Dealing With Criticism When Making Mistakes in English

By Robby

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Video Transcript Below:

Hi guys, hello my dear fellow foreign English speakers!

It’s Robby here and welcome back to English Harmony video blog. In today’s video we’re going to discuss something that I’ve touched upon many times before, namely – making mistakes when speaking in English.

And before I actually give you a full account of what happened to me the other day at the college, let me just remind you what the official English Harmony stance in relation to the whole making mistakes thing is.

So the bottom line is the following.

You don’t have to be freaking out over making mistakes. You don’t have to make sure you don’t make a single mistake when speaking because guess what? More often than not, you will end up making more mistakes than before, just because you keep analyzing your speech, so it’s some sort of a reverse psychology.

The more you’re trying to make sure you don’t make any mistakes, the more mistakes you actually end up making. So what you have to do is give your fluency free reign and just take a mental note of any mistakes that you might be making, just to correct yourself at a later stage and learn from your mistakes. That’s the intelligent approach and that’s pretty much the only approach that works, right?

So here’s what happened to me the other day at the college. For those who are not aware, I’m spending my days away at a college because I’m studying currently to become a PC maintenance and networking engineer.

My Experience At The College

So I was walking out with one of the guys for our 15 minute break. You see we get those 15 minute breaks quite often during the day simply because we’re staring at the monitor for the most part and it’s not healthy for your eyes. It’s causing unnecessary strain. So every couple of hours or actually less than that, maybe 90 minutes we get a 15 minute break.

So I was walking out and somehow we got talking about cycling… Oh yeah, here is the reason why we were talking about cycling. The guy had had an accident a few weeks ago and he actually suffered terrible injuries. He fell off the bike and he broke his arm. Well, it wasn’t a break, it was a fracture, so basically he fractured his arm and he suffered terrible bruising on his face and everything and basically it was really bad.

And we got talking about cycling somehow and I asked him the following question: “What’s the longest you’ve ever cycled?” Where I was coming from was “What’s the longest distance?” Because in English you can refer to both time and distance with a word “long”, right? It takes you a long time to do something and it’s a long distance, right?

So I was asking this question “What’s the longest you’ve every cycled?” and what he responded with went something along the following lines: “Let me correct your English” or “I will forgive you for your bad English this time around.” Something along those lines.

So – My English is Really Bad Just Because I Asked The Wrong Question?

I don’t remember the exact words but basically he implied that my English wasn’t up to scratch just because I asked the question the following way “What’s the longest you’ve ever cycled?” And then he went on to tell me that the proper question would be “What’s the furthest you’ve ever cycled?”

And here’s the thing. Yes, I’m not a native English speaker and I will probably never be able to speak just like a native English speaker. I will keep learning and improving my language for the rest of my life but probably till the day I die I won’t be speaking just like a native speaker, knowing all the ins and outs, all the intricacies of the English language, okay?

And I’m okay with that. That’s what the whole English Harmony philosophy is about as a matter of fact, right? You have to be okay with the kind of English level you have at the moment. Obviously you have to aim to improve your language but you don’t have to be beating yourself over all these imperfections that you might be still having when speaking, right?

But it’s just the way he said it “Let me correct your bad English” or