ALT Notes is...

a place for wide-ranging ideas on team-teaching, lesson planning, activities, strategies and teaching know-how for foreign and Japanese EFL teachers.
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May 19, 2009

Focus on Meaning or Form?

In my 15 years in Japan, I have asked countless Japanese adults why, after 6-10 years of studying English, they are unable to have even a simple conversation. The majority tell me that when they start to think of English, endless rules and grammar lessons enter their heads and the resulting confusion makes speaking impossible.
And a few years ago, when I was doing some research on Error Correction in the EFL classroom, one comment especially stood out for me. One researcher said: “Error correction done wrong turns a student’s attention to form, not meaning.”
From these two anecdotes it would be easy to conclude that there is an over-emphasis on form in many Japanese English classrooms. Knowing there is also a tremendous focus on training-for-the-test, this simple conclusion finds more and more support the more I look at the English education system in Japan.
Form (that is, speaking correctly) is certainly important and cannot be overlooked. But when attention to form, or anything else for that matter, becomes an obstacle to developing speaking ability, however, can there be any disagreement that we need to be very careful how we correct, or interact with, our students?

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