When is it OK to correct someone's English?

You may have struggled when meeting someone new and felt uneasy by their awkward expression and use of language. Some people are immediately happy to play the teacher and mouth syllables and offer corrections. Me, personally I wait to be invited to ‘help’ or correct their approach to the English language, in this context Australian English. Why? Because I think it’s rude to stop people when they are trying to conjugate new verbs, say ‘tion’ or take extra care to pronounce ‘es’ at the end of clothes. In the latter’s case it took months for me to correct my husband’s pronunciation. Maybe it is a bit selfish but I just found those little idiosyncrasies just so damn cute.

A newer friend asked at once if I could correct her and thrives on having a conversation with someone that will listen and suggest more modern words and offer encouragement. It is exciting hearing her progress and become one of those clever people that have mastered their 4th or 5th language. Meanwhile, I hold zero dispute with myself about getting my tongue around complicated Ukrainian words (a category 3 language according to the Defense Language Institute (DLI), a US institution so therefore not indicative of a global ranking) piled up consonants. It is the ability to connect and emphasise with each other that makes the meeting all the more thrilling.

I have also felt the odd twinge of jealously when friends have met brimming with excitement and shared that they have just had their first dream in English.

This hasn’t happened to me, other than the odd day dream wishing to have a decent quality ‘MediaLuna’ with my coffee. I want it!

The University of Sydney comes in at number 18 in the most recent QS World University Language ratings for the English language and literature. Australia is a popular and friendly place for students to come and learn English at private colleges or enter into short courses while working or holidaying, majority of these internationals being of Italian origin. Recently, Australia has even surpassed Canada (Canadian English once considered the ‘median’ English) as the ultimate language destination and comes a close second to the United Kingdom and the United States.

The general consensus tells us that we all need positive reinforcement i.e. nod, offer a facial expression or a hand gesture to encourage a speaker to continue, acknowledge that you understand what they are trying to say or offer reassurance that they have made a common error.

The TEFL academy tells us that it is best practise to ‘save the corrections for later’.

These comments have been made largely from experiences in comfortable social settings both here and abroad but mostly in Australia. What has your personal experience been and do you have any useful strategies to pass on? Another discussion would be the complexities of language acquisition which is both endless and controversial….

Discussion, Discourse and Learning

Discussion, Discourse and Learning

Alison Wilson