English Fluency For Advanced English Speaker (2015)
Chapter 4: Mistakes Are the Foundation Of Any Good Speaker
“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really.
Double your rate of failure.”
—Thomas J. Watson, founder of IBM
Right about now, you may be thinking that this chapter is a thinly veiled attempt to make you believe that mistakes are good. They’re our “friends” in fact. You may also be thinking that I’m crazy.
But it’s true. Mistakes are your “friends.” I hate to tell you but the sooner you recognize this, the faster you’ll learn the English language.
If you’ve ever heard any motivational speaker, then you’ve probably heard that you can only learn if you’re willing to make mistakes. This statement is true regardless of what you’re doing learning a language to building a multimillion dollar business.
The speaker, of course, didn’t mean that you should purposely set out to make mistakes. What he meant was when you find you’ve made a mistake, learn from it and continue on.
It’s the greatest advice you can be given, in fact, with regard to learning how to speak English. You can only be a fluent speaker if you actual speak it. When you do speak it you’re very likely to make mistakes, it’s only natural.
In a way, you could say if you’re not making any mistakes then you’re really not learning much. You may think that’s a harsh statement, but it happens to be the truth.
When you hit that plateau of speaking English, then it’s vital to break through to the next level as quickly as possible. And the only way to do that is to expose yourself to the possibility of making mistakes in your speech.
For most of us that means to step outside of your comfort zone. That’s a scary proposition for most of us. But you know you have to do it. The following are a few tips of how to practice speaking more despite your fears.
- Enter a low-risk situation
What’s a low-risk situation? It’s one that’s friendly enough that when you do make mistakes, those around understand and gently correct you. It’s a situation in which you trust those with whom you’re speaking to understand you’re learning.
One of the best situations to put yourself into is to work with other students. You need to ask everyone in the conversation to correct you – diplomatically, of course – when you misspeak or your grammar is horribly incorrect. You, in turn, are confronting your fear and leaving your comfort zone in a limited, controlled way.
So what produces this fear anyway? It seems counter-intuitive that you would fear speaking the very language you’ve been so enthusiastic about learning. But that’s human nature.
You’re not alone in your fear. And if you understand the origin of your fear, then you’ll be able to grapple with it better. Many psychologists will tell you that the fear of doing something, even learning a language, stems from your thinking that you must speak it perfectly. That is without any mistakes.
You need to ask yourself why you feel this way. What would happen if you did make a mistake in your conversation? The worst-case scenario would be being laughed at, let’s say. Your mistake may unintentionally offend someone. Or it may mean that someone misunderstood what your said.
There may be other reasons though you fear mistakes when speaking to others. Perhaps you have the long-held belief that making a mistake is a sign of weakness.
The problem with this line of thinking, though, is that you have molded these thoughts to such gigantic proportions and distorted them so they’re all you can see. Now, you’ve created the mindset that you can’t afford the “luxury” of making a mistake in your conversations.
Does this scenario apply to you? If the perfectionist line of thinking is hindering your learning you can change your thinking with three easy steps and start speaking English again.
- First you need to identify this type of thinking.
This means you must give some thought to why you’re hesitating about speaking English in public. Have you been laughed at in the past for mistakes you’ve made? Perhaps, in making a mistake you’ve inadvertently offended someone. Now, you’re afraid of offending any more individuals.
If you can identify why you’re fearful of speaking in public, then you can start to design a strategy to conquer it.
- List other ways of thinking about this
Once you know the catalyst of your fears, then create a list of other ways of thinking about your speaking English with others. This could include such thoughts as, “Others understand that I’m still learning and will forgive my mistakes,” “The more I speak the better I’ll become and the fewer mistakes I’ll make,” “I need to accept these mistakes myself and not only forgive myself for them, but learn from them as well.”
- Now review this list of alternative thoughts. Compare it to your perfectionist thinking.
Once you analyze both ways of thinking see if you can’t develop another perspective on the situation that will be helpful to your learning and give you a more realistic view of the situation.
It may take some time to change your thinking, but you can if you follow these suggestions. You may even begin speaking a limited amount while you’re reviewing your situation.
I have a friend who’s still learning English. He speaks it fairly well, but the one situation he hates to find himself in is ordering pizza over the phone. He’s terrified he’ll order the wrong toppings and he then has a worthless pizza.
So this is how he used these steps to reduce his fears about it. After he calmed down a bit from the thought, he identified his perfectionist thinking: “The person taking my order will think I’m stupid.”
