One Simple Trick to Make Learning a Foreign Language Easier
Making mistakes is uncomfortable. It's embarrassing. Most people agree that mistakes should be avoided at all costs. Your brain is wired to prevent mistakes. It’s basic survival. When trying to learn a new language, the desire to prevent mistakes is your worst enemy.
Making mistakes can improve your learning. A UCLA study showed that students who tried but failed to retrieve an answer to a challenging question scored 10 percent better on later exams than students who were never asked challenging questions.
You’ve experienced this in your own life. Think about the last time you were learning something new. What mistake did you make? If you’re like me, it was pretty easy to come up with something. Think back again. Did you make that mistake twice? Probably not. Proof that you learn from your mistakes.
Let’s try that exercise in a different way. Think about the same thing you were learning. What did you get perfect the first time? It’s a little harder to find that example. Unless you got lavishly praised or rewarded, our brains don’t hold on to the details of perfection as strongly. Over time, you are more likely to forget things that were easy the first time around.
This is why making mistakes is so important when learning a foreign language.
Language is complex. It's nuanced. It takes years, maybe even decades, to learn completely. Making mistakes will cement your learnings more deeply than doing easy exercises that you always get correct.
Even in our native language, we make mistakes. Sometimes we get called out on them. Sometimes they slip by unnoticed. Either way, mistakes are expected. No one is perfect. Especially not someone who is learning.
I know that knowing this doesn’t necessarily make it easier to flounder in front of others. Mistakes are still uncomfortable. Trying something new, knowing you won’t be perfect, causes waves of anxiety. I get it. I’m right there with you. I have a solution for you.
Language learning apps give you a safe, impersonal place to practice failing with a foreign language.
Your language app can’t judge you. Your language e-learning platform can’t laugh when you screw up the pronunciation. Technology just gives you cold, hard data about your progress. You are the one to interpret and judge what that means.
So take guidance from Silicon Valley and celebrate failure. Celebrate it hard.
Only remember one of the vocab words you learned last week? Amazing! Forgot how to conjugate that verb tense this week even though you had it down perfectly a week ago? Great! Struggling to put together a sentence? Keep trying! The harder you work to come up with solutions, the better and longer-lasting your learning.
I know celebrating mistakes is hard. I know failure is demotivating. Making the same mistake over and over again seems like you’ll never actually get it right. When you are feeling down, please, remember those mistakes are serving you more than your perfection.
If you can, find a learning buddy to commiserate with. Most people struggle with the same issues when learning a foreign language. Finding a friend to vent your frustrations with is a great way to feel better about your mistakes. Most of the language learning programs have active communities on social media or even within their apps to help you find a group if you need it.
Now, don’t lose your momentum and jump into learning right now.
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