Error correction – Yitzha Sarwono

What are language errors? Well, the definition may be a bit blurry just as it may be a bit technical, but we can say they’re often mistakes people make, things that deviate from standard grammar.

For early learners in my classes in Jakarta, Indonesia, one common error that I’ve seen involves the use of verbs. It happens because they haven’t got the full grasp of the language yet. For example, they’ll say “I don’t writing a book” or “I go to hospital yesterday”. Another thing that I normally meet in my class is the mistake involving the difference between it’s confusing and I’m confused or it’s interesting versus I’m interested. This leads to mistakes like I am boring today which is something many of my students have said when they try to express how they feel. They don’t even realize the mistake they’re making or what they’re really saying by making it.

So how do I deal with such mistakes? I always tell my students that they’re learning English because they want to learn the art of communicating in English, so in order for the other party to understand what they want to say, they have to make sure they have said the right thing. Therefore whenever I find an error in one of their sentences that causes a difference in meaning, I write it on board and ask them to translate it with me from Bahasa Indonesian into English. I tell them that in order to know whether they have said what they intended to say, it helps to translate it into their native language: that way they can fully understand where they went wrong. It works very well for my class, because then we can laugh at our mistakes.

As teachers, no matter what subject that we teach, we will see students making mistakes in doing their tasks. In English, you know that the errors can lead to different understanding on what is being talked about. Wrong use of words or grammar can surely lead to miscommunication. That is why it is essential for students to learn the proper use of English – because the purpose of learning a language is to understand the art of communication. But do I get upset about their mistakes? Surely not. That is the beauty of learning. As someone once said: “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”


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Yitzha Sarwono

Yitzha Sarwono (Icha) teaches in the Kidea Preschool and Kindergarten in Jakarta, Indonesia. She's passionate about English. She believes in collaboration, expanding her knowledge and building connections between teachers and encouraging their further progress. She is convinced that education is possible to come in many ways. She loves evolving and re-inventing herself in form of broaden her teaching subjects from Early learners to age of consent. She knows one is never too young or too old to learn. Visit Icha's blog: Yitzha Sarwono's Posterous

10 thoughts on “Error correction – Yitzha Sarwono”

  1. Nice post, Yitzha.

    I can really relate to your example, “I’m boring”. It happens all the time in my high school classes in Japan. I like you approach a lot. The only other thing I do is to sometimes have a little bit of fun with the mistake. If, for example, Hiroko said, “I’m boring, today” (Hiroko is friendly and likes English) I would say, “No, no, no. Hiroko, you are not boring! – you are interesting, exciting, fascinating, amazing and entertaining. Class, poor Hiroko thinks she is BORING. Do you think so?” Invariably, someone gets the joke, and if not, I get them to look up the difference between bore and boring. I have found that having fun with a mistake with the whole class can be very effective. Of course, this only works with people like Hiroko, and you have to know when you can play with mistakes, and when not to.

    I’m very happy to be writing with you.



  2. I found the technique you mentioned, translating back into mother tongue, very interesting. I have found that it works well with students who have a good command of their L1. My deaf students who write well in their L1 really benifit from such translations. However, those deaf students who write poorly in L1 are often unable to recognize their mistakes, even when pointed out to them. They think it all means the same thing!
    Thanks for the relevant post!

  3. Hi Steven
    Thank you so much for your comment. :-)
    Glad to know you can relate to my experiences. I like your approach too. I do however be very careful in handling their mistakes cause many Indonesian would feel ashamed or down at the thought of being corrected on spot. That maybe why i chose to translate from English to bahasa, just to help them understand it..
    Thanks for this and for iTDi for letting me do this. It’s an honour to be among you guys


  4. I am someone, in the UK, who is not an English teacher who is very aware that “foreigners” are often found to speak better English than the native speakers and who teaches Engineering to students for whom English is their second language (Arabic, Chinese, African).

    The example of “I’m boring” reminds me of a classic mistake that a lot of English speaking people make when learning French. “Je suis faim!” meaning literally “I am hunger!” instead of saying “J’ai faim” meaning ” I have hunger!” which is the way the French say it. The English words famine and famished are based on “faim”.

    The point here is that it is obviously important to convey to students how the native speakers of the second language actually speak and to encourage them not to rely upon a literal or direct translation based upon their first language!

    Steve’s idea of using humour (or humor if you use American spelling) is amusing and interesting since it is doubtful that the humour is always conveyed between the two languages! Obviously, the student should not be made to feel foolish or to “lose face”.

    Icha’s reference to forgiving being “divine” is illuminating and inspiring!

    1. Allan,
      Just this morning I felt I was scolded when an American friend said I sometimes speak better English than he does. The thing is that most of the times we are solely focused on being grammatically perfect that we tend to forget to teach how to sound naturally (grammatically and stylisticaly speaking in writing and in speaking) and we end up passing this idea of becoming accurate speakers/writers to our students. Putting this way, errors are something we should combat and fight with all our strength. This attitude is unhealthy in any teaching environment, thus we should avoid.

      And Yitzha,
      I wholehearteadly believe that we should make use of the strategies that work best in our unique teaching environment. Getting students to translate in order to reflect upon what meaning they want to convey is of great importance in teaching any foreigner language.

      Congrats on the great discussion!

  5. Hi Naomi
    Thank you so much for your lovely feedback. I do understand that each class needs different approach when it comes to teaching, so I was actually sharing what works for my classes here in Indonesia. I think it is wonderful what you’re doing with your students, cause I’m sure it is not easy for you to do. I think I should learn a lot from you then :)

    Hi Allan
    Thanks so much for your feedback here. What I’m trying to do here for my students is building their sense of awareness. When they say something in English, I want them to understand what it really means in Bahasa too, so they will know whether they have made their point correctly. In my experience, translating is one of the better way to do it for those who’re just starting to learn English, and it’s easier too for them to evaluate themselves. Anyway, thank you so much for this. Really appreciate it


    1. Yitzha / Bruno.
      Thank you both for your responses and feedback to my earlier comments.
      I have a little difficulty in my understanding of some aspects of the language learning process and maybe of the learning process in general. Here is one example: Frequently I read and hear the non-use of the definite and indefinite articles and of plurals by non-native speakers. Now I am fully aware that in many languages they do not have these. So it seems that the “habit” of not using them is carried-over when they speak English even though they have been properly “taught” and they surely must have “learnt” the correct usage. I do understand that the most important aspect is communication and that to dwell on these “mistakes” can be counter-productive. However, this implies that a lower standard of English is acceptable from them than that used by native speakers. I have encountered similar problems amongst otherwise “highly educated” native speakers. They were all “taught” the differences between words like borrow and lend, take and bring, your and you’re but consistently get them wrong! I frequently “forget” to use me and I correctly even though I “know” better. My use of quotation marks is where that is supposedly the case. For example “learnt” may just mean that they know it but don’t use it correctly. “Taught” could just mean they were told but did not learn etc Sorry if I sound incredibly pedantic about this!

  6. Hi Bruno

    Thanks a lot for this. I’m sure you have your own experiences and ways to handle this. I’m just sharing really, I know I’m still far from perfect, but still though, I’d love learning and evolving.
    Thanks again for the great discussion here

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