arrow-down arrow-to-left arrow-to-right arrow-up bc-left check delete download facebook google-plus home map menu print search smiling three-lines top-left twitter youtube
May 2015

Language learning and the merits of making mistakes

Sometimes, being wrong is the right way to go!

Whenever we embark on learning a new language, it’s hard not to fantasize on fluency, the idea that, given enough time, one might speak with native speakers like a native speaker. Truth is the road to such a lofty milestone is wrought with many twists and turns and even sometimes backward steps. It can often be a blow to the ego when one makes mistakes, making one feel almost like a child again. Unfortunately, that is an unavoidable step toward mastering a language, and there is only one way to not only get around such obstacles but to use them to one’s advantage: embrace the mistakes.

“Women tend to learn faster than men”, a foreign language instructor once said to this writer, “because they are less willing to make mistakes”. While circumstantial and not immediately backed by scientific data, the language instructor made a valid point that one of the biggest obstacles to learning a new language (or really learning anything, for that matter) is the ego. In other words, one must put the ego aside if one hopes to learn effectively.

When one fears no longer the mistakes made when speaking and writing in a foreign language, one becomes more daring in conversing with others. Mistakes made, when corrected, teach us because we simply remember the lessons better. How many of us can remember an embarrassing situation, perhaps in a foreign country, when we forget a word and stand there staring like an idiot. If that happened to you, would you likely make the same mistake again? Likely not.

There is no such thing as perfection in learning a new language, and “fluency” is a subjective definition depending on whom you ask. Some people consider themselves fluent when they can simply interact on a basic level with native speakers. Perfectionists may never consider themselves fluent at all. And while it is far too easy to compare oneself to other language learners, this is just another negative example of the ego coming into play. Learning a new language is a long process where, even in a student’s advanced stages, mistakes will almost certainly always occur. Your only competition is yourself.

The best way to utilize mistakes in language learning is to speak and write as often as you can, making sure you are corrected and that you commit these corrections to memory. Sometimes it will take several corrections before a lesson is truly learned. And, as sad as it may be, the bigger the embarrassment, the bigger the lesson and the less likely you will forget the mistake. This is why experiences in the country of your target language are so invaluable; the mistakes we make interacting with native speakers are solidified in our minds.

Being bold also means not being afraid of potentially embarrassing situations. For example, if you tend to be shy with speaking to locals in the country of your target language, perhaps you could give it a concerted go if solely for the benefit of language education. At worst, you’ll walk away with a lesson learned. You’ll never see them again anyway! If you’re at home, you could head to an establishment where people likely speak your target language (like a restaurant) and attempt to converse in the language even if you feel you aren’t entirely ready. Bold steps like these can help a student bridge the gap between the textbook and the real world while providing opportunities to make (and subsequently learn from) mistakes. Being comfortable being wrong is an incredible skill to learn.

If you take anything away from this post, it’s that positivity and persistence are the keys to forward momentum. Go out and make your mistakes with a smile, and you’ll find that, in the end, sometimes being wrong is the right way to go.

Have you ever had an embarrassing moment that helped you learn more about your target language? What are the mistakes you normally make and how have you learned from them? Let us know on Facebook and be sure to “like” our page for more helpful language learning articles!