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Giving Verbal Feedback


Submitted by Mehdi Mahdiyan, Iran

I have been teaching English for ten years. In my classes, I often notice while giving the students verbal feedback in guided speaking tasks, they don’t react positively. I think they don’t want to be corrected by me. However, when I use their mother tongue (Persian) for giving feedback, they react less negatively. Can you comment?

Dr Richards responds:

Two issues are relevant here. One is anxiety and the other is willingness to communicate.
Anxiety is a product of many language learning and language using situations and has an obvious impact on learners’ learning/and or production of a second language (Horwitz 2010) and on their response to feedback. For example when a learner tries to use English or makes errors and is corrected, issues of face are involved: How will I appear to others? Will I come across as awkward? What will they think of my English?

In lessons the learner may also be concerned about his or her understanding of how the class functions, how typical classroom tasks such as group work, unfold, what his or her role should be in the class, and whether he or she has correctly understood the teachers’ intentions. And when the learner has to answer a question or perform an activity in front of the class he or she may be worried about how well he or she may respond. Will I do it correctly? Can I give the correct answer? Anxiety can thus influence how willing a learner is to use his or her English, to take risks, or to speak up in class. Anxiety is thus a factor that can affect a learner’s willingness to use English both inside the classroom and outside it and how the learner responds to feedback. Use of the mother tongue may lower the anxiety level.

In teaching English it is therefore important to consider the emotional demands that learning a language involves – both during in class and out of class occasions – and to help students develop the emotional skills needed to use English in both these situation.

Another issue that can affect students’ classroom participation is their willingness to attempt to use English in the classroom (MacIntyre 2007: Peng and Woodrow 2010), a factor that has been linked to variables such as personality, self-confidence, attitudes and motivation and is linked to anxiety as well as learners’ views of their own communicative competence.

“ …learners who have higher perceptions of their communication competence and experience a lower level of communication anxiety tend to be more willing to initiate communication”(Peng and Woodrow 2010, 836). However other situational factors are also involved, such as topic, task, group size, and cultural background. For example in some cultures, students may be more willing to communicate or accept feedback in front of their peers in the classroom than in other cultures. A student may believe that if he or she speaks up in class this may not be valued by other students since it is judged as “showing off” and an attempt to make other students look weak. And if students are very exam oriented and do not see that communicative activities will help them pass an exam they may have little motivation to communicate in a communication-oriented class.
Horwitz, Elaine 2010. Foreign and second language anxiety. Language teaching, 43 (2), 154-167.
MacIntyre,P.D. 2007. Willingness to communicate in the second language: Understanding the decision to speak as a volitional process. Modern Language Journal, 91 (4),564-576.
Peng Jian-E and Lindy Woodrow. 2010. Willingness to communicate in English. Language Learning, 60 (4), 834-876.