As professional proofreaders we love correcting grammar. It’s what we do! Unfortunately, in our everyday lives not everyone wants to be called out on their grammar mistakes. At times it can be helpful, but most of the time, probably not. The majority of people either know they have made a mistake or do not think it is a major problem. When we correct them, they can feel agitated or ruin the flow of their train of thought. This could have been a well intentioned gesture to help someone avoid often repeating mistakes or even a large glaring one. That is why it is important to be able to distinguish when someone wants our help and when they would prefer we remain silent.
When someone is speaking, step back for a minute and try to figure out if your help is warranted. Is the person speaking in the middle of an engaging conversation? Do they usually have correct grammar but were wrong in this one instance? Is the mistake they are making even worth correcting in the moment? Quickly assessing these questions will help you figure out whether you can interject or if it is better to leave it alone.
Is English Their First Language?
Many people who speak English as their second language make repeat grammatical errors and they do this often. It is difficult correcting them because if their mistakes are recurring this will hinder their communication and prevent them from making their point. Sometimes, they will welcome a correction in their grammar however, trying to do this consistently will not only put them off. It can lower their confidence in their English language skills and frustrate them more than anything. The goal here is for their English communication skills to improve, not necessarily their grammar right away.
Is it solicited?
Has the subject in question asked for you to help them improve their English speaking skills? If so, then by all means help them out. They are willing to be engaged on this level and welcome the challenge so they can improve themselves.
Will they retain all this new information?
Sometimes when a person has to process so much new information quickly, it becomes difficult to keep up. They can give up or shut down their brain completely to the information being given. If your grammar corrections are not being taken in and fail to make an impact, then it is better to leave well enough alone.
Are they speaking in slang?
Different groups of people, and areas speak differently. Especially among the younger generation, the incorporation of slang into their vocabulary is relatively common. You can often feel lost if you are not hip to the new way of speaking.
Overall, there is a large distinction between English speaking and writing. We tend to give more significant leeway to those speaking because we can follow up if we do not understand what is being said or we feel it is ambiguous. Writing is not as easy as speaking because having a well planned and thought out peace of writing takes more work. As professional proofreaders, we constantly check and correct other people’s mistakes either structurally or grammatically. This same fervour and passion we have for proofreading does not always translate to correcting the speaking grammar of someone else.
Often, the best approach to take when attempting to correct other people’s grammatical speech is to model the correct way of speaking yourself. They will learn through listening and then they can choose whether to incorporate the more grammatically correct way of speaking into their own everyday speech.