by Juliet Roberts, Teacher at St Giles Eastbourne
Many students say they are worried about making mistakes and so it stops them speaking freely. However, we think that you should learn to love your mistakes! Read on to find out why...
If you make a mistake, you should think to yourself, why I am using the language? The answer should be that you are using it to communicate and get your message across. If your mistakes do not stop or slow the communication and stop this, then keep on talking and don’t worry!
Everybody makes mistakes, from elementary to advanced level, and even native speakers! Mistakes are a part of life and it’s a good idea not to see them negatively but rather in a positive light. They can be a way to gain experience and a learning opportunity.
When we make a mistake we find out what we thought was ok isn’t, and this can change how we do something, check our information or ask what is correct. So the mistake actually helps us to improve, and that is why we tell students to learn to love your mistakes!
In many general conversations a few mistakes won’t matter and probably go unnoticed by most people. If the error causes confusion the participants will ask for clarification.
In more formal situations e.g. giving a speech, presentation, writing a report we are expected to be more accurate but unlike a conversation we have time to prepare, check and eliminate errors.
When checking for mistakes in written work you should leave some time between writing and checking or your brain might not spot the mistakes so take a break, have a cup of tea and then come back to check. Your brain will be refreshed and relaxed and able to detect errors more effectively.
Don’t rely on your computer to do this for you, it may be wrong, you might not have it with you all the time and you are the one learning and using English not your computer! Plus you are carrying around the best computer in the world…your brain.
Also remember that many people don’t use English with native speakers but people, like themselves, who are using it as a second or third language. This means you are all in the same boat and won’t be as sensitive to errors as native speakers.
Some students say they want to speak with native speakers because they want them to correct their mistakes which is ok if it’s your teacher, but with other people you should think more about the content of the conversation, the interaction. Once again, ask yourself do the mistakes really get in the way? If they do you’ll soon find out and if not keep talking.
The trick is to use the language with confidence, as those who do usually communicate successfully. Then you can sort out the mistakes later.
You may say that’s the problem, you don’t have any confidence so you are scared of making mistakes and looking foolish. But you had the confidence to start studying! Nobody will think you are foolish, instead they’ll admire you for trying. Like everything the first steps are the hardest, but think about all the other things you’ve learnt to do in your life, stand up, walk, talk (and your language is probably much harder than English) ride a bike, drive a car. The list goes on and on, If you can do all that, you can communicate in English, you just need to have a go.
It’s also important not to stress about mistakes, as stress puts up a barrier in the brain so it can’t work well and then you make more mistakes, it’s a vicious circle. To break out of the circle try to relax and remember that if you make a mistake the world won’t stop turning. Then try again.
Remember for many people confidence is all about show, putting on a performance. Many actors feel nervous. Once you start (the first step) the performance ( the conversation) you can relax, de-stress and communicate easily.
Having a few opening lines planned is a good idea as they break open the conversation and help you get started and to relax. Talking about the weather is a classic way to start a conversation - we’re not really that interested in the weather we just want a neutral topic to start with. Also remember to be polite you should agree with their opinion first then add your ideas later then move on.
e.g. Lovely day, isn’t it
Yes, beautiful….but a bit cool for the time of year.
Er…yes, a bit. How’s that report that you’re doing going?
Pretty well, actually. I’ve…………………………
Good luck and keep talking, writing, communicating!
Check out more of our latest English Language tips, including our "Responding to Negative Questions" Tips page.