Strategies to correct users' mistakes in a language learners community?

Hi all,

After reading this thread

I have a somewhat related question:

I have set up a small community for Germans learning my native language Dutch. As is the nature of a language learners’ community, my users are making quite a few grammar and spelling mistakes in their posts.

My current “strategy” for teaching them the right way is by replying and subtly rephrasing their sentences in my answer – hoping that they pick up the correct wording from that. This works, but only to a certain extent.

I am hesitant to clearly point out their mistakes because I do not want to scare them off. On the other hand, I do not want their mistakes to go unnoticed. Other participants will see these texts without knowing that they contain errors and this is something I really want to avoid.

Is anyone here in a similar situation? How do you deal with this kind of mistakes?

My community platform is Discourse.


Hi @lostintime - correcting my users grammar and spelling isn’t something I do currently, however, by the sounds of things your community is aimed at helping your members LEARN the language you’re correcting them in - that’s a different ball game and, I presume, is actually adding value.

I’m wondering why you ask - do you feel guilty in doing it? Has someone complained about it?
I think if you’re up front and clear about doing it and that it’s to help and add value, as well as making sure that you’re doing it in an approachable and appropriate manner, then fair play to you! Keep on correcting!

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I think your rationale is strong. Have you talked with the community about your approach to get their take on it?

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Hi Nick, thanks for weighing in.

I’m wondering why you ask - do you feel guilty in doing it? Has someone complained about it?

That’s a very valid question. The main reason is really that I do not want to scare them off. (I know that some of them would hate to see their mistakes “exposed” to the rest of the community.)

On the other hand, by being clear about my motives, there’s actually a lot to gain for them (and for the community as a whole) when I correct their posts. I guess I have to find a balance between praising them for their efforts and correcting them so that they can actually feel good about their writing.

@HAWK I have talked to a few individuals. I am thinking about putting my reasons for wanting to correct them in a post that’s easily accessible to all members. I might also invite them to actively help develop a “policy”. Thanks!

That’s what I was thinking too. Since you’re on Discourse, you could make a dismissible pinned banner topic. There are some good tips in this topic about customising those to be more attractive and noticeable.

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That’s very helpful Sarah, thanks!

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My wife, who is a professor in second language learning, says not to worry. If people are able to communicate, then they are communicating. There is no danger of people mistaking bad grammar for good. To her, you question doesn’t really make any sense.

My training is in cognitive psychology, and while I am aware of research showing that when people see “wrong” examples, they are likely to remember and follow them, but those examples are typically in math and science, not language acquisition. There’s pretty good evidence that we learn language very differently.

I have an idea, though. You could encourage community members to use some kind of signal, an emoticon, perhaps, to set off sections that they are not sure how to phrase, or would like help with. People could then reply, quote that section, and propose an alternate phrasing.


This is brilliant!

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In my experience with Germans learning Dutch there is, Jay. And that’s exactly what I want to avoid.

I love your idea though. Thanks!

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I’m running a community where people make many grammar mistakes. What I know for sure is correcting them will make them hate me - that’s my experience.

Even rephrasing is bad.

In your case, the only topic I’d allow my mods to fix user errors and mistakes publicly is a dedicated topic that would say “please fix my writing” and “please paraphrase my sentence”. In this case you’ll know the user WANTS you to fix them. If this works, you can go deeper and split topics by, well, topics: punctuation, verbs/times, irregulat verbs, pluralization etc. you may end up with a “Fix my writing” category with quite a few topics in it".

What I know for sure is correcting them will make them hate me - that’s my experience.

That’s an interesting observation Anton. What kind of community are you working with? Does it have something to do with language learning or writing?

It’s a community of Ukrainian and Russian speaking goat farmers: