I know some teachers who don’t like mistakes and would punish their students, even during games, if there were to make mistakes when using the foreign language. Here is my opinion on the matter of the importance of making mistakes with languages and during the learning process!
It’s true that making mistakes when learning language has been very negatively seen for a while. We HAVE to write without mistakes and we cannot make mistakes when speaking, otherwise we lose marks at school. Using the language without making grammar mistakes is seen as the Holy Grale. This, in itself, is a mistake, in my opinion.
Necessity of making mistakes during the learning process
As a language learning geek, teacher and former hopeless case, I always encourage my pupils to make mistakes. When I am learning a language, I make them as well and don’t hide it. It is to be seen in the translations I make in my methodology articles. While everybody is trying to write correctly, and some learners don’t even dare speak or write until they feel ready to use the language without making mistakes, I find that seeking perfection, at least when beginning, is a mistake.
Indeed, mistakes are part of the learning process and are, in my opinion, absolutely necessary. Why? Because without errors, there is no learning. If you make a mistake and it gets corrected, you will learn. But what if it doesn’t get corrected? Where is the problem? As long as the message is understood, everything is fine, right? Furthermore, if you don’t try by fear of making mistakes, if you keep waiting until you’re ready, you will never be ready and won’t progress.
How to correct what we believe to be correct?
If you keep practicing and trying to learn, you will correct your mistakes eventually. Indeed, you will notice that what you are doing (be it related to grammar, vocab, pronunciation, …) is not correct because you’ve never heard it. By listening and reading, you will eventually use the correct forms, even if you don’t notice it.
Don’t fear natives’ judgement
One very important thing in not fearing to make mistakes is that if you think “it doesn’t matter if I make mistakes”, you won’t fear them and will keep practicing the language, and this is crucial. The more you dare use the language, the more you will learn. If you don’t fare, progresses will be very slow. You need to go beyond your fear and your comfort zone. It is important to add that natives usually don’t care about mistakes (well, except for French speakers who often are perfectionists regarding foreigners’ level of French).
Try to talk in English to a native while your message is understandable but full of mistakes, they will answer and won’t judge you. I have already spoken to dozens, if not hundreds of natives in language I don’t master, and it has hindered the conversation only a few times. I have not been corrected often, unless I explicitly asked for it.
Let’s suppose I’m the cat on the left. What I’m writing is incorrect. But the cat on the left understands the message all the same. Thanks to my mistake, he can correct me so that I progress and improve. Without making that mistake, I would still not know my error.
Sign of courage
Don’t forget that using a foreign language is a sign of courage. Even if you make loads of mistakes when speaking a language, at least you try. The person you’re talking to may not have that courage. Speaking a language at a non-native level is at least a sign that you can speak another one: your native one, and that you are making efforts to learn a foreign one.
As a conclusion, I think we should encourage mistakes. I have recently taught a 21-year-old student to help her take an oral exam for English. I taught her for 10 hours in the course of one week, and I insisted on her making as many mistakes as possible (mistakes she shouldn’t make in front of her teacher, of course). During our lessons, I have seen and heard her try, fail, try again, fail again (but less), try again, and in the end, she could speak much better, even if she kept making some mistakes (one week is of course not enough to erase all mistakes, but in the end she still had improved a lot)