When learning a language, making mistakes isn’t a bad thing.
Imagine this: you’re in Spain, enjoying the beautiful summer sun. You made friends with a few locals and try to impress them with your beginner-level Spanish. Only instead of saying tengo calor (“I’m hot”, literally meaning “I have heat”), you end up saying estoy caliente (literally “I’m hot”, but it means “I’m aroused”). Your face goes red, and it’s not because of the heat 😳
Sure, these mistakes can seem embarrassing, but we’re here to tell you that mistakes are actually the good guys disguised as bad guys. Think Bruce the Shark in Finding Nemo. Or Severus Snape.
Now that we’ve established that they’re the good guys, here’s why you should learn to love them:
They help your understanding
It’s pretty easy to make mistakes when learning a language, so it’s natural to worry about them. Who hasn’t got a verb conjugation wrong, or mixed up the gender of a noun, or been tripped up by a false friend (words that look or sound similar in another language that mean something veeeeeery different).
But mistakes aren’t something you should worry about. In fact, they’re actually doing you a massive favour. Messing up will make you think about why what you said was wrong. And by figuring out the reason it was wrong, you’ll start to understand the right way to say it.
They teach you new things
When you put yourself out there with your new language, think about it as an opportunity to learn something new instead of worrying about adding to your own personal blooper reel. Learn how to say “I’m new at this, let me know if I make a mistake” so you’re harnessing their power upfront.
It’s only natural to accidentally apply rules from your own language to the new language you’re learning from time to time. It’s what you know, and hey, it all kind of makes sense in your mind… just not when it comes out of your mouth. But this little mix up has made you aware of the difference and BOOM, you’ve just learnt a new grammar rule.
Or if you confused a translation and now you know the right one, you’ve just learnt some new vocabulary. And once your brain knows it was barking up the wrong tree, it’s more likely to bark up the right one next time.
They help you remember
According to the science boffins, if you’re not sure about the right way to say something but try anyway and get it wrong, you’re more likely to remember it in the future than if you never tried in the first place.
Even if a mistake feels monumental, the majority of the time it will be fairly close to the right answer. A confused suffix. An erroneous syllable. One wrong word in an otherwise completely correct sentence.
It definitely doesn’t mean the person you’re chatting with will have no clue what you’re talking about. So if you’re not sure, give it a go anyway. They’ll be able to get what you mean from the context and you’ll learn more if you make mistakes than if you don’t try at all.
They can be ice breakers
Making a mistake can often help the conversation more than hinder it. If your gaffe gives someone the giggles, then seeing the funny side together might just help you make a new friend. Also, laughing release dopamine, which some studies say can improve your ability to remember stuff (which probably explains why you can quote The Simpsons by heart. Or Friends. Or Monty Python).
The memory of the time you accidentally asked an Italian colleague to passare il pene (pass the penis) instead of passare il pane (pass the bread) is definitely going to stick around more easily than an uneventful dinner. And you definitely won’t make that mistake twice.
They give you confidence
Another good thing about making mistakes? When you realise that they’re actually more useful than embarrassing, they give you the boost you need to keep putting yourself out there and keep making them. The more you make, the less you’ll worry about making them in the future and the better you’ll be.
See your slip-ups as a superpower. Did you get it right? Great. Did you give it a shot and get it wrong.? High five and 10 points to Gryffindor. And if you are getting everything right, this just means you have more room to push yourself. You’re ready to move to the next level. And what’s on that level? Good old mistakes.
They make tests great again
Every time you review words on Memrise and give yourself a chance to get something right or wrong, it’s helping make a home for the information to live in your noggin.
When you’re being tested, the process of searching for the answer lays down breadcrumbs for your brain to a store the memory long term. If you consistently get something right, it’s already on its way to becoming a clear route in your mind.
And if you don’t get it right, it will stand out and help you remember it the next time. You’re just adding a little mental signpost to show you the right direction. So if you’re worried that making mistakes makes you feel like you’re not learning, don’t worry, you actually are. It’s a win win situation.
So go forth, make mistakes, and don’t worry about making a pene of yourself.