03/23/2016 02:20 EDT | Updated 03/24/2017 05:12 EDT

Don't Be Afraid To Make Mistakes When Learning A New Language

young man despairs

Making mistakes when speaking or writing a new language is not the same as making other kinds of mistakes, at least not to me. Making mistakes in language learning is not only necessary, it is a good sign. If you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough to use the language.

If you are trying to master a new language, there are certain things that you are not going to remember or get right until your brain is ready. All you can do is continue to use the language as much as possible: to read, to listen, to speak and to write. Eventually that elusive word or that difficult phrase will become natural.

Each time you make a mistake, in writing or speaking, or are aware that you didn't use the language as well as you would have liked, is an opportunity to improve. It means you are noticing aspects of the language. You don't have to get everything right, but you need to focus on noticing how the language works. You might get something right one time and get it wrong the next time. That is all good. You now may start noticing these things when you listen and read. As long as you are trying to notice the language and not allowing yourself to get upset over mistakes, you will improve. The mistakes will correct themselves eventually with enough exposure, but only when your brain is ready.

So just keep enjoying the language and remember these points:

1. You should not be afraid to speak for fear of making mistakes. Your main goal has to be to communicate. You should communicate whenever you have the opportunity, without fear. But you have to build up your ability to communicate, and just communicating by itself will not do that. You need to make an effort to notice your mistakes, and to be happy when you do.

2. If you only communicate in the language without putting an effort into improving, you will not improve. Focus on noticing, noticing when you use the language, and then noticing again when you listen and read. This way you will train your brain develop better language habits.

3. You need to continue to focus on input even while speaking and writing. You need to deliberately save new words and phrases. You need to be conscious of which words and concepts you were unable to express when you spoke, and go back to your input to look for them. Input should be 75 per cent of your time spent studying the language. Some immigrants to Canada think that if they only get a job in an English speaking environment they will achieve English fluency. This is not true. Those people never achieve their English language potential.

4. You should work on pronunciation deliberately and consistently but without worrying unduly. When listening, you should every so often focus on pronunciation and try to notice how your pronunciation differs from that of the native. But don't force it. Don't become self-conscious about your pronunciation. The more you listen and notice native pronunciation, the clearer yours will become. The key is to communicate. Most speakers of foreign languages retain an accent, and that is not an obstacle to communication.

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