysis (to determine the linguistic and metalinguistic variables in the pre-immersion OPI impact proficiency development) nullgainers corrected themselves an average of 3.7 times as compared to eight times by gainers during the OPI interviews. In the second analysis (which focuses on the metalinguistic awareness to determine the differences between gainers and high gainers), nullgainers self-corrected an average of 3.7 times, gainers self-corrected an average of 6.2 times, and high gainers an average of 9.8 times, with each measure significant at p = .005. The self-corrections mentioned in Golonka’s 2000 study refer to sentence repair in which the participant made changes in sentences because the participant decided to change the utterance patterns or because something in the utterance necessitated a change (e.g., lacking a vocabulary item). Within all variables studied and in both analyses, self-correction was one of the variables distinguished as significant for discriminating between nullgainers, gainers, and high gainers. The researcher argues for a connection between self-correction and higher L2 gain and that the result “implies that self-correcting behaviors are positive and desirable and should be encouraged from a pedagogical and self-instructional viewpoint” (p. 113). In our case, the focus on self-correction within the recorded speaking activity may serve as tool to develop self-correction skills that can be used in contexts outside of the classroom.

Shehadeh (2001) examined the relationship between self- and other- initiations and modified output. Modified output was defined as “the modifications non-native speakers (NNS make to their output in order to make an initial utterance or part of an utterance more accurate or more comprehensible in response to: (a) other-initiation or (b) self-initiation” (p. 437). Other-initiations occurred when the listener signaled his or her total or partial lack of understanding of the speaker’s “trouble-source” utterance (p. 455). The signal was an explicit verbal utterance, e.g., repeating the problematic item, repeating part of the problematic item with a question word, asking a direct question, or stating something like “ I don’t understand.” Self-initiation occurred when the speaker noticed the listener’s lack of comprehension. In the first case the listener reacted to the trouble-source first, while in the second case the speakers reacted first.

The non-native speaker participants involved 35 adults of various first language backgrounds who were learning English as a second language in the United Kingdom. The native speakers (NS) involved were university teachers and postgraduate students. The three tasks included: a) a picture description task in which a NNSs described a picture for a NS or a NNS to reproduce, b) an opinion exchange task in which the participants (NS/NNS and NNS/NNS pairs) discussed a newspaper article, and c) a group decision-making task in which the NNSs created a constitution for an invented country. Although self- and other-initiations prompted modified output, more modified output was produced from self-initiations across four out of five interactional contexts. Shehadeh (2001) argues that the results indicate the need for more interactional contexts within classroom practice. In addition, the researcher argues that because of the amount of modified output due to self-initiations, “learners need both time and opportunity for self-initiated, self-completed repair of their messages” (p. 451). We believe that the classroom recorded speaking activities in which students are given an opportunity engage self-correction, in the ELI are one way to provide students with the time and opportunity to modify their own output.


Research question

Independent variables


Dependent variables



Annotated bibliography