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Racing Letters

The amazing foreign language writing game

By Victor - 15/jun/2021 #Language and Education

Writing is a key skill in the language acquisition process[1], and having your writing corrected by a well-educated native speaker provides invaluable feedback and helps you quickly improve your proficiency[2].

But what do you with your corrected essays?

Reading over the corrections once or twice is good, but not sufficient to incorporate them into your implicit, long-term memory.

How can you make the polished spelling, grammar, and word usage part of your permanent, automatic language repertoire without the drudgery of rereading the same text dozens of times[3]?

I worked with my colleagues at The Natural Language Institute to develop the perfect solution: Racing Letters, a game that uses corrections from your own essays as fuel to quickly boost your foreign language proficiency while you have a blast! Racing Letters is the epitome of a personalized, efficient language-learning method.

It will have you scrambling to rewrite the sections of your essays corrected by your teacher.

The process of thus repeatedly reviewing your essay corrections and having to quickly reproduce them leads to you internalizing and automating the knowledge in your teacher’s feedback, while committing them to your long-term memory.

You play against the computer, and if you don’t write in the correct text quickly and accurately, the computer types the letters in for you—thus the name of the game. For each letter you type correctly, you get a point, while each time the computer is faster than you, it gets one point. You have to earn more points than the computer to win the game (and get to enjoy the fireworks).

There are five levels, providing an increasing challenge while you cycle through your essays and progressively master all the correct versions of your texts. If you can beat levels 4 and 5, you can be confident that you have fully absorbed and incorporated the respective vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and stylistic improvements.[4]

If you’ve already sent in your English, Spanish, French, or Portuguese essay for correction by one of our teachers, then log in to your account to try Racing Letters. If you haven’t done so yet, be sure to take advantage of the offer of a free correction today. And if you are a student or teacher with corrected essays that you would like to use with Racing Letters, contact us for arrangements.

[1] John Bitchener and Neomy Starch, in Written Corrective Feedback for L2 Development, argue that the advantages of corrections to writing, as opposed to speaking, lie in its permanence—meaning learners can refer back to it repeatedly over time—and the fact that it allows for additional time to access long-term memory and thus harnesses explicit knowledge in constructing output (Bitchener, John and Neomy Starch. Written Corrective Feedback for L2 Development. Bristol; Buffalo: Multilingual Matters, 2016).

The same advantages hold for writing in general, as I argued in this post on the importance of writing. I elaborated further on how the writing process converts passive knowledge into active or productive knowledge. Along similar lines, Bitchener and Starch discuss the process of explicit knowledge (learned rules and patterns) becoming implicit (automatic, spontaneous) knowledge.    

[2] John Truscott famously questioned the value of written corrective feedback in language instruction and called for its abandonment in 1996, leading to an ongoing academic debate in which a number of critics have provided rebuttals to both his theoretical and empirical arguments (see Ferris, D. R. The “grammar correction” debate in L2 writing: Journal of Second Language Writing, 13, 49 – 62).

My lifelong experience as a language learner and instructor has provided me with ample empirical evidence of the value for students of receiving both oral and written corrective feedback, but also of the importance of reviewing these corrections repeatedly, as mentioned below.

[3] Much of the debate surrounding written corrective feedback (CF) assumes the “single written CF episode” (Bitchener & Starch, 2016, p. 6). In fact, students looking at corrections to a written composition just once will have a limited impact on student outcomes that would be hard to measure through empirical studies. Racing Letters addresses precisely this limitation. By motivating students to not only review corrections many times, but actually rewrite the relevant passages repeatedly, explicit learning becomes implicit or automated, committing the correct forms to long-term, easily retrievable memory.

[4] The literature has classified written corrective feedback (CF) into three types: (1) direct written CF, by which the instructor substitutes the incorrect or less desirable form with the correction, thus providing immediate information to the student; (2) indirect written CF, where the instructor indicates the mistakes, but does not provide the correct form, leaving the student to formulate the correction; and (3) metalinguistic CF, which provides an explanation as to the reason for the correction or the rule associated with the mistake (Ellis, Rod. (2009). “Corrective Feedback and Teacher Development”. L2 Journal. 1. 3-18. 10.5070/L2.V1I1.9054).

It is worth noting that Racing Letters combines the first two—direct written CF and indirect written CF—because each “game” is based on an essay with explicit or direct corrections, which are available for the student to review before and after playing, but the gameplay itself uses a type of indirect written CF, because corrected segments are substituted with blank lines that the student must be filled in by memory or reasoning. A future version of Racing Letters will also include the third type--metalinguistic written CF—by including grammar topics and explanations and word definitions, such as our other games (Grammar Rush and Crosswords, for example) already provide.


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