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Go Ahead! Make Mistakes!
By Carlton U. Forbes
Staff Writer & Columnist
English language class

Are you a fearless or fearful person? Is there something you are afraid of? Are you easily frightened? What scares you the most? Almost every person is afraid of something. In fact, a lot of people are afraid to admit to their fears. And there are those who are afraid of things they haven’t even encountered as yet.

Fear is a natural human reaction to danger–known or unknown. It is a common emotional response to unexpected, unfamiliar or surprising events. Most people are afraid of something, whether they want to admit it or not. As children, some of us were afraid of the boogie man or monsters. Others were afraid of scary animals, like dogs, mice and squirrels. As adults, some of us are afraid of bugs, lizards, and other kinds of creepy crawlies.

Incidentally, just a casual search on Google can generate various lists of top ten fears. Going to the dentist is one such fear that causes many people to postpone doing dental work for as long as forever—longer, if possible. Fear of flying is said to afflict up to 20 million Americans. According to most lists, it is among the top five fears for a lot of people. Also, fear of spiders and snakes trigger feelings of flight or fright in many women and girls—some wimpy men too.

Another fright-ridden activity is fear of public speaking. Surprisingly, some people are so afraid of making a presentation in public, given the choice between jumping out of an airplane and giving a speech, they would prefer to jump out of an airplane. What a frightening thought!

According to one internet site, there are about two thousand, five hundred known phobias today. It is estimated that up to eight percent of the U.S. population have encountered frightening situations that can trigger an over-anxious response. In many cases, such experiences set the stage for phobic reactions to fear-provoking events. Moreover, people from every county and culture tend to have similar responses to frightening occurrences in their lives.

It may seem strange that skydiving would seem preferable to speaking in front of a live audience. However, the same tendency has been observed among some second language learners. Some would rather endure dental surgery than speak English in front of other people.

To the dismay of their ESL instructors, many students are especially afraid of making mistakes. In their minds, they do not know enough English to make correct sentences. So instead of risking an embarrassing error, they make excuses and avoid using their English skills.

Ironically, there are no American, Australian, British, Canadian, Irish or South African citizens who speak English perfectly. Even famous people like Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Larry King are imperfect English speakers. They too are prone to make mistakes when they speak. They all make inarticulate utterances and language blunders.

What's worst, their linguistic faux-pas are often publicized, and become the subject of jokes by comedians. Still, they do not stop talking. Instead, they continue to say what's on their minds, to communicate on camera, and express their sentiments about various issues in front of live audiences.

Reality teaches us that the road to success is plagued with mistakes. In fact, those who make no mistakes usually make no progress. In many cases, the potential benefits from our linguistic inaccuracies far outweigh the perceived fallout. That is, every expressive error creates a learning opportunity for the speaker.

Those who are willing to risk making mistakes can also benefit from the learning opportunities each blunder creates. So don't be afraid to take risks. Even if you do not know the most suitable expression, don't let that keep you from using your limited language skills.

After all, your imperfect expressions are like baby steps toward English competency and fluency. The world's greatest achievers often regard their mistakes as learning opportunities that paved the way toward their most celebrated successes. Though they appreciate their progress, they willingly acknowledge the value of learning from their mistakes.

It matters little how many mistakes we make. What matters most is that we focus less on our blunders and more on our progress. Our learning experiences are more important than our errors. Just remember, no one can succeed without making some mistakes along the way.

So don't be afraid of making mistakes. Don't shy away from using your imperfect English. Instead, make every effort to improve your fluency by speaking English every chance you get.

Once you begin trying, don't give up. Don't quit. Don't get discouraged. Don't lose sight of your goals. And don't allow your mistakes to keep you from gaining the confidence you need to become competent English speakers. Go ahead! Make mistakes.

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Carlton U. Forbes, who serves as staff writer & columnist for The Seoul Times, currently teaches Global English at Dongyang University in S. Korea's Yeongju City. Among the books he authored are "A Few Choice Words" and "ESL Teaching Aids." A resident of S. Korea for over a decade Prof. Forbes can be reached at






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