Making Mistakes as a Non-native Speaker

One of the hardest things about raising my daughter in one of my non-native languages is making mistakes.  It’s not so bad if it’s just me, but if I’m teaching it to her wrong, that’s really frustrating.  For example, in Chinese, did you know that  and  are different words?  Yep, me neither until just recently.  They are the exact same character, but if you change the tone, it can change from a transitive to an intransitive verb meaning “to turn”.  I had been using the same tone for both meanings.  You’d think with over 40,000 characters in the language, there would be no need to double up a meaning.

So what’s one to do?  In the words of the British – “Keep calm and carry on”.  It’s going to happen and, when it does, I work hard to correct it.  I’ll spend extra time with my daughter using the word or the phrase I was messing up and just try to use it as much as possible until she starts to say it correctly as well.  Toddlers aren’t like adults, they don’t get hung up on these things.  She’ll use the wrong word I taught her and then just slowly start using the new word/phrase I’m teaching without caring about why we changed.

Making mistakes is a natural part of language learning and we’ve just got to be ready for it.  It’s important to remember that native speakers do it all the time, too.  Think of the last time you said, “well, I guess I just can’t talk today”.  If you really pay attention, you’ll notice native speakers go back and correct pronunciation and grammar errors in their own speech fairly often.  You probably make a couple a day on average.  It’s so natural to just immediately repeat it correctly that we don’t pay it any mind.  The cognitive load required for fast-paced conversation is actually quite high and our thoughts often jump before our words.  That’s not even mentioning writing.  We have spell-check and grammar-check for a reason 🙂

I hate making mistakes with my daughter, but I can’t let it keep me from speaking with her.  Sometimes there is the fear of using something new just because it doesn’t feel comfortable yet.  But, I’ve got to get past that to push both my language and hers.  The most important thing is that she’s able to communicate in the language.  There will certainly be bumps along the way for us, but we’ll smooth them out eventually!

Any other non-natives reading this that speak to their child using their non-native language?  How do you handle these situations?

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