31 January 2016

The Importance of Making Mistakes


Making mistakes when speaking or writing a new language is not the same as making certain other kinds of mistakes, at least to me. Making mistakes in language learning is not only necessary, it is a good sign. If you are not making mistakes you are not trying hard enough to use the language.

If you are trying to master English, or any other new language, there are certain things that you are not going to remember, or get right, until your brain is ready. All you can do is to continue to use the language as much as possible, to read, to listen and to speak and write. Eventually that elusive word, or that difficult phrase, will start to become natural.

Each time you make a mistake, in writing or speaking, or are aware that you didn’t use the language as well as you would have liked, is an opportunity to improve. It means you are noticing aspects of the language. You don’t have to get everything right, but you need to focus on noticing how the language works. You might get something right one time and get it wrong the next time. That is all good. You now may start noticing these things when you listen and read. As long as you are trying to notice the language and not allowing yourself to get upset over mistakes, you will improve. The mistakes will correct themselves eventually with enough exposure, but only when your brain is ready.


So just keep enjoying the language and remember these points:

1) You should not be afraid to speak for fear of making mistakes. Your main goal has to be to communicate. You should communicate whenever you have the opportunity, without fear. But you have to build up your ability to communicate, and just communicating, by itself, will not do that. You need to make an effort to notice your mistakes, and to be happy when you notice them.

2) If you only communicate in the language without putting an effort into improving, you will not improve. Focus on noticing, noticing when you use the language, and then noticing again when you listen and read. This will you train your brain develop better language habits.

3) You need to continue to focus on input even while speaking and writing. You need to deliberately save new words and phrases. You need to be conscious of which words and concepts you were unable to express when you spoke, and go back to your input to look for them. Input should be 75% of your time spent studying the language, as we say at LingQ. Some immigrants to Canada seem to think that if they only get a job in an English speaking environment they will achieve English fluency. This is not true. Those people never achieve their English language potential.

4) You should work on pronunciation, deliberately and consistently but without worrying unduly. When listening, you should every so often focus on pronunciation and try to notice how your pronunciation differs from the pronunciation of the native. But don’t force it. Don’t become self-conscious about your pronunciation. The more you listen and notice native pronunciation, the clearer yours will become. The key thing is to communicate. Most speakers of foreign languages retain an accent, and that is not an obstacle to communication and may even be charming.

Try to do as much as possible on your own, and that means noticing your own mistakes. This is the approach we use at LingQ and it is efficient and cost effective.

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  • […] I will make a fresh start. I will forget the rules of grammar. I will forget the quizzes and tests. I will forget all the times I made mistakes. I will forget what my teachers taught me. I will forget my native language. I will forget who I am. […]

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