Don’t be afraid of making mistakes in English

Fear of making mistakes in a new language is a common problem and holds a lot of people back from developing their speaking skills.

Obviously, if you are in an exam, you need to make sure your grammar is accurate in order to get a good mark. If you’re just practising, though, making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process.

An easy way to think of this is like a child learning to walk. Even with a lot of help from their parents, toddlers always fall over now and then when they are learning to walk or run. It’s a natural part of the process.

Sometimes, toddlers fall over because they are walking too fast. Sometimes, it’s because their balance isn’t quite right yet. Whatever the reason for falling over, they learn from their mistake and it helps them move onto the next level with their skills.

It’s exactly the same with learning a language. In my experience, the aspects of languages I’ve learnt that I remember best are those that I’ve made mistakes with and had to learn from my own mistakes. I’ve observed the same thing with students in class, too.

When speaking outside the classroom, there’s another important reason not to be afraid of making mistakes – most people won’t notice. Most of the time, when people are listening to another person speaking, they just hear the main ‘key’ words that carry the most important information.

For example, if you said “Where ya yo” with the ‘where’ nice and clear, and the ‘ya yo’ quiet, most people would respond “I’m going to (place)”. Because they hear the key word and something afterwards that sounds a little similar to ‘are you going’, their brain puts it in context and automatically makes them think of the correct answer.

Of course, if you make a mistake that interferes with the meaning of your sentence, someone might not understand you. If this happens, nobody is going to get angry with you (When was the last time you got angry with someone who said something you couldn’t understand?). People will just ask you to repeat whatever you said. Then you can rephrase it and learn from the experience.

I am not saying that it’s not important to try and learn how to speak accurately. I’m just trying to show that sometimes, worrying about the negative things (fear of mistakes) and not focusing on the positive things (having fun expressing yourself) can hold you back.

Learning a language is like learning a sport or musical instrument. It’s important to do a lot of exercises and preparatory work, but, very often, the time we make the most progress is when we relax.

Today’s image is by Ramona Gaukel.

Bored of Learning English? Five ways to make learning fun!

man yawningDo you ever feel a little bored when studying English? Maybe just a tiny bit? Learning a language is hard work and takes a long time so it’s natural to feel bored or frustrated occasionally. Here are some ways to make learning fun again:

1. Watching movies – Teachers really often mention this as a good way to develop listening skills and hear people speaking at a natural pace. It can be difficult to follow the dialogue at times, though. Especially if the actors have heavy accents or are using a lot of idiomatic vocabulary.

If you have trouble following, it’s fine to put the subtitles on but remember to have them in English. Reading and hearing the words at the same time usually helps with comprehension.

If you don’t have time to watch a movie, watch an episode of a TV drama or comedy. The language used there is most likely to be natural, too. Watching TV shows for kids in English can be fun, as well and it’s a nice family activity.

Remember, whatever movie or TV show you choose, make sure it is one you enjoy. Don’t force yourself to sit through a boring show just to learn English.

2. Imitate adverts or people on TV – This sounds a little childish but can be a really good way to develop your intonation and speech rhythm. Try recording your favourite actor and copying the way he speaks. It’s fun and great practice.

3. Singing – Not everyone likes to sing and that’s fine. If you prefer not to sing, try one of the other methods instead. If you do like singing, do it as often as possible in English. It’s a great way to build your pronunciation skills and confidence, too.

4. Reading – Read subjects you are interested in. If you are interested in a subject, you are more likely to try to understand all the words and expressions in the text than you would of you were reading something boring.

5. Actually doing it! – What was the reason you started learning English? I bet it wasn’t so you could just sit in a classroom for hours. Actually putting your English into action by talking to foreign colleagues or English speaking friends makes all your hard work worthwhile.

If you don’t have any English-speaking friends, make some. You can meet friends online. There are Internet forums on any topic you could imagine. Join one related to your hobby or field of work and get involved in a discussion in English.

Try volunteering to be a tour guide. Many historic sites need tour guides to show foreign tourists around. This could even turn into a part-time job!

Start your own conversation club. If you have some friends or classmates who want to practice, meet up for a coffee and agree to only speak English to each other for a few hours.

I said at the beginning that learning a language is hard work and that’s true. It’s important to remember, though, that hard work doesn’t have to be boring. Approach leaning in a way that’s fun and relevant to your life and you’ll find your skills improve faster than you could imagine!

This is the fourth installment of my new ‘Tuesday Tips‘ series. Every Tuesday, I try to share a simple tip on how to improve your language skills. Some of these are techniques I use with students in class and others are things I’ve found work well when learning languages myself. If you decide to try them out, let me know how they went by leaving a comment below the article. Click here to see some more tips on how to improve your English.

Today’s image is by Jean-Pierre Knapen.