Positive Implicit Feedback Empowers ESL Learners
For the last 30 years, hundreds of research publications on this topic have shown inconclusive results, often demonstrating contrasting views of corrective feedback’s usefulness. Moreover, some educators believe only implicit feedback should be used in ESL learning. We base our decisions on what we believe to be true. Sometimes, however, we believe something that isn’t true. Then our decisions could be wrong, leading us away from the truth.
Andrew Weiler, in his article “Importance of Feedback in Language Learning“, writes
I have seen language learners accumulate enormous amounts of knowledge about language and a variety of language skills, but they don’t seem to be able to put it all together. One reason is that they have not been using the feedback they get to effectively and appropriately modify what they do, say, or learn.
I want to explain why feedback does not improve student learning and often serves as a source of anxiety and frustration, which hinder learners’ language progress. Why are teachers making the same comments over and over again and wondering why the students have not been using the feedback to modify effectively and appropriately what they do, say, or learn?
Corrective Feedback For Language Learning
Corrective feedback is given because teachers believe students can forget errors and remember the correct pronunciation or grammatical structure and use them in their conversation. This misconception stems from the fact that all thirty known ESL teaching methods are based on conscious memorization as the primary teaching pedagogy. Children learn any language (native or any other language in their environment) subconsciously up to the age of about 12 years and speak acquired languages without an accent. Native speakers subconsciously communicate with a speech rate of two or three words per second. There is no sense in believing that non-native speakers could acquire fluency by conscious memorization of words, pronunciation, grammar rules, etc.
Subconscious Training And Spoken Language Fluency
We speak fluently not because we know but because we can and do allow our subconscious to control this process of describing our thoughts using the capacity of our subconscious mind to speak automatically in language chunks. If you think that the language chunks are recorded in the memory, you are wrong. It is the same as saying that a pianist who performs Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in Carnegie Hall has memorized half a million notes by heart and stores them in their memory. No memory is involved in this process, and the pianist performs the concerto because they do it subconsciously! Their performance skills are achieved by subconscious training, but we have no knowledge about where their skills are stored.
The human brain was subdivided into the subconscious and the conscious part at the end of the nineteenth century by psychologist Pierre Janet, and then extensively studied by Sigmund Freud. Neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander, after his near-death experience, concluded that the subconscious is not located in our brains. Moreover, Dr. Alexander wrote: “I was encountering the reality of a world of consciousness that existed completely free of the limitations of my physical brain.” Our attempts to memorize knowledge about a foreign language and recall this knowledge while speaking is futile because conscious recall is a very slow process and does not allow us to create the two or three words per second needed for natural communication. Language chunks are recorded by the subconscious part of the mind and appear on the tip of the tongue momentarily without conscious control or a recall process.
Unfortunately, most ESL teachers believe that corrective feedback is a must, as if our brain can forget errors and remember the correct words or pronunciation. The vocal apparatus includes the pharynx, larynx, teeth, tongue, and lips, which produce sounds and speech subconsciously. It is like a muscle; the more you train it, the stronger it becomes. Similarly, the more you practice your pronunciation, the better it becomes, not because you have learned or remembered it but because you trained for it. Your subconscious has recorded the correct patterns, allowing you to reproduce them effortlessly.
Positive Implicit Feedback For Language Learning
In subconscious training in English skills, corrective feedback is not recommended because it automatically opens the conscious part of the mind for processing feedback with futile attempts to remember feedback. We use positive implicit feedback, which does not interfere with subconscious training and demonstrates the student’s progress in acquiring fluency. Before answering the title question of whether to give or not give corrective feedback, the ESL teacher should check if their belief system reflects the latest knowledge about how we should learn a foreign language. In other words, we need to answer another fundamental question: language learning or language acquisition?
- If you choose language learning, then corrective feedback is mandatory.
- If you choose language acquisition, then only implicit positive feedback is recommended.
To disrupt traditional language learning methods, you should not wait until the masses accept subconscious training as a new, more efficient way to become fluent in a foreign language. If you do not know how to make the right choice between language learning and subconscious training, read this, assimilate the content in your mind, and conclude who the winner is.