He then created alternative thoughts to counter that: “I’m anything but stupid.” “I’m using a new language that’s not my native tongue.” “I’m speaking English the best I can at this point.” “Speaking on the phone is a wonderful way to use my English skills.” “In fact, the more I take risks like this, the more natural my speaking skills will be,” “The more I speak the language, the better I’ll be and the more confident I’ll be.”
Then he evaluated the situation in a new light: “I may be afraid of looking stupid. But I know differently. I’m learning a new language and I’m giving it my best shot. I’m allowed to make mistakes. It is, after all, the only way I’ll improve.”
And improve you will. The more often you step out of your comfort zone and push yourself to speak English, you’ll discover that your English is getting better and better. Why not try it yourself? What have you got to lose – except your fear, that is?
Are You Ready to Accelerate the Learning Process?
Yes, I am talking about mistakes. Just like the individual above you finally took the risk of ordering pizza in English, it’s time you take that giant leap to not only accepting your mistakes, but embracing them. You’ve probably heard the story about Thomas Edison, probably the most prolific inventor of the twentieth century. He was asked once how he felt during his failed attempts at finding the proper material for the filament of the light bulb. The individual specifically pointed out that Edison went through nearly 10,000 various materials before he discovered the proper one.
Edison quickly corrected him with this unique perspective on the situation: “I did not fail 9,999 times. I found 9,999 ways of how not to create a light bulb.”
As long as you view your mistakes as signs for not learning or reasons why you’ll never learn to speak the language, you’ll never go beyond the level of fluency you’re at right now.
The moment, however, you accept mistakes as not only a natural part of life, but a very necessary tool in the learning process, you’ll unleash that hidden power of learning that lies within you.
Now is the time to accept the power of mistakes and press on and expose yourself as often as possible to the English language. Do this not fearful of making mistakes, but vowing to embrace the mistakes and learning from them. This, more than any other piece of advice, will radically change your view of learning the English language.
Here are a few tips to start you off:
- Find a trusted partner to work with
You can spend all the time you want reading English, but the moment you do you’ve expanded your world of learning. Grab a partner that’s ideally at your level of fluency or better. The idea is to create an atmosphere for learning that embraces – even encourages – mistakes. If you’re both at about the same level of development, then you’ll discover that you’ll be benefit from this partnership.
When you’re searching for your partner, don’t fear from asking someone you know from the internet or a friend in another part of the country. You can always practice the language through the technology of Skype.
You may also want to spend some time exploring the web site sharedtalk.org. Here, you’ll discover not only students of the English language, but native speakers as well. In addition to chat rooms, the site contains “voice rooms,” where several individuals can go to comfortably practice the language.
There’s just one word of caution in this method. That’s the fact that you must find a person who embraces the possibility of mistakes as you do. You both need to know you have that freedom.
- Refine and expand your learning
Once you’ve found your partner then it’s time to get down to business. You may believe that sitting and talking is an excellent exercise. But think a moment about taking the extra step. Expand and refine your learning by through several strategies.
One of them is to purposely ask your partner to pronounce a few of the vocabulary words you’ve been using. Then repeat the words after him or her. This works extremely well if your language partner is a native speaker. He’ll know the nuances of the spoken word that someone who speaks English as a second language may not.
Another trick to getting the most out of these sessions is to record them, with the permission of your language buddy of course. Then you make reviewing this recording a priority of your next study session when you’re alone.
This will take certainly enhance your learning capacity. Even though you believe you’ll never forget both the mistakes you made as well as the proper way to speak the words, don’t count on it. Your ability to retain all of this information in this situation is limited – and no, not because you’re not bright enough.
Rather, in this type of situation your mind is reassessing and processing so many different things, that not everything you learned in this session may get transferred along to that not everything you learned in this session may get transferred along to our long-term memory. Once you play this information back on a recorder, you’ll undoubtedly encounter something you had completely forgotten about.
- Talk about interesting subjects
What’s worse than being engaged in a boring conversation? Being engaged in a boring conversation in which you’re still learning the language.
I guarantee you that if you don’t choose topics that fully engage you, two things will occur. First, you’ll become incredibly bored with the conversation. Second, you’ll cut the session short as soon as you get the chance.
But by choosing a topic that you’re already interested in – ideally passionate about – you’ll discover that you can talk on forever. Not only that but you’ll be far less fearful about making mistakes. You’ll also be eager to expand your vocabulary and pronunciation of new words.
Fluency in any language is only possible if you learn the subtle art of listening. Don’t expect to gain much knowledge if when you do get a chance to speak in English you’re too nervous to listen or to busy translating what the others are saying to concentrate on the meaning of the words and the course of the conversation. We discuss this in more depth in the following chapter.