Learn/Teach English – All these mistakes! Help!

Are you discouraged that your students keep making the same mistakes, over and over again?  How about yourself as a learner? Is that your experience, too?


I used to be impatient with my students when I taught them French. When they would make a mistake with a word, I would think, ‘What’s wrong with them that they can’t get that word right!’ But then, I started to learn Spanish as a beginner. And I was humbled.

(Intro: English without Fear where you can learn to speak English naturally, through listening to stories)

Yes, my last year of teaching French to teenagers, I started to learn Spanish as a beginner. I was immediately humbled. I learned some humility. What is being humbled? What is humility?

I used to think that there was something wrong with my students, that they were a bit stupid because they kept making the same mistakes over and over. Or they would get one sound wrong. But when I started as a beginner to learn Spanish, I realized how hard this was. And my opinion about myself, what I thought about myself, became more realistic. I was humbled. I had a high opinion about myself and a low opinion about my students, but starting as a beginner with another language humbled me, it brought me down to reality. And that was a good thing. 

My last year teaching teenagers French, I was a much better teacher because I understood what they felt, what they were going through, learning French. I developed something called empathy.

Empathy is a feeling that you experience when you can understand the other person’s feelings. Either you’ve gone through a similar experience, or you can imagine what it must feel like. I learned to be empathetic because I was going through the same thing with my students.

I’ve been working on Spanish for 37 months, three years and one month. And I have put in over 2,400 hours listening to Spanish, watching videos, reading and in the last year and a half speaking more and more as an intermediate-level Spanish learner. What I’m seeing in myself, the errors I make, the mistakes I make, my frustrations are very similar to those of my English language learners. 

For example, I know how to say correctly,  I went, ‘yo fui’ in Spanish. And I know that ‘fue’ is for talking about somebody else. Fui/fue –  I know that. And oftentimes, when I’m thinking about the storyline of, of talking about something that happened to me, I’m concentrating on the content and not the form of my words. And I make mistakes about things that I do know, I should know better. But they’re not yet automatic. 

Several of my Hispanic friends correct me, I’ve asked for them to correct me. And often when they do, I think,  “Oh, I know that! I don’t understand why it came out wrong.” One sound, one letter. Another Spanish example, ‘conseguí..conseguió’ ‘conseguí, guí, guió’, not much difference. 

Here’s what I’ve noticed with my English language learners. Same problem, one sound difference. Take the words, 

“Play/played,’  (PLA/PLA-D) D!, that’s the only sound difference. But ‘play’ is something you’re doing right now and ‘played’ happened in the past. ‘Stop/stopped.’ (stop/stop-t) You add the T sound to talk about the past. Hike/hiked’ (hik/hik-T).  One sound makes all the difference in the meaning. It’s amazing. 

There’s another word that I, this week got wrong. It should be ‘evidentemente’/ for evidently or obviously. And I said ‘evidente’. ‘Evidente’ is wrong and ‘evidentemente’ is correct. So, I was missing one syllable in the word. I think it’s going to take me and you English-language learners, we’re going to have to work on each word, over time. Each word or words will become clear in our mind. And then eventually, after some time, will automatically come out correctly. But we have to be patient with ourselves. And if we’re teachers, patient with our learners. It’s hard.

I volunteer with Hispanic speakers in my town one morning a week. And this week, on Tuesday, I was working with some women and I always thank them in Spanish. “Thank you for helping me with my English” (I meant to say ‘thank you for helping me with my Spanish!). And one gal said to me, ‘Well, you made lots of mistakes, but we understood what you were saying.’ 

I was humbled again. I was brought down to where I am actually, but there’s no need to feel bad. There’s no need for me to apologize or, or think there’s something wrong with me. I helped those women. They understood. That’s what counts. 

When you communicate with English and you make mistakes, don’t worry. I have two friends, Hispanic friends who’ve given me some advice. Eh….Teri who’s from Mexico when we do an Intercambio, an exchange. And if I start saying, ‘Oh, Teri, I get so discouraged,  all these mistakes I make!’

She said, ‘Maria, María, don’t worry. I know from the context, from the bigger story, I know what you’re talking about. I understand, even when you make mistakes.’ Then there was Roberto. He always tells me, ‘María, have you made enough mistakes today, speaking Spanish?  The more mistakes you make, the more you’ll learn!’ 

And friends, that’s a good way to look at language learning. Keep practicing your English. And you English language teachers, coaches, tutors, if you haven’t already started to learn another language, please do so. You’ll be a much more humble and empathetic teacher. And your adventure and learning another language will give you ideas, insights into how people learn and how you can better help your students.

Remember, if you would like the transcript, the written words to today’s episode, just go to my website, English without Fear.com and in a day or so after this YouTube gets uploaded, I will have put there a transcript.

Well, that’s it for this episode. I’m Maria from English without Fear. Talk to you next time.

(Outro: Thanks for watching. For questions or comments, here’s my email.)

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