There's No Such Thing As A Language Learning Mistake

What would you think if I said the biggest thing holding you back in your progress doesn't even exist? Maybe you'd think I was crazy. Or maybe you'd think I was simplifying or generalizing, or just lying to you to make you feel better. Well, I have a feeling you're going to be surprised.

One of the biggest things that holds people back in a foreign language is a fear of making mistakes. Oh, sure, you'll say it's not a fear. But I don't care what you call it. Whether you're afraid, or averse, or just uncomfortable with mistakes, the result is the same. It's holding you back.

But it doesn't have to be that way. I'm about to break the shocking news to you. Brace yourself. The truth you didn't know is...

There are no mistakes.

No such thing. They don't exist. Those things you are afraid of doing? They can't be done, so you're actually wasting your time trying to avoid them! There are no mistakes.

So what is there, then, if there are no mistakes? There is only speaking correctly, and speaking incorrectly. You're probably thinking "yeah, well, isn't speaking incorrectly the same as making a mistake?" It's not.

People intentionally speak incorrectly all the time. It's called slang. But they're doing it intentionally, so it's obviously not a mistake.

A real mistake is when you know how do to something, but you accidentally do it wrong. It's rare, it's nothing more than chance, and it happens to everyone. Like when you borrow your friend's white Volkswagen, and the key goes in the door but it won't turn. And when you're about to go ask him what's wrong with the key, you look around and notice there's another white Volkswagen in the same parking lot.

Mistakes only matter in school, where doing something wrong — whether intentional or not — would result in a lowered score. In daily life, and in conversation, there is no score and there are no mistakes. There is no teacher grading you on how well you said something. When you do it incorrectly, there is no grade to lower.

Worrying about mistakes gives them power. Even when you're not saying something wrong, the thought is ruling your mind. And when you do say something wrong the experience shuts down your progress until you stand still.

Reframe it!

There are no mistakes! When you reframe the thought so that mistakes no longer exist, they lose their power over your progress. As I said, there are only things you said correctly and things you said incorrectly. Yes, the things that you say incorrectly will likely reveal you as a non-native speaker of the language. Gasp! That was probably obvious already. Use it. Own it.

Saying things wrong doesn't have to be embarassing. It doesn't have to be perceived as a "mistake". It doesn't have to be scary. Plenty of people speak wrong on purpose all the time. They're not worried about being graded, or making mistakes.

In fact, most people who say things wrong are doing so intentionally... often to get a laugh. So when you say things wrong and you can see that you're not being understood, just act like it was on purpose! If people laugh, you seem like a fun person! If they don't laugh, you just say "must be my foreign sense of humor. I'll keep trying."

It's nothing to be afraid of, and often it can be quite fun. It's like when I know that pezzo is piece and pazzo is crazy, but I somehow manage to ask if it's okay to have the pazzo di vergogno when asking for the last piece of bread. Sure, people are laughing, but they're laughing because what I said is funny, not because I'm stupid.

With that funny situation burned into my mind, I'll always get it right in the future... unless I want to get a laugh out of someone. But maybe I'll intentionally say it wrong again next time! As a foreigner, you have a license to say things wrong, so sometimes you even get away with saying things that a native wouldn't dare say!

Relax. Have fun. Stop worrying about making mistakes - they don't exist.

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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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  • Randy Yearlyglot

    The only mistake you make you make in life is the one you fail to learn from ;)

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    "...the one from which you fail to learn." :)

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    same difference lol

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Just as long as you learn from it! (That was the joke.)

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Hmm.. this post looks strangely familiar ;)

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Exactly what I was thinking... strange sense of deja vu.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Yeah. Figured I gave it enough time. :)

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    On board with the deja vu. Although I don't remember the post, the picture I've definitely seen before.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    That's the kind of correction up with which I would not put!

  • Randy Yearlyglot


  • Randy Yearlyglot

    "know how do to something, but you accidentally do it wrong." makes me furious! imagine, Randy, I'm an English teacher in Russia I obviously know much more then many others, I TEACH people to speak correctly and suddenly talking to one of my students I accidentally say "he don't" instead "he doesn't". No student will forgive me that even if they surely know it was a slip or whatever...another thing is when i'm making mistakes lets say in spanish that I'm not fluent enough in- and again it winds me up! thats the personality - to do everything ideally. So that thing about forgetting of mistakes won't work for me.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I didn't say forget about mistakes. I said stop worrying about them. :)If you accidentally say the wrong word, make a joke about it! Laugh at yourself. Do it first, before any student has the opportunity to laugh. If you make the joke, they won't do it. :)

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    yes, sir, I´ll try))

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Super! How important it is to reframe such nonsense as "mistakes". I prefer to call it my own personal version of the language that is slowly evolving toward everyone else's version.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Yeah, it's just like Edison's famous quote about knowing 1000 ways to *not* make a lightbulb. In the end, failures are just a different kind of successes.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    at Where Are Your Keys? #WAYK we celebrate "success" and "failure" in the exact same way... a great big "HOW FASCINATING"Isn't it funny how important "letting it go" is to learning and how rare this concept is in "education"?Love what you guys are doing!Thanks for the tweet @hyperglotEvan Gardner (original developer of WAYK)

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Yeah. Turning mistakes into successes is awesome.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Great Post.
    One additional thing I would like to say about mistakes is that not only should you not worry about BUT when we realise we have made a mistake we should cherish the moment as it is then we can learn something.
    Mistakes are our signposts for what we need to master.

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