A fascinating piece of research about learning

Now here is a lovely piece of work, which you won’t be surprised to hear I’m particularly pleased to read :sunny:



‘Until you say something completely wrong, for the wrong reason, you have not contributed to the discussion,’ - straight from the SSiW manual? :smile:


Yeah, I really liked that :sunny:

Certainly sounds like it. But now I would like to know why that is so. Why does making mistakes help? I can see that not being afraid to make mistakes helps, but that’s not quite the same thing, is it?

S’mae Mike?

Well, I would have said that its a feedback loop thing going on - you make mistakes, you realise that you did (and are fine about it) and the correct version gets reinforced in your brain. Over Bootcamp, I constantly mixed up eto and hefyd in conversations. Aran just told me not to bother correcting myself out loud. I just recognised I’d made that mistake again and carried on. Internally, I was reinforcing the correct pathways. Its pretty much how every native speaker learned their language as a child in the first place.



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In the context of the article here, I suspect it’s because that’s the only available marker to be sure that someone is willing to make mistakes - so until they push far enough to be wrong, you can’t be sure that they’re pushing hard enough.

In the specific context of language acquisition, mistakes are valuable because when you know that you’ve made one, and got the ‘Ouch!’ moment, the process of ‘fixing the index’ for that word/phrase is strengthened.

Think of it like this: if you know that you get mixed up with ‘eto’ and ‘hefyd’, so you avoid using either of them, and thus avoid making mistakes, you’ll take a very long time before you learn them successfully by exposure. If, on the other hand, you keep using both of them, getting an ‘Ouch!’ every time you choose wrong and realise, you’ll be using them both correctly far sooner.

It’s known that strong emotions help with the encoding of memory, so this may well have some overlap with that.


I can second that - you just have to shrug off the embarrassment element!

Last week I was buying cakes at the school cake sale and asked a teaching assistant who didn’t expect me to come out with any welsh for “Pimp andanynhw”, feeling rather pleased with myself. (Well actually I wanted four but didn’t know if they were masculine or feminine.) Thinking it over later I realised it should have been “ohonynhw” and felt a good bit less pleased with myself. I won’t make that mistake again!

(I presume “ohonynhw” is correct - the more you start thinking, the harder it is to be sure!!)


Excellent, well done you! :thumbsup:

The embarrassment element is very interesting - really, a learner should be proud of the fact that they are learning another language - and yet language is such a central part of our identity and sense of status that making mistakes feels like something we should be ashamed of.

The more you can associate making a mistake in public with achievement and recognition (because the vast majority of people who hear it will actually be thinking ‘well done you for trying!’), the better, and the easier it will feel :sunny:

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Though I agree with the importance of people not feeling afraid to make mistakes, and that mistakes are simply a part of the learning process, and that mistakes are usual in many circumstances and inevitable when learning a language, I did find the sentence “Until you say something completely wrong, for the wrong reason, you have not contributed to the discussion,” a bit odd.

When applied to any learning situation - or discussion, that is.

I mean, yes, with something like a language, you can only not make any mistakes by not using it. (Realistically speaking, though I suppose it is theoretically true you could… never mind, immaterial!), so you could say that “until you make mistakes, you are not really learning a language” and that would make sense.

But any learning process, any discussion? You have not contributed until you say something wrong for the wrong reason?

“Teacher - Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb… so, what angle do you think the one marked “alpha” on this diagram would be?
Pupil- Ooo, miss, would it be the same as the one marked “beta”? Because of those parallel lines?
Teacher- Oh, you are simply asking me to confirm your suggestion, which is right for the right reason! You contribute nothing to this discussion! You should contribute something wrong, for the wrong reason!
Other Pupil - Miss, is it “Cheese”, because my aunt is Belgian?
Teacher- Much better. Thank you for contributing to this lesson.”

The idea that you are not contributing something to a discussion because you only say something(s) which is/(are) right for the right reason is just a bit - well, it certainly can’t be applied to everybody in every discussion!

However, as mikeelwood said, not being afraid to make mistakes helps- indeed, is vitally important in all learning processes (especially with languages,perhaps) but making mistakes is not necessary in all learning processes. I mean, if you understand, remember and use it right from the off, you are not going to need the “ouch” process!

I find that stuff I understand straight away tends to stick in my brain as much as the stuff I have to struggle over- it seems to me all about how much you use it, rather than how much you get it wrong!

All just guesswork and based on my own limited experience, and I accept other people have done research and all that, so perhapsI am just contributing to the discussion by getting things wrong! :wink:

[And probably misreading it anyway. So contributing a wrong thing for the wrong reason! Yahay!]

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The “Until you say something completely wrong, for the wrong reason, you have not contributed to the discussion,” thing reminds me of the quote

If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it.


(Edited for clarity)

I think it’s important to bear in mind the context for that sentence - it wasn’t being claimed as a universal truth, it was being offered as a challenge in an undergraduate seminar.

It can be difficult-verging-on-impossible to get undergraduates in a seminar context to take any kind of risks - so much of their academic life has trained them to avoid error, while they’re also very susceptible to the pressure not to appear foolish in front of their peers. I can quite imagine a challenge as paradigm-inverting as this one being necessary to get them to take real risks and talk about stuff they don’t feel certain about. And I can imagine, or in fact remember, ‘It’s okay to make mistakes’ having pretty much zero impact :sunny:

With ‘Ouch!’ moments - if a particular piece of language goes in first time and is always produced perfectly from then on, you clearly don’t lose anything from not having any ‘Ouch!’ moments about it. I wouldn’t claim that ‘Ouch!’ moments make you learn something better than ‘perfectly’. But for everything else, the ‘Ouch!’ is a genuinely valuable part of the process :sunny:

Though I think there is some ground between “It’s OK to make mistakes” and “You haven’t contributed until you have said something wrong for the wrong reason”, I agree with you completely that it is very important for people in any similar environment to not be afraid of making mistakes, and the attitude described would certainly do much more good than harm :smile: -)

And whether or not mistakes themselves are an important part, I certainly agree with you that the “Ouch” moment is an important part of the learning process, where mistakes have been made!

Those “Ouch” moments are certainly to be treasured, where mistakes have been made. To be valued, laughed with and at, and enjoyed.

Which is probably the most important thing :wink: -)

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I think Aran has introduced a valuable word back there with “risk” - being prepared to take a risk. Conventional teaching & learning can sometimes make us very risk-averse, and in some areas that may not be a bad thing, but in others, it’s very inhibiting. Not just language, but e.g. art, music, writing, tight-rope walking…oh wait, cancel that last one. :slight_smile: