As children become more fluent speakers, they develop a deep and multifaceted understanding of language structures and rules. It is in their mistakes that we see this process at work. A typical example in English is when a child who has seemed to be using the past tense correctly suddenly starts saying things like “I runned in the park” or “We writed a letter in school today.” These errors are actually examples of language development. They are a sign that the child has recognized language patterns and figured out the rule that regular verbs take -ed in the past tense. As their language skills develop further, children will eventually sort out regular and irregular verbs.
Researchers on second language acquisition have a name for this phase of language development, when learners (adults and children) sort out the patterns of two or more languages. It is called interlanguage. Here too, what we may hear as mistakes are signs of a developing language system. Mistakes are integral to the process of becoming a fluent, flexible, comfortable speaker of multiple languages. It is also interesting to note that most grammatical mistakes in a second language are not a result of transfer, or transferring the rules of one language to another. Rather, they are, once again, a sign of pattern recognition and development, as the learner makes sense of two separate sets of grammatical rules.
We encourage you NOT to correct your child’s mistakes. Error correction plants firmly in the short-term memory and does nothing to help your child sort out language patterns. Rather, model the language by finding natural ways to use it correctly.