Language learner confessions - our most embarrassing mistakes
It’s easy to let the fear of making a mistake stop you from progressing. It happens in all aspects of life, including language learning. Especially for theory nerds like me.
When I was travelling through Central America I would cringe and note every mistake my two travel companions made.
‘Eek, that should have been the feminine article.’
‘Yikes, wrong conjugation.’
‘OK I’m pretty sure you just made that word up…’
One day as I silently criticised them I had a realisation. They were improving. And I wasn’t.
That’s when it hit home - no one gives a flying fudge brownie if you make a mistake in your target language. On the contrary, mistakes are GOOD for your learning.
In an effort to get over myself, I started stretching my comfort zone and letting mistake after embarrassing mistake creep into my own interactions. As a direct result I’m now a better, more confident, Spanish learner - with a few good stories to boot.
This blog is all about encouraging you to make mistakes. To coax you into it we’re offering up some of our brave Lingogo friends and whanau’s most embarrassing language learning moments. Indulge, have a wee chuckle, realise we all lived and learned, then get out there and make your own.
I’ll kick things off…
Learner: Lizzie Dunn (me)
Setting: Walking to my first Spanish lesson with my female tutor. Antigua, Guatemala.
'My tutor asked me why I had come to visit Antigua.
I looked her in the eye with a bright smile and feigned confidence, as I replied en español, 'To get better at Spanish’.
She suddenly looked very awkward. It took me five blocks to pick apart what was wrong with my reply: ‘Para mujer en español’. Of course (in retrospect) I had just told her I was in Guatemala looking for a Spanish woman rather than what I had meant to say - to get better at Spanish. Yep, the oooold mujer/mejor trap.
She was visibly relieved to hear I was not looking for a lesbian wife though she assured me she had no problem with it - she just wasn’t interested in me in that way.'
Learner: Sophie Merkens
Setting: Post-shift beers at a hostel I was working at. Canary Islands, Spain.
'It was a beautiful evening and I was stoked to be holding my own with a bunch of Spanish speaking locals.
I told them about an incident where I had an embarrassing run-in with an ex boyfriend. I thought it was pretty funny but my punchline was met with big eyes, some throat clearing, and a rather serious mood.
Later when a girl took me aside and asked me ‘how far along I was’ I realised ‘Estoy embarazada’ does NOT mean ‘I’m embarrassed’. Not even close.'
Setting: About 3/4 of the way through my second Spanish lesson. Antigua, Guatemala.
'It was hot and the last session of the day for my young male tutor who was looking rather sleepy. We were running through weather vocab.
‘Tienes frío?’ he asked me in a bored tone.
‘No,’ I replied ‘Estoy caliente!’.
He smiled, finally showing some kind of interest. ‘¿Estás seguro?’ he asked.
‘Sí!’ I replied. I was sure ‘frío’ meant cold and ‘caliente’ meant hot.
He called two of his tutor friends over and asked me to repeat the phrase again. I did. They all burst out laughing.
‘Muy caliente?’ they asked.
It was seriously hot. ‘Sí, muy, muy caliente!’ I replied, wondering where my pronunciation was going wrong.
They completely lost it until an older female tutor came over to have a word with them, at which point the smiles quickly disappeared and my tutor’s friends disappeared back to their stations.
‘Lo siento,’ my tutor said. Then he explained that the slang meaning of caliente is in fact ‘horny’. Safe to say young male humour is pretty similar no matter the culture.'
Setting: Travelling for work. During introductions at an all staff multi-day workshop. Mali, West Africa.
'I work for an international aid agency and last time I was in Mali managed to introduce myself to about eighty people in French as a man instead of a woman (‘coordinateur’ vs. ‘coordinatrice’ - woops!)
It caused considerable confusion, not helped by the fact that I had my hair tucked up into my hat and was wearing a rather unisex outfit.
Since then, no matter how jet-lagged I am, I always get it right (and I chucked the hat away).'
Learner: Scott Dunn
Setting: Dinner with my German sister-in-law’s family. Petershagen, Germany.
'I’d made the effort to learn a few ‘dinner-appropriate’ German phrases and was waiting for my chance to bust one out.
Halfway through mains felt like a good time to compliment the meal. I made sure everyone was listening before gesturing to my sister-in-law’s parents. ‘Er ist lecker,’ I said, ‘danke!’.
My brother literally choked on his beer before erupting with laughter. The Germans gave me puzzled looks. Katha’s extremely masculine dad seemed to be the most awkward.
‘What have I done?’ I asked my bro dreading the answer.
‘You just told Katha’s dad he is very yummy!’ he managed to tell me while gasping for air.
At least it broke the ice.'
We all make mistakes guys. We hope our stories here make you less worried about it. Surely you can’t do any worse… but if you have please tell us how in the comments below! We’d love to hear your stories (mostly to make ourselves feel better).
This month we’re adding more free screenies, more handy translation notes and getting a shiny new e-commerce section for our website. Woohoo! Progress! Happy April!