Epic Fail to Fluent: 5 Ways Funny Language Mistakes Can Help You Learn
Oh no, they’re laughing at you!
Having your friends laugh at your mistakes when you’re learning a new language may feel like the end of the world.
But your mistakes could actually give you a huge learning advantage that’ll shock your friends like deer in headlights!
Did you know getting laughed at can help you learn a new language?
If you want to have fun with your language mistakes and use them to help you learn your target language faster, stay tuned.
I’ve got some funny and embarrassing stories that’ll change the way you think about learning a new language.
I’ll also show you how to transform your own language mistakes into gems that you can laugh about and learn from.
How My Epic Fail Moments Taught Me Spanish
Google Translate Can Make Things Awkward Quickly
When I was living in Spain earlier this year doing humanitarian work with refugees, I thought I would say something funny in Spanish to my friend Maria.
Since I watched “The Power Rangers” when I was a kid, I decided to ask her in Spanish if she likes that show. So, with the help of Google Translate, I said to Maria, “Te gustan los guardabosques?”
“No sé…” (“I don’t know…”) she awkwardly replied.
After the other refugees heard what I said in Spanish, they started laughing uncontrollably!
I was confused by Maria’s response, so I double-checked the meaning of what I’d just said. I found out that “Te gustan los guardabosques” means, “Do you like forest rangers?”
From that day forward, I’ve learned to never rely blindly on Google Translate!
Winging It Won’t Always Work
One day while I was taking a Spanish class at a community college, my teacher asked me to stand up and share a sentence I learned in Spanish with the entire class. I quickly stood up and said, “Mis abuelos son muy simpáticos, pero no son bonitos.” (“My grandparents are very nice, but they’re not pretty.”)
After I said that, the entire class, along with my teacher, started laughing nonstop, but I had no idea why they were laughing so hard.
Shortly afterward, my teacher smiled while trying not to laugh and said, “Ernesto, good job, but that’s not very nice.” I realized that I hadn’t really thought about what I was saying until after I said it—I was just focused on completing the assignment. When everyone started laughing, I then realized what a terrible thing I’d just said.
One big thing I learned that day was to not practice my Spanish with my grandparents until I learn how to think before I speak!
Learning a Variety of Foreign Phrases Is a Good Idea
Another time while I was living in Spain with the humanitarian workers and the refugees, the hot water stopped working and we all decided to have a meeting to figure out what we should do. At that time, one of my favorite phrases in Spanish whenever I thought something was odd was, “esto es muy extraño” (this is very strange).
I’d become so comfortable with this phrase that I pretty much started using it for everything.
So once everyone started discussing the issue with the hot water not working, I said, “Hmm, esto es muy extraño.” (“Hmm, this is very strange.”) Almost immediately, everyone busted out in uncontrollable laughter!
I didn’t really understand what I’d said wrong, so I asked one of the humanitarian workers. She told me that I didn’t say anything wrong, but it just sounded funny that I’m so simple-minded in terms of choosing that specific Spanish phrase over and over again.
For this reason, it’s important to learn a variety of phrases in a foreign language so that you can have a normal conversation with people. If you say, “this is very strange” for everything that seems a little odd, people will start to think that you’re very strange.
Why Making Language Mistakes Can Work in Your Favor
One advantage to making mistakes when you’re learning a new language is that it’ll help you to discover your weak spots. Knowing your weak spots, as long as you’re open to learning, will help you to focus on the specific areas you need to improve.
As I’ve already mentioned briefly by sharing my own language learning mistakes, another way making mistakes can work in your favor is that you’ll learn new vocabulary. While it’s really embarrassing to make mistakes and you probably don’t want anybody to laugh at you, learning what words or phrases to not say will give you a better idea of what you need to say next time.
When Thomas Edison was asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times, he said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” If you can think the way Edison did, you’ll have a lot more fun learning your target language by tracking your progress along the way!
5 Ways Your Funny Language Mistakes Can Help You Learn
1. Reveal (and Overcome) Your Common Mistakes by Texting
Texting your foreign friends in the language you want to learn certainly won’t make you a genius overnight, but it’ll help you identify your common mistakes and bad linguistic habits.
The first step is to ask your friends to correct you during your text conversations, if they’re not already doing so. This can be a lot less overwhelming or frustrating than getting interrupted with corrections in the middle of an in-person conversation. Plus, if you’re using language exchange apps like Tandem or HelloTalk, there are super-simple correction features already built in.
It’s not all about spelling and grammar, either! Using text-to-speech features in your mobile keyboard to speak the language you’re learning will also help to improve your pronunciation of new words. (Just hit the microphone icon in the message box on an iPhone, or follow these steps for an Android.)
Again, your friends can help with corrections, but you’ll also simply identify poorly-pronounced words if the phone can’t understand what you’re saying.
Texting is something most of us do every day, so why not text your foreign friends, have fun with your mistakes and learn a new language all at the same time?
2. Pay Attention to Spell Check
Spell check is especially useful if you want to go to school in your target language or pursue writing or teaching careers—and laughing at your writing mistakes as spell check autocorrects them will help you have a little fun while you work.
Since Microsoft Word can correct spelling in many different languages, it’s a great way to catch funny mistakes and learn from them along the way.
If you’re an English learner (or if you’re a native speaker who might as well brush up on your writing skills), you could also check out Grammarly. It’s a powerful spell- and grammar-checking tool—and best of all, it provides thorough explanations of your mistakes so you know how to correct them next time.
Of course, remember that spell checkers aren’t always perfect, so you can always double-check any points of confusion with a dictionary or a native speaker.
3. Use Language Tools with SRS and Progress Trackers
While it’s important to see the humor in language mistakes, it’s true that once enough of them pile up, it can be hard to find the motivation to keep learning. That’s why it’s important to see the big picture beyond your mistakes. Language apps with Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) technology and progress tracking features are the best way to accomplish this.
4. Translate Figures of Speech into the Language You’re Learning
If you really want to have fun learning a new language, make mistakes on purpose by translating English figures of speech into the language you’re learning. Since idioms and expressions rarely translate properly into another language, you’ll have people laughing in no time! This is also a great way to lighten the mood and even make some new friends.
One cool thing about doing this is that, after you translate your figure of speech and explain what it’s supposed to mean, ask the people who speak your target language how the figure of speech would be phrased in their language. You can take notes on this and learn figures of speech in their language.
5. Laugh at Your Own Mistakes to Learn Faster
When you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll make a lot of friends who’ll be willing to help you learn your target language faster. Believe it or not, even people you don’t know are more inclined to help you if you’re fun and teachable.
Another benefit of laughing at your mistakes is that it’ll release dopamine into your brain, and that’ll enhance your memory to help you learn the language faster. When you’re in a good mood, you’ll actually be able to remember what you’ve learned much easier!
Learning a language by making funny mistakes is one of the most natural ways to learn a new language.
While it’s not often something that happens on purpose, learning from your embarrassing mistakes is exactly what you need to help you get fluent.
Ernesto is an author, blogger and freelancer writer, and he’s passionate about helping refugees and the poor. If you would like to connect with him, you can find him at ErnestoAragon.com.