Mistakes are an inevitable part of learning a language. Or, in fact, learning anything at all. We learn something new, test it by using it, make a mistake, test again – this time succeeding.
That’s fine for the theory, but when it happens to us, it can feel very different. Language and communication are such “basic” things, that mistakes make us feel embarrassed.
And when we’re speaking with another person, that embarrassment is public. We can’t hide behind a computer. We’re right in front of another person, with our mistakes – and their reactions – on display.
So when people say that mistakes are a necessary part of language learning, this does nothing to make us feel more comfortable with the mistakes.
That’s why in this post, I wanted to look at some strategies for dealing with mistakes. Because they are inevitable. And because they can make us feel bad.
Changing mindset and perception
First of all, it’s important to realise that very often, our own reactions to our mistakes are different to other people’s reactions to our mistakes.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
In my experience as a Cambridge Speaking Examiner, I’ve tested hundreds of students. After the test, I’ve also heard some of them say “That was terrible” or “I made a huge mistake” or “I’ve failed – I didn’t remember the word”.
But the strange thing is that I didn’t remember any of these “huge” mistakes, and that’s especially true if the student was confident.
During the course of a short conversation, the person you’re talking to will remember the main points of what you said – not every word, and not every mistake.
(Of course, if your English is so grammatically incorrect or if you hesitate before every word, the other person will remember that you found the conversation difficult.)
Native speakers are not teachers
Native English speakers will generally find it very difficult to identify or explain a grammatical mistake. If your message is clear enough, they will also have no problem with mistakes.
But, native speakers are more likely to give you suggestions on vocabulary choice or pronunciation.
3 expert strategies
So, what can you do when you make a mistake in English? In this video, I have 3 more expert strategies for you. Two of these are “mindset” strategies, while the third gives you phrases you can use to repair a mistake.