Confidence & mistakes in language learning

Have you ever come across someone you wanted to talk to in their language, and they kept interrupting you every single time you made a mistake? Or perhaps they just reverted back to English whenever you took a little more time to gather your thoughts, not letting you express yourself and practice a little? If so, this article may be helpful.

I’m going to share with you 3 simple strategies that – according to my clients – can help you deal with these scenarios and give you the courage and confidence to just go for it, no matter what.

You may be surprised that it’s quite a common problem: Colleagues responding in English when you’re clearly trying to communicate with them in their language. Family members pointing out your mistakes and finding them so funny. Let’s be honest, it can be very frustrating. It may make you feel embarrassed and ashamed – especially if it was in front of others. And when self doubt starts to sneak in, you’re in trouble.

So here are three strategies that can help you tackle this problem.

Strategy number 1: Just ignore it.

If life is only 10% about what happens to us, and 90% about how we react to it – it’s within our control to shape how we feel about this scenario. You have the power to say, you know what … I’m not going to let that stop me. 

So if it were me in this situation (and trust me, I’ve been there too …) I would probably just continue speaking and keep practicing, trying to notice some of the most important points they’re making and take them on board, but ignore the kind of corrections where I know it’s just about a little ending, but my point did go across and they understand what I’m saying. 

Now I know that it might be easier said than done, and there might be a point where you just say, ok, “I need to address this issue because it is really setting me back.” That’s where strategy number 2 may come handy.

Strategy number 2: Assertive communication

Now this is something really powerful. Assertive communication means that you communicate your needs and feelings in a way that doesn’t hurt the other person’s needs and feelings, in other words, you are constructive and honest.

Depending on who this person is (your colleague, your spouse, your mother-in-law or your friend), you could try saying something along these lines:

Sarah, I’d like to tell you something. I noticed that you try to help me with my language studies by pointing out mistakes I make during conversation and correcting them. I’m really grateful for it because it’s a great authentic feedback for me.

But I want you to also know that I’m a bit insecure when it comes to speaking and I think it would help me massively if you just let me make certain mistakes and continue the conversation, but I want you to please stop me every single time you don’t understand what I’m saying. This would really help me not to feel embarrassed and nervous about speaking and at the same time, it would signal me when my point is lost in translation.

Notice that in the example, I expressed something I observed (you keep correcting me) and I also expressed that I know it comes from a place of being helpful, but I communicated openly how it made me feel and I also offered a solution that I thought would help us both.

This Observation – Feeling – Needs – Request formula can be really powerful in any kind of conflict situation because it’s not offensive, it comes from a deep sense of understanding or acknowledging the other person’s point of view but you also communicate your needs and offer a solution.

Strategy Number 3: Own your mistakes and be proud of them

Now, when it comes to mistakes, I have a certain philosophy that helped me in many areas of my life, including language studies. James Joyce, Irish novelist, short/story writer and author of Ulysses said that

“Mistakes are the portal of discovery.”

Now if that statement is true, and I think it is, then your mistakes are precious. Your mistakes will show you the path you need to walk, the path you continue your journey on. So, you have to allow yourself to make those mistakes because without them, there’s no journey.

I also think that it is helpful when certain mistakes are pointed out. The question is only when and how … 

As a teacher, tutor, mentor or a language coach, I always wait either until the end of the conversation or until the end of the lesson before discussing those mistakes. 

But, there are situations when it’s best to interrupt right between two sentences and point them out on the spot because I anticipate you continuing to use the phrase and this way, I’ll give you the chance to practice it immediately, in a correct way …

To wrap this up, here’s a nice quote by the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami:

Learning another language is like becoming another person.

It is a truly transformative experience, and learning words, phrases and grammar are only a fraction of this experience.

We at ProLingua Global want you to become a confident speaker of the language, whatever level you are at. We want you to own what you know and never feel ashamed of making mistakes here and there. Just aim for making your point come across, and keep polishing along the way.

So these are three strategies to deal with feeling embarrassed because of making mistakes and being corrected. I really hope it helps.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. Did I make any language mistakes in this blog post? If so, please point them out the comments below.

But more importantly, how do you cope with annoying colleagues or relatives when it comes to making mistakes in their language? Is there anything else that could be helpful and you’re willing to share? If so, please leave a comment now. Share as much detail as makes good sense. Your story may provide a possibility of hope that someone else really needs.

Important: share your thoughts and ideas directly in the comments. Links to other posts, videos, etc. will be deleted as they come across as spammy.

Looking forward to hearing your voice on this one.


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