Everybody makes mistakes! Here’s why that’s good
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~Nath

Everybody makes mistakes.“. Repeat the mantra. While speaking and writing without errors is the goal of many language learners, it’s unrealistic for all, including the most advanced. After all, if you didn’t make mistakes, you’d be fluent already!

Inevitably, you will make some mistakes along the way, but as long as you avoid mistakes where possible, you will see progress. EVERYBODY makes mistakes. Sometimes, you might even be lost for words and won’t know what to do. It’s important that you know how to deal with corrections and also why natives probably won’t correct you, even if you’re making glaringly obvious mistakes. All is explained below.

Avoid mistakes where possible

You should always aim to make as few mistakes as possible. To do this, you should use the words, phrases and sentence structures which you are familiar with instead of guessing. While speaking Polish like Tarzan might still allow you to be understood, if you ever want to speak it properly, it’s best to eliminate bad habits from the start and imitate the words, phrases and sentences structures of natives. From there, you can customise them to fit what you want to say and ask native speakers how they would phrase such a sentence in a more natural way.

What to do if you’re lost for words

If you’re not sure how to say something, either look it up, explain what you’d like to say in a simpler way or, if the person you’re speaking to also speaks English, ask for a translation.

There’s nothing wrong with looking things up, and if you happen to be speaking to someone on Skype as a part of a conversation exchange, it’s not a bad idea to have an easily accessible internet browser window with your favourite online translator ready to go. That way, should you not know a certain word, you can get a rough and ready translation within seconds and carry on with the conversation.

Alternatively, you can explain what you’d like to say in a simpler way. A great example of this is the Thing Explainer, a book which explains what things are using nothing but the 1,000 most common English words.

Of course, if the person you’re speaking to speaks good enough English and you don’t happen to have a computer translator or dictionary handy, you might just want to ask them for the word that you’re looking for. “Jak się mówi ‘bottle’ po polsku?” is “How do you say ‘bottle’ in Polish?” in Polish. Replace the word “bottle” with whichever word you’re looking for and hey presto – instant translation.

How to deal with corrections

Corrections aren’t a bad thing. Not at all. In fact, they’re one of the best things you can ask for, especially if you want to improve. The hardest part is getting corrections in the first place and sometimes it’s even harder to remember them. On one of those rare occasions when you are told the correct way to say something, repeat it out loud to help you remember it and later add the phrase to your Anki collection to make sure that you never forget it.

Why you’re still making mistakes and natives won’t tell you

Make sure that you’re aware of any mistakes you do make by explicitly asking those who you speak with to point them out. Always remember, EVERYBODY makes mistakes. In general, native speakers will not correct you, particularly if they understand what you mean, as they will not want to discourage you from speaking. To combat this, make it extremely clear that you welcome corrections and always thank the person giving you the corrections for allowing you the opportunity to improve. After all, if you don’t even know that you’re making mistakes, you’re likely to keep making them!

TL;DR

Ask native speakers to correct your mistakes, then repeat their corrections out loud and add them to your Anki collection so that you don’t forget them.

Everybody makes mistakes. What mistakes have you made?

The most memorable mistake that I ever made was using the word ‘czwartek’ (‘Thursday’) when I actually meant ‘cztery’ (‘four’). Not realising my mistake, I continuously asked for “Thursday shots of vodka”, eventually resorting to using my fingers after completely confusing the waitress. After the Poles on the end of the table had finished laughing, they pointed out my error and I can assure you that I never made the same mistake again! Sure, I was embarrassed, but nobody died, I didn’t let it discourage me from learning the language, and – most importantly – I got my four shots of vodka. ‘Na zdrowie!’ (‘Cheers!’) What mistakes have you made? No matter how embarrassing, leave me a comment below! We’re all human after all!

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