Mistakes Are Good

Imagine that you just walked into the United Nations Building in New York City.  Because of your careful planning … and a little bit of luck … you have a meeting with several UN translators.

They all speak at least 10 languages and are proficient enough in 5 of them to instantly and accurately translate matters of world importance.  These people are amazingly good at languages.

You just have one question that you want to ask them.  “How many mistakes did you make when you were starting to learn your first language after your native language?”

Their answer would be:  “We made lots of mistakes when we were starting to learn the languages that we now speak!”

Even World Class Translators Didn’t Start That Way

If the best translators in the world, made lots of mistakes when they were starting to learn a new language, don’t you think you will make a lot of mistakes too?

Of course you will — the trick is to learn to enjoy your mistakes.

Mistakes are an Essential Part of Language Learning

There is no path to mastery of a language that does not go through the phase of making lots of mistakes.  Mistakes are an essential part of the learning process.  You will never get good without making lots of mistakes.

How Should You React to Your Mistakes?

Have you ever forgotten something you had just studied and then been upset about it? Did that unhappy emotion help you learn your new language faster?  I don’t think so.

I suggest that you change the emotion that you feel when you make a mistake. I want you to feel great when you make a mistake!

I know this sounds strange, but when you make a mistake you have done something that is an essential part of learning a language!  Of course you should feel good about your mistakes.  They are essential!

If you don’t try … and make lots of mistakes … you won’t learn.

People Who Never Make Mistakes are Called Losers

Now you are probably thinking that there are people who never make mistakes, and of course you are right. In the American language, we call them losers! A “loser” is someone who never accomplishes much.

People who never make mistakes … because they never try … are the only people who never make mistakes. However you are going to accomplish a lot, and you will also make a lot of mistakes.

Everyone who has ever learned a foreign language made a lot of mistakes in the process of learning. Mistakes are essential.

So the next time you forget something or make a mistake, say to yourself, “That’s great!” smile and really feel good about it.

You are doing something that is an essential part of the process.

  • Avatar
    Mike Worley

    Even though it’s contrary to what I was told for so long — “if you are shown how to do a thing how could you get it wrong?” — this advice is very true and useful.

    We are humans, not machines. And, as humans, our nature will make us try to go beyond what we know. We will make mistakes. Unavoidably. I remember hilarious/embarrassing mistakes that taught me more than I would have expected from such an apparently simple faux pas.

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    How fluent should you be in a foreign language before trying to go to school in the country where it is spoken?

    • Brent Van Arsdell
      Brent Van Arsdell

      If your major goal is language learning, then you only have to proficient enough to get the school to accept you. Sometimes you don’t need to know much. One good approach is to enroll in extremely easy courses at some university abroad, but take them in your new language and make language learning the main point.

      Obviously, if you expect to learn physics when you study abroad, you need to have a good grasp of the language the language you are studying physics in, but if your main goal is to immerse yourself in a new language, a much lower level of proficiency is required.

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    I am an officer in the U.S. Navy currently stationed in Bahrain.

    I can read and write Arabic, but speaking it is proving difficult on my own, mostly for lack of a solid vocabulary list (I can make all the appropriate sounds). Locals are happy enough to help me out, but I feel the need for a program more stringent than quizing taxi drivers.

    Rosetta Stone made me snore in the first 15 minutes, and the grammar book I currently have is absolutely useless for speaking (I know, fancy that).

    So, do you have any forthcoming programs, or recommendations for the best course of action?

    Thanks very much for your time!

    Wes Neill

    • Avatar

      Wesley –

      The best suggestion I can make is to go with Pimsleur. Be sure to select the proper Arabic as there are three. Don’t be fooled by any other website selling ‘Pimsleur’ products.

      The best alternative to when your preferred language is not available here.


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