If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived. Life = risk.
I have a two-year old son. He’s probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s so full of joyful energy that he literally bounces off the walls if we don’t strap him down into his car seat. He’s constantly moving, and he’s constantly failing.
He trips over everything. He hits people with stupid things because he’s…curious? He constantly bumps into things or gets stuck somewhere he can’t get out of. He mispronounces words, messes up grammar, and says the same incorrect phrases over and over again. He can’t read and he can’t write, but he tries.
Amazingly, none of the above reduces his passion or energy in the slightest. When he tries, he often fails. When he fails, he bounces back joyfully and tries again. It will literally be seconds between crying tears of failure and bouncing back with a big boy grin to have another go. Nothing halts his enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, adult learners are rarely as lively and enthusiast after failure as kids. Too many years of negative experiences regarding failures and education have taught us that failing is a vice, not a virtue. Well, what do you suppose life would be like if we started to say not, “I’m a failure,” but rather, “I love that I suck”?
Here are 10 reasons why you (currently) suck at failing
- You tell yourself things like, “I’m just bad at learning languages.”
- You try something once, give up, and say, “Well, I guess that just shows my limited skill set.”
- You fear failure and give up too easily.
- You’re shy and that shyness either (1) prevents you from speaking, or (2) prevents you from speaking like a native (I still find myself purposefully using poor grammar and bad pronunciation to sound like a non-professional speaker. I’m shy and scared to sound good).
- You continually fixate on English and don’t use Korean enough (music, movies, books, games).
- Your friends, family, or acquaintances don’t use Korean enough.
- You’ve “moved on” from the Basics (a little proud of your skills?).
- You ask the wrong questions.
- You don’t pay attention or take notes.
- You aren’t being intuitive or don’t have enough strategies.
(The above list is based on this blog post. For a more complete list and additional details, be sure to check out the site.)
And here are 10 things you can do about that to FAIL WELL
- Tell yourself, “Language learning is a SKILL, not a talent. It just takes practice, like learning to ride a bike.”
- Try something once, fail. Try it again, fail. Never give up until you succeed. (Kids would never walk if they gave up after a few tries. They see others doing it and know it’s possible. They won’t give up until they succeed.)
- Practice failing and be proud of yourself for choosing to fail. (Today’s Challenge)
- Step out of your Comfort Zone and stop excusing your own shyness – both outwardly and inwardly (mentally).
- Surround yourself with Korean music, books, TV, movies, and so on. Fixate on Korean. Find it everywhere (this is also called “priming your brain” – this will be Day #4).
- Ask your friends and family to speak Korean with you. Or…make some new (Korean-only) friends (this will be a later Challenge as well).
- Review and practice. Never get so proud of your skills that you think you’re “beyond that” and don’t need more practice.
- Don’t just say, “I don’t understand.” You probably understood much of what was said. Fixate on the single word or phrase you don’t know, repeat that back to the speaker, and say, “What’s that?”
- Korean TV is amazing for its Korean subtitles! Start taking notes when you watch TV. It’s a great way to match what you hear with the subtitles that are written. And take notes when speaking with your friends. Keep a journal (this will be a later Challenge).
- You know English, right? You know that some base words can combine to form complex words. The same is true in Korean. Try to understand the base forms and how they form complex words and phrases. Also, focus on context. You can guess the meaning of a new word in English based on context. You can do that in Korean too. Guess the meaning, then look it up. Teach your brain how to think efficiently.
Today’s Challenge is to practice failing well. That means you have to try something new that you’ve never done before, and if you fail, you have to try it again.
#3: Try out at least 3 new (or not well-known) words, phrases, or grammar structures on 3 different people today, in different contexts.
You should try to use the same word or phrase until you are confident you are using it correctly. Don’t try out three different phrases on three different people. Use the same phrase over and over again until you lock it in your memory.
Hashtags today are:
If you don’t currently know what you want to try out today, you’ll need to get ready with a little study. Open up your grammar book, phrasebook, or dictionary, and find something you’ve always wanted to say or ask but haven’t (yet) been able to. Today is the day to do it!
For me, I’ll choose some grammar structures from my Grammar book:
- Unit 9: Reasons and Causes: N 때문에, A/V-기 때문에
- Unit 14: Background Info & Explanations: A/V-(으)ㄴ/는데 (Also Unit 4: Listing & Contrast)
- Unit 15: Purpose and Intention: V-(으)러 가다/오다
- Unit 15: V-(으)려고
- Unit 15: V-(으)려고 하다
- Unit 15: N을/를 위해(서), V-기 위해(서)
- Unit 15: V-기로 하다
- Unit 17: Conjecture: A/V-(으)ㄴ/는/(으)ㄹ 것 같다
I think 8 is enough to start with.
If you need a phrasebook to find phrases to try out, here are some that are available online:
- The National Institute for the Korean Language phrasebook
- WikiTravel phrasebook
- Making Out in Korean phrasebook
- Smartphone phrasebook app from Cogent (iPhone, iPad (HD), and Android)
And let me leave you with this final quote about failure:
Seek out failures. Do bold things. Engage in conversations above your level. Attempt awesome stuff with your language. You will fail, and fail often, but you will also learn a lot more than sitting in a safe place and playing to your strengths.
I found this page awesome and informative. keep it up brother because i was kinda tuned a little after going through the write-up.
This is a great post, way more positive and inspirational that my grumpy teacher’s rant!
Thanks. I really feel like language learning requires LOTS of motivation (at least that’s what I’ve experienced). Without repeated motivation, it’s hard to stay committed.
Wow! So much of this is what I tell my students (to learn English) and yet fail to tell myself^^ Really great writing and inspiration, Aaron. I need to check your blog more often!!
Thanks a lot Sonia! I learned (about myself) that I will forever be doomed to be unmotivated to further learn Korean unless I actively motivate myself toward that end. Therefore, I’ve set aside Monday morning of every week to read inspirational materials and write my own motivational posts to push me to study Korean harder through the week.
Glad to be able to inspire others as well! I just hope that my advice is also as practical as it is theoretical. Sometimes I find myself diving too deeply into psychology and not focusing enough on application. And we would all do well to remember the truth that: “Knowledge without application is worthless.”
I think your blog has a great balance between theory and advice and practical info. Of course, you have 3 “inspirations” facing you daily! that are impossible to share^^ I hoe I can strike such a balance in my classes! I feel that as a “native” teacher, part of my job is to inspire, to make English real and fun for my students, so that it’s not just a bunch of grammar mistakes waiting to happen, but rather another medium for communication and expression!
I really agree with what you’re talking about there.
I definitely think that learning a second language is one of the longest and most challenging things a person can undertake, and if you’re uninspired for the majority of your time involving that language, you’ll never succeed.
I do think that a large number of Korean kids, whether initially inspired or not, have lost a lot of the “magic” and “fun” of learning English for various reasons – either the monotony and repetition of it, or the long hours of study this hagwon system forces them into, or whatever. So, it’s really great when you’re able to reawaken them to the fun of English and inspire them to not merely learn “What’s your name?” for the thousandth time, but also to experiment with English in and out of class. That’s how they’ll succeed. And that’s what I try to do on this blog as well.