Why Language Perfectionism May Be Depriving Others Of Joy

Recently, a friend posted a recording on Facebook of a song she had arranged and sung, along with the text: "I arranged, performed, recorded, and mixed a pretty song. It ain't perfect, but that's okay."

I played the song, and yes, there were mistakes. Exactly as she said, it's not perfect. But it's still lovely. This friend of mine has possibly the most beautiful singing voice that I have ever heard in person — it cuts me right to the bone every time I have the good fortune of hearing her sing.

She didn't become such an incredible singer by accident, or by luck, she got that way by years of endless practice, doing something she loves. Investing time and energy and passion to become better... much the same way that we language learners spend tireless years practicing the art of speaking another language.

Maybe perfectionism isn't a victimless crime

What struck me most, though, was that she posted this imperfect recording with mistakes and flaws for everyone to hear. In fact, she was proud of it, in spite of the imperfections, and she was happy to share it with others.

That caused me to think about my own passions... my own interests... the things that I love... And not just as a function of whether or not I'm embarrassed by my own imperfections and/or mistakes... it caused me to think about it from the perspective of others.

If I get such joy out of seeing my friends do what they love and do it well, am I depriving my own friends of that same joy when I don't give them an opportunity to see me do what I love?

It's easy to excuse perfectionism with the thought that "it only hurts me, and if I want to be that way, it's my choice". But maybe that's not true. Maybe when we pass an opportunity to speak in Spanish, (or Mandarin, or Czech, or whatever) maybe we're actually robbing our friends of an opportunity to get a little bit of joy from seeing us do the thing we love.


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Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

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  • nice post!

  • Thanks!

  • I swear to you, one of the most distinguishing characteristics of successful people vs. everyone else is that they have made a LOT more mistakes and are more willing to make mistakes and fail.

  • Very timely post. I got a few comments about my Russian mistakes in the Russian language video I posted on Tuesday. I think it's precisely because I'm courageous enough to post something I know is imperfect that I am inspiring others to speak a foreign language, even if they have pronunciation or grammatical errors. If we want our languages to be perfect, we might as well be dumb, deaf and mute because there will be no one to speak to!

  • I'd differentiate that with taking risks. Successful people take more risks, not necessarily make more mistakes.

  • I'd say that willingness to take risks is a better indication of tendency toward success, but that willingness to make mistakes is a better indication of character.

  • I think those who have succeeded have made more mistakes, but it wasn't their willingness that was the key.

  • In the video, I really liked your pronunciation and intonation, even if you weren't entirely grammatically correct.  

  • Another great post.  A mentor of mine once told me as a language learner, "You'll make a million mistakes to learn a language.  So get started!"

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