The Importance of Getting Things Wrong


root: خ-ط-ء / noun / plural: أخطاء / definition: mistake, error

It’s happening again. A wave of fear crashes down mercilessly upon the trembling students. Eyes dart desperately, frantically, around the room. One student scrambles out of class, mumbling something about needing the bathroom. The sky darkens. Another pretends to drop their pen as an excuse to seek refuge under the desk. A lifeless pigeon falls past the window. Everyone has suddenly developed an obsessive interest in the colour of the margins on their paper—

“Ahh,” the lecturer’s voice slices menacingly through the tension-filled air, “why don’t you translate what’s on the board?”

Oh, the absolute horror as you drag your eyes up, away from safety, and find your teacher looking directly at you


Let’s cut the drama.

We’ve all experienced that pressure to get answers correct in class. But that desire to get things right shouldn’t make us shy away from the opportunity to get things wrong.

Think about it: you—like everyone else—are in that class because you’re not an expert in the subject and you’re dedicating your time (and money) to learning it. And compared to the time you (*should*) spend studying independently, the time you have with a teacher who can correct you is very limited.

So if you’re not using that precious time in class to make mistakes and get corrected, when are you eventually planning to take a chance and possibly err? The final exams? (Hint: terrible idea. Really terrible.)

Also, you’ll often notice that when you do make mistakes then get corrected (which, if you needed to hear it, is the most obvious and inevitable thing in language learning—it’s not embarrassing), that piece of knowledge will be cemented much more firmly in your brain.

Allowing yourself to learn has a lot to do with changing your mindset and internalising the fact that you’re there, in that class or with that teacher, to get yourself corrected. To learn a language, we not only have to learn what’s right, but also what isn’t.

I think, though, that the only time you’ll truly appreciate your time in formal classes is when you finish your course or degree and start studying completely independently. Because all of a sudden you’ll need to ask about certain grammatical structures or you’ll want someone to correct your writing and, sadly, you’ll be teacher-less.

Thankfully, there are loads of websites and apps nowadays where you can either have one-to-one conversations with native speakers (like through NaTakallam) or simply post your question and get quick responses (like on this app, HiNative). So studying independently certainly doesn’t mean you’re left completely on your own.

What advice would you give to someone who’s too nervous to participate in class out of fear of making mistakes? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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One thought on “The Importance of Getting Things Wrong

  1. Every blog is personal and insightful I love your philosophical style and how personal and factual you can be at the same time.

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