Today I thought I would write about something that often comes up when people talk about learning a language and that is that it is okay to make mistakes and experience setbacks. This is something I started to think about recently when tackling a brief at work. I am a researcher and have been carrying out a project about how adolescents portray their lives on social media and how this can affect their mental health and self expression when they compare themselves to what they see online.
I carried some of my findings over to my own experiences as an adult. I reflected on the fact that while many podcasters, bloggers, authors, teachers and learners do talk about how it is okay to fail… we rarely see much evidence of their own failures. Social media is often a stage where people can show the best of their learning and the highlights of their life but we must be okay with imperfection.
I see Instagram stories where someone has felt the need to rip out an entire page of study notes because they made a spelling mistake or said they have had to take a break from posting because they can’t post things that look as nice as everyone else and that it’s getting them down. I myself am guilty. Recently I deleted my live Instagram stream because I felt that my unscripted ad-hoc Norwegian speaking was too basic and full of errors.
So why do we do this?
For me it’s because I see so many flawless videos on social media where the creator writes things like “Sorry I sound so terrible”. Or a carefully planned and neat picture gets hundreds of likes and the owner captions it with something like, “Wow such a mess but I posted it anyway!” We are constantly holding ourselves to an invisible standard and putting ourselves down when we produce our best work. It must stop.
Sharing recent stumbling blocks is a good way to get help with these things as opposed to sweeping them under the carpet.
- I went to Norway last week and wen to a house party. Where I could, I replied in Norwegian but I found I was too scared to ask questions in Norwegian because I knew I wouldn’t understand all of the person’s response. As a result I wasted about 2 hours of a good opportunity to speak in an immersive environment (After 2 hours I was drunk so speaking got a little easier).
- I had an italki lesson a few weeks ago and I couldn’t understand the most basic of questions. I felt like a total failure.
- I did an Instagram live stream where I just started speaking in Norwegian with no notes or prompts or practise. I messed up a lot of my sentences and wasn’t able to keep up a stream of speaking so I deleted it for fear that my fellow Norwegian learners would see it and think how bad my progress has been.
Clearly my stumbling blocks are around conversing with native speakers, and taking time to reflect on the actual issues will help me create an action plan to just be better. You can’t get better without practise so we can’t be afraid to do it in case we make errors.
I love to photograph my language journey and share it on Instagram and I take a certain degree of pride in that. I am so happy to have found a community of people who share my passion for language learning on there who inspire me to keep developing my skills. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try our best and be proud to show that off…but let’s be proud of any work where we have tried our best- mistakes and all.