A story for those who are afraid of making mistakes

English Level: B1 🇨🇦

Full Transcript

So I told my student, “Don’t be a German!”

The first time I met Jannes, he struggled to say what he wanted. He would stop in the middle of a sentence to think.

And think and think.

I asked him, “why do you keep stopping?”

“Because I don’t want to make a mistake.”

“I see. we’ll have to work on that if you want to improve your English.”

Here’s how most languages in the world developed. First, people made sounds and gave them a particular meaning. Then, after many years, academics sat down to analyze these sounds and determine the rules. What they realized is that their rules don’t always apply in practice. There’s always exceptions. After that, they also noticed that the meaning of words changes over time.

Again, they sat around the table and admitted, “I guess it’s not as simple as we thought.”

Language is not mathematics. It’s more like a painting. There are basic rules governing the mixture of colors, patterns, and shapes, and then each artist attempts to communicate their thoughts and feelings differently.

You, my friend, are an artist. You don’t need to be perfect. I know it’s hard as a German to accept that, “just don’t be a German when it comes to language.”

Several weeks later, he said to me, “I wrote down your phrase on a piece of paper and walked into a meeting with international clients. I was so nervous when I entered the room. They were all staring at me, I felt the sweat pouring down my forehead, but I kept repeating to myself, ‘Don’t be a German, don’t be a German!’ I started speaking and got my nerves under control. In the end, I was able to answer their questions. Thank you for your advice!”

“Wow! I’m proud of you, Jannes. It’s like they say, ‘the only failure in life is not trying’!”

A few days after that, he was speaking with another English teacher. He told the English teacher he had to give a presentation to potential clients, and the teacher told him, “you’re not ready. You need more practice”. My student thought to himself, “Has Jorge been lying to me? Is my English so bad?” He went home and found the little piece of paper with the phrase “don’t be a German” written on it.

He stood up, gave the presentation, and guess what happened? He did a great job!

How often do we stop ourselves from trying something new because we’re afraid of failure? We don’t want to make mistakes so we stay quiet. Jannes decided to ignore his inner critic and speak anyways. Grammar mistakes and all.

Today, Jannes is still my client. We work on his vocabulary, of course. But the priority is always on communication. If I understand you and you understand me, you’ve done your job.

So remember, “don’t be a German!” Communication is the key, not perfection.

Vocabulary Words

  1. Struggle (verb): ringen
  2. Particular (adj.): bestimmt
  3. Exception (noun): Ausnahme

Phrases to Remember

  1. To write down: to write something on a piece of paper so that you do not forget it
  2. Stare at someone: to look at someone or something for a long time without moving your eyes.
  3. Get one’s nerves under control: If you hold your nerve or keep your nerve, you remain calm and determined in a difficult situation.
  4. Inner critic: an inner voice that expresses criticism, frustration or disapproval about our actions.

Question to Consider

How much does the fear of making mistakes affect you?


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