How to Recover from Embarrassing Language Mistakes

One of the biggest barriers to people using their newly acquired French language skills in real-world scenarios is the fear of making mistakes. In the classroom, students have a safe environment to learn and often feel like mistakes are part of the learning process, but once they find themselves in a situation where they have the opportunity to actually use the language, the fear of making mistakes can be a crippling obstacle. In fact, one of the reasons children learn languages faster than adults is because they don’t have the same fear that they will look less than intelligent if they use the wrong noun or verb conjugation.

Moving past this fear is absolutely vital for taking your French language learning experience from the safe incubator of the classroom into the real world and experiencing the joy of functioning in a new language. When learning any new skill, we have to expect that we will make mistakes. So before you do, here are a few things for you to remember when you have an embarrassing language fail:

 

Remember You are a Student

When you hear young children speak their native language, you probably hear them make lots of mistakes! Young English speakers make very common mistakes such as, “Him’s going to the store,” “My like ice cream,” or “She didn’t had any apples.” The reason these mistakes are so common is that the pattern the brain is understanding about language has not yet adjusted to the intricacies of common use. Even though many of us are learning French as adults and not toddlers, we should expect some similar usage mistakes when we are starting out!

 

Learn From Your Mistakes

Try thinking of mistakes as learning opportunities. That might sound overly simplistic, but the reality is, your mistakes will reveal to you the areas that you need to work on in your language training. Repetitive mistakes can show us patterns in our language learning that need to be adjusted, or areas where we have a poor understanding of the language structure. Sometimes mistakes can show us needed improvements in the things we need to memorize or concepts that need further explanation.

If you find you are repeatedly making the same type of mistake in real-world language use situations, make a note (physical or mental) and share your mistakes with your French tutor. Your mistakes will help your French tutor solidify those areas that need a bit more training. If you never allow yourself the mistakes, you will miss out on that next level of French language expertise!

 

Apologize for Offensive Mistakes

It’s true that some language mistakes are worse than others. As a language learner, it is possible – and even likely – that at some point a simple mistake will involve accidents such as obscene language, insults, or culturally offensive elements. These mistakes are just as likely as simple grammar mistakes, and they are part of learning a language.

We sometimes assume that if we make an offensive mistake, others will be angry with us, but that’s not usually true. Most native speakers can recognize language-learners, no matter how great you feel your pronunciation may be. When you make a mistake that is truly offensive in a real-world situation, most likely the person who hears it will know you are learning and will be good-natured about it. In many cases, the hearer will even offer you correction and help you understand why your mistake is offensive.

In these situations, you must still remember that everyone makes mistakes, and unintentionally offensive mistakes are also part of the language learning process. It’s okay to let the hearer see your surprise and to apologize profusely. Have your French tutor help you learn phrases like, “I am so sorry, I did not mean that,” or “Please forgive me, I am learning French and making mistakes.”

One of the most wonderful experiences in language learning is the opportunity to receive grace for our mistakes and allow native speakers to help lighten our mood by extending forgiveness for our blunders.

 

Adopt a Growth Mindset

Research shows that most of us approach learning with either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People with growth mindsets believe that they can achieve anything, and when they struggle or make mistakes they tend to think, “I haven’t learned that yet.” When we learn French with a growth mindset, challenges and mistakes are not death sentences to our French acquisition, but opportunities to grow. By viewing your mistakes as growth opportunities, you’ll stay in a positive mindset and continue making progress through whatever obstacle comes your way.

Allowing fear of mistakes to stop you is what will make the difference between learning the concept of a language and actually being able to function in the language you’ve learned. No one likes to look silly, but blunders are simply part of becoming a French speaker. The more well-equipped you are to recover from the inevitable missteps in your French language journey, the more likely you are to overcome that barrier and achieve your French learning goals.

About the Author

Andrei is a linguist who speaks several languages fluently. He founded Elite French Tutoring as an expression of his passion for entrepreneurship and for the French language and French culture. He has helped numerous professionals, students and young people dramatically improve their skills in the French language.

As the Emperor Charlemagne said: "To have another language is to possess a second soul."

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