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Whist writing my latest article about developing Chinese fluency I stumbled upon the topic of failure and thought it would make an excellent opportunity for me to discuss the importance of failure in learning, at least in my experience.
Learning a second language is often a long an arduous journey, with plenty of hurdles and diversions along the way. During the journey you will inevitably make mistakes.
These mistakes are not only unavoidable, but they are critical for our development in learning. These mistakes often create key events for us during our learning and it’s important that we approach this in the right way.
My Hot Pot Incident
Let me give an example from my own journey. I was with some of my Chinese friends celebrating one of their birthday’s and eating hot pot. They knew I could speak a little Chinese but generally didn’t engage with me in Chinese.
The waitress came over to take the order, and I decided I felt brave enough to test a new phrase that I’d heard.
“我想一瓶青岛啤酒” meaning I would like a bottle of beer.
The waitress took the order and didn’t say much, but my friends rolled around laughing at me. I asked them why and I didn’t get much of an excuse. I felt a little embarrassed and wondered what I could have accidently said.
I felt a little mad that I couldn’t figure out what I had said, and it became a negative experience for me, hindering my confidence to try again. Looking back I take a few different lessons from this experience.
1. You Will Make Mistakes
Making mistakes is an inevitability and avoiding mistakes by avoiding using the language is the opposite of what we want.
2. Your Mindset Matters
I had the courage to try to use my Chinese in a more open situation with a crowd listening and this is a positive thing. Regardless of other’s reactions I will react in the best way possible. After this event I resolved myself to be shameless in future situations.
3. Surround Yourself With The Right People
This part is also important, but often uncontrollable. When you are practising and building confidence, surround yourself with the right people who will support you and be patient. We are often fragile when making our first steps, so having a good friend to support you is a great asset.
The Key Take Away
After this, once I had calmed down, I reflected on the situation and moved on. I’ve had several other occasions where I’d had some potentially negative experiences but I didn’t let them affect me.
I hope that in your journey in learning Chinese, you can become “thick skinned” in your approach and embrace the highs and the lows that come with learning this wonderful language.