A wise man once said, “Your best teacher is your last mistake.” In language learning your last mistake is always right around the corner! If you aren’t making mistakes in language learning, then can you even say that you’re really learning the language? Face it, you’re going to mess up, and depending on what kind of person you are it may come as a moment of embarrassment or excitement.
I never get tired of saying the wrong things. In fact, I find it funny when I blurt out the wrong word or make an awkward hand gesture that doesn’t match what I’m saying.
One time I walked into a restaurant with 4 of my friends and asked to be seated for four while holding up three fingers. That isn’t even that bad compared to other times:
One day I was asking my classmate when her interview for her master’s program was… or at least I thought I was.
It went something like this:
Me: Menkyo wa itsu desu ka? (When is your license?)
Her: Nani? What?
Me: Menkyo ga arimasu ne? (You have a license, right?)
Her: iie (no)
Me: Nani? What?
So, the word for an interview in Japanese is 面接 (mensetsu), but I was saying 免許 (menkyo) the entire time. Turns out later that day I heard the word being tossed around casually among some locals and that’s when it hit me.
“OHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!,” I exclaimed. 🤦♂️🤦♂️
The Importance Of Mistakes In Language Learning
Language learning is not a linear progression, so if you’re thinking “It’ll be fine, I’ll just walk up this road and eventually hit fluency.” then you are gravely mistaken. You’ll wander into some potholes, crevices, you may even get hit by a car or two while walking on that road. For the sake of this article think of all these dilemmas as “mistakes and blunders.”
Let’s continue using the metaphor of that ‘dangerous road;’ you’ve wandered into a pothole and it probably took you days to get out, but hey at least you know where that pothole is now and how to avoid it.
Mistakes are bound to happen in language learning, for some it is a road that they’ve never journeyed on. While for others it can be familiar, but never 100% recognizable. There is always going to be something that you don’t know, no matter your level of experience.
Shame In Language Learning
Okay, so you’ve done it. You’ve said something so awkward that it makes you want to give up on the language entirely. Shame, that is the name I give it. The unbearable feeling you get when you just can’t stand to put up with your shoddy language skills anymore. The good news is that you’re not alone in this, but the “bad” news is that you’re going to make another hundreds or thousands of these blunders.
There is usually only good news and bad news in these kinds of segments but here is the FANTASTIC news! Mistakes can improve your language learning experience. Here are some ways in which that can happen:
Mistakes Correct Information
Many people forget that language learning is a complex network of information. It’s not just a one-trick pony. At times, this information can become jumbled, and you’ll end up tangling words, grammar, even mispronouncing sentences. When you make a mistake, it triggers your brain to clear out the clutter surrounding that piece of information, so the next time you use it you’re sure to get it right!
I’ve said this about 3 times so far, but I’ll say it again “You’re going to make mistakes, no matter what when you’re learning a language.” So, if this is the case you might as well go out with a bang. Mistakes are a guaranteed way to boost your confidence when it comes to speaking abilities. The more blunders you end up saying, the more comfortable you’ll eventually become with your language skills. When you reach a certain level of comfort, you’ll end up speaking with no cares in the world for whatever illogical structure comes out of your mouth. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, because you’ll also be corrected more often when you say those illogical things.
Learn How To Take Risks
Language learning is a risky journey. There will be times when you’re afraid to make the jump to the next level, but it gets easier with time and experience. Think of mistakes as a progress marker – when you begin to recognize them you know that you’re doing something right. Taking risks is one of the greatest takeaways in language learning due to the sheer amount of exposure you’ll receive.
Mistakes Settle Your Ego
Admit it. You think you’re the greatest thing in the world. There’s nothing wrong with that but in language learning, you need to stow that idea away for a while. Language learning is best mastered when it is done in a state of humility.
I know I just talked about taking risks, but too much of everything is still a bad thing. In other words, you ought to be cautious with your risk-taking. While mistakes provide an amazing learning opportunity there are times when your lack of experience won’t count as an excuse.
Mess Up, And Be Proud
Know this for the final time, YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES! I think I’ve said that about five times now at least, but it seriously can’t be stressed enough. Don’t think it’s the end of the world when you’re frequently making mistakes. In hindsight, mistakes are the beginning of a new learning experience. Language learning is about the process of progress not the progression of the progress.
Does that make sense?
Let me say it again, THE PROCESS OF PROGRESS!