Tips for learners: make more mistakes!

Everyone makes mistakes when learning a language; you can’t get better at speaking a language without getting things wrong sometimes. Some people think that making mistakes is bad; they feel ashamed, embarrassed, or even angry with themselves when they make a mistake. Or, even worse, they don’t talk, because they don’t want to say something wrong.

Many students have told me about teachers who would get angry at them for making mistakes: the teacher would yell, or throw things, or make the student feel bad about any little error. Bad teachers! When teachers get angry, do students suddenly become perfect and stop making mistakes? No! The students just feel bad and don’t want to say anything, so they don’t practice and they don’t learn. A good teacher will help you to get better, and one way they will do that is by encouraging you to try and try again, even if you make mistakes. 

In my opinion, the best way to get better at English (or any language) is to make more mistakes! If you make a mistake, it means that you are trying something which is difficult or challenging for you. We don’t get better by doing only easy things, or things we already know how to do. We get better by doing difficult things, and this means that sometimes we get it wrong. 

When you were a child, learning your first language, do you think you always spoke perfectly? Of course not! You tried things and you made mistakes, and by making mistakes, you learned. Why should learning another language be any different?

Studies show that learners who use their language to try to do things, even when they are not sure how,  get better faster and remember more of what they have learned. If you are not speaking because you are waiting until your language is perfect, what you are really doing is slowing down your learning. If I want to be a good basketball player, I will not spend six months reading about the sport before I pick up a ball—I will go out on the court every day and play. The big difference between a novice basketball player and a great player, is that the great player has missed the goal more times than the novice has even tried to score.

I’m not saying that you should ignore mistakes! Of course you should look for mistakes in your language and try to fix them (or even better—find a good teacher to help you!) But what you should not do is let fear of mistakes stop you from using the language. Maybe sometimes people will not understand you. Maybe rude people will even laugh at you. You might feel stupid sometimes. But the person who tries and feels stupid is still doing better than the person who doesn’t try! And in the end, the result of all of your mistakes and all of the times you felt stupid will be that you are better today than you were yesterday, and that’s the important thing.

So if you want to speak better English tomorrow, challenge yourself today. Do something difficult, and make some mistakes!

Do you have any questions, comments, or feedback about this post? Something you don’t understand, or would like to discuss? Let me know! Send me a message or an email. I would love to hear from you!