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“Oh what a mistaka to maka!” says a funny non-English-speaking guy in the old sitcom, 'Allo 'Allo! Naturally, none of us wants to be that guy. But trying so hard not to sound like him is not such a good idea. When we try so much to avoid any mistake at all costs, we make a significantly bigger mistake: we hinder the language learning process.

When we make a mistake and become aware of it, we probably won’t make the same kind of mistake again. This isn’t just a truism. Numerous studies have confirmed that we learn most effectively by trial and error. It works in many areas, including language learning.

It is much better to risk sounding funny than to stay at the same proficiency level for the entire life.

Unfortunately, there are lots of people who see every mistake as a failure. When they get a chance to talk to the natives, they decide to miss the event just to avoid getting embarrassed by their poor English, Spanish, German, or whatever. I used to be one of those people.

Too many times, I consciously chose to avoid any situation that would reveal that my spoken English wasn’t perfect. It was just recently that I started embracing those opportunities. Needless to say, my speaking skills and readiness to use them increased incredibly. But what did I wait for so long?

It happened to be my mindset. It was wrong. But enough about me.

Learning from mistakes—it’s a matter of mindset

What are your thoughts on intelligence and learning? Are you one of those people who thought they were very smart until some later failure proved differently? Or you never thought you were special, but you’re curious and want to learn and grow? Or something in the middle?

Did you know that all you need for a successful language-learning journey is to adopt the right mindset?

If you’ve read “Mindset” by Carol Dweck, you probably remember the concept. In a nutshell, there are two basic mindsets—the growth mindset and the fixed one.

People with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is static. A typical fixed-minded individual is someone who was often praised for their smarts as a child and maybe even considered a genius by older family members. They usually have a very high self-esteem that is short-lived. Once they start getting less-than-perfect grades and finally realize they aren’t geniuses, they begin thinking they lack the capability to do better.

The growth mindset is just the opposite. A growth-minded individual isn’t much obsessed with their intelligence in their youth. They know that learning is a process and growth is a result of some work. For them, it is not about abilities. It is about constant improvement.

The importance of mindset in language learning

A fixed-minded person may tell you they aren’t talented in languages. Or, even more probably, they may tell you they are fluent, but deep inside, they believe they aren’t talented, and they’ll do all they can to hide it from you.

Someone with a growth mindset won’t talk or even think about a talent or ability. Their focus is completely different. If they’re into something, they’ll use opportunities to improve their knowledge or practice the skills. In situations where they can talk to someone in a language that isn’t their first language, they will just talk without even trying to leave an impression. And while they do that, their ability to communicate in that language will grow.

Out of these two types of people, who do you think will allow themselves to make mistakes and learn from them?

If you recognize your own beliefs in these descriptions, and if you happen to be a person with a fixed mindset, maybe you should get rid of it now. You have no greater obstacles on your language-learning journey. The fixed mindset makes learning hard, almost impossible, while the growth mindset makes it easy and natural.

The importance of making mistakes when learning

An interesting study has shown how, on a physical level, people’s views on learning and intelligence affect how they deal with mistakes. It turns out that their brains react to mistakes differently.

People with a growth mindset pay more attention to their mistakes. Their brain shows a special signal known as the error positivity component (Pe), which means they’re really noticing and thinking about their errors. During the study, the growth mindset group members often got better after making an error. Their brain’s strong reaction to mistakes helped them learn and improve.

On the other hand, the fixed mindset group didn’t show the same level of brain response to their mistakes, and they didn’t improve as much afterward. This shows that how you think about your ability to learn and grow can actually change the way your brain deals with mistakes, helping you to learn from them and get better over time.

As someone who used to have a fixed mindset, I know exactly why fixed-minded people don’t learn from mistakes easily. They are so concerned with the possibility of making an error (and getting caught making one) that they can’t even process feedback.

Learning from mistakes despite a fixed mindset

Adopting a growth mindset may take time. Your deepest beliefs can hardly change overnight. Even though you already realize that a fixed mindset affects your progress, it may be hard to just go out there and start talking in French (for example) with your manager, a person you have a crush on, or just about anyone you want to impress.

The great thing is—you don’t have to do that immediately. You can find someone who excels in preparing people like yourself to speak a foreign language without that mental burden.

If you have a fixed mindset, a LiveXP English tutor can be especially helpful in guiding you toward a more growth-oriented approach to learning English. A tutor can encourage you, highlighting your progress and effort rather than just focusing on the end result. They can offer specific, constructive feedback on your speaking skills, pinpointing exactly where you’re doing well and where you can improve.

A LiveXP tutor can help you set small, manageable goals for your English speaking skills. That way, they can help you see on your own example that improvement is possible with effort and practice.

You can learn from mistakes in a friendly way. You’ll get all the attention, choose lesson times that work for you, and hear different accents. Most importantly, a tutor can create a supportive and non-judgmental environment where you feel safe making mistakes.

Speaking with a tutor can help shift your focus from a fear of failure to an appreciation for progress. Why would you miss that opportunity? Book a trial lesson now, and make one important aspect of your life easier and more pleasant.

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