Speak Up

Don’t let mistakes take the fun out of learning a new language!


Written by Johan Colmenares 

It’s natural to feel like you are in the spotlight when you pronounce your first words in a foreign language. From my point of view, it is kind of unrealistic to ask yourself not to undergo these feelings. But have you ever thought about bucking the trend?

If not… you should!

It is possible to overcome your fears when it comes to speaking a new language. I’ve been learning English, Arabic and Portuguese here on Livemocha as well as other languages like French, Italian and German, but for the latter ones I’m still at a beginning level. Back in school, I was afraid of making mistakes in English, but I had to change my mind if I really wanted to get the most out of my languages. I’d love to share with you some of my experiences on this long but amazing road.


False Cognates = opportunities to misspeak… and to learn

False cognates always trick us native Spanish speakers. I was telling my personal tutor Miranda Gonzalez (Hi Miranda!) that one of my contacts on Facebook posted about an E-moderator job for a children’s game. We arranged an interview on Skype the next day, but I wasn’t told the interview would be in English! Here in my country, it is not easy to find native English speakers and that was the very first time I had talked with two people who not only speak it as their mother tongue, but who also expected good and clear answers from me. Well, I tried to do my best, but at a certain point, I was asked about what kind of words do I consider inappropriate in chat (remember that it’s about a children’s game) and I replied we have to protect kids from “pedestrians” which was my translation for “pederastas” (pedophiles)! Richard, one of my interviewers, was very kind and explained to me that I didn’t have to worry about pedestrians at all on an internet game!

Understanding not just the definition, but the meaning of words

In 2008, I started learning Arabic and as you can figure out, it is not an easy goal. And even when I’m far from mastering it, I’ve met many Arabs here in Venezuela and have gotten to explore the culture, customs and even cuisine of Lebanon and Syria. Once I was talking to my 74-year-old friend Yusef at his home. I was trying to find out the meaning of the word تربية (“tarbia”). I knew this term can mean “education” but it stretches so far beyond this simple concept. His Spanish was limited and so was my Arabic, but the explanation he gave me I’ll never forget it:

“For instance, if you cross your legs in front of me, this is lack of “tarbia”.

Immediately I got the message. “Tarbia” is a word related to Arabic customs and one of their forms of showing respect is keeping their feet on the ground when they’re seated. The funny thing is that I was talking to Yusef for almost 30 minutes and my leg were crossed the whole time!

Romancing the tongue

Learning Portuguese is easier when you already speak a Romance Language, but it is also easier to find yourself speaking a sort of “Portuñol” that is, a combination of Spanish and Portuguese. That’s why you can confuse the word “engraçado” (funny) with “engrasado” (greased) or “esquisito” (weird, strange) with “exquisito” (delicious). One of my Brazilian friends says I speak “espanholado” (with a heavy Spanish accent) but the most important thing is: I’m speaking it. Learning a language is like climbing a mountain: every time I feel stuck at the same level, I just take a few minutes to “see” how much I’ve climbed up, and it always cheers me up! So my message is: do not let mistakes in foreign languages take the fun out of learning them. If native speakers laugh at you, then laugh with them, why not? And if they correct you, always be grateful. Finding yourself expressing feelings, thoughts, ideals and stories in a new language is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences in life.

So next time you feel afraid of making mistakes, just…speak up!



Give yourself the opportunity to make mistakes and learn! Sign up for your next language lesson on Livemocha today!