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August 23, 2012 |

Correcting a beginner

In this post I'd like to discuss something that is very beneficial to me when I'm starting out learning a language: getting corrected by people in a helpful way. This goes beyond simply not being rude when telling someone how to reword their sentence; it involves correcting as few things as is possible. When correcting a beginner's sentences, change as few words as is possible to make the sentence make sense. For example, if I'm learning English and I write:

When she go, I will be first to be sad.

It's helpful to correct it to:

When she goes, I will be the first one to be sad.

Do NOT correct it to how a native would say it:

I'll be the first one to cry when she leaves.

This is confusing as there are too many word changes for the beginner to actually get anything out of it. They're likely okay with and perfectly knowledgeable of their original sentence sounding awkward; simply help make it understandable and grammatically correct. This way, the beginner can focus on things like verb conjugations and plural agreement instead of worrying that their entire sentence structure is warped. Let them get into fixing the awkwardness of their sentences when they become more comfortable with the language.

As a personal example, I was writing a quick message in Swedish to the maker of the podcast that I mentioned in the last post. I asked my Swedish friend to correct the following sentence while changing as few words as possible:

Jag lär mig svenska genom din podcasts och jag undrar om du vet en sajt var jag kan hitta ord att studera, helst ord som du använda under din podcasts.

He corrected it to:

Jag lär mig svenska genom dina podcasts och jag undrar om du vet en sajt där jag kan hitta ord att studera, helst ord som du använder under dina podcasts.

This is a much more beneficial correction than completely revamping my entire sentence. Via this correction, I can see that I need to pay closer attention to my plural agreement, conjunctions, and verb conjugations. Thanks, Jakob!

So remember, when helping correct a sentence for a beginner, less is more.

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