This post is written as the reflection of the article about different types of mistakes but, this time, based on language teaching.
There is no better teacher than our own mistakes. They are memorable and push us to improvement. Let’s have a closer look.
The stretch mistakes
Students try to speak on the topics not covered yet, they need constructions which are two levels higher but passing the message is the priority and mistakes are made. The stretch mistakes are great! Language is such a complex object to learn that no textbook or teacher (even the best ones) may predict all the contexts and situations a person may need to use English in. Here and now.
A few examples of these mistakes:
- You’ve seen this word before but never heard it or checked its pronunciation. You give it a fair try but can’t make it right.
- We have learned that you use “will” for the future. Then you learned the meaning of “if”. “Why don’t I put them together?”- came to your mind. But sorry, it does not work this way in English.
- You really, like really need to explain something but don’t have the vocabulary for this. Any port in a storm and you use word-by-word translation. It fails.
The main sponsor of the stretch mistakes is your mother tongue. An experienced teacher can predict crises and downfalls; unfortunately, international editions of textbooks can’t. Just keep it in mind: mistakes are great and they are your proof of learning.
The Aha-moment mistakes
These mistakes are difficult to predict and almost impossible to ignore. We understand what happened and, moreover, the role of the mistake in our communication. Just a few examples:
- We are trying to articulate the word very well but something goes wrong and the person next to us is getting red, is getting pale, tries hard not to laugh…
- A little mistake in prepositions, time details etc and we don’t get the package delivered on time or get stuck in the airport because of am/pm misunderstanding.
- The CV was well-done, even the cover letter was there but no companies reply. Only later one nice warm-hearted HR replied to you and in a very polite way suggested you choose a proper style for CV and emails in general.
The root of the mistakes is in the lack of knowledge and skills and it is always in the least appropriate moment.
These mistakes are amazing because a) it’s hard to forget, b) they direct the direction for further development and usually give a kick to work on it.
The sloppy mistakes
- We have learned this tense like years ago. We have done bunches of activities and covered packs of books to get enough practice, but still… you know, this sneaky -s in the Present Simple tense.
- I know this word very well. I use it in my daily communication without a doubt. I have seen it hundreds of times in books and magazines. And no matter what, I don’t remember for sure if it’s one or two ‘s’.
As you can see from the examples, these mistakes don’t come from gaps in our knowledge, Some of them are in the field of accuracy, most of them we know very well about, teachers talk about fossilized errors and their number rockets up when we are sleepy, tired or in hurry to catch up the last episode of our favourite series. It makes no sense to get extra practice to overcome the problem. It makes much more sense to work on learning skills in general: concentration, proofreading, self-correction etc.
The high-stakes mistakes
The price of this mistake is too high to make them. Just a few real-life cases:
- Proficiency exams. A couple of mistakes may lead to a few missing points in the final note which may keep you out of the university you are trying to get a place in. or, maybe, half of a point in IELTS will postpone your migration to the country you see your future in.
- A wrong style of communication at business negotiations may be considered as disrespectful. A wrong translation of technical or legal terms may cancel the previously reached agreement.
- An error in the translation of medical documentation.
It is important to understand that these situations are not a good time for “trial and errors” method. If you are not sure, don’t use it. If you cannot escape a term – don’t monkey around with it until the whole communication breaks down. Those situations require professionalism (in case of work or medical situations) or understanding of exam strategies and your strengths. Show your best and stay away from your favourite ‘sloppy’ mistakes.
Never say, ‘oops’. Always say, ‘Ah, interesting’.
I wish you lots of stretch and aha-moments mistakes. They teach us and make us better.
Stay away from sloppy and high-stakes mistakes; they are not worth making them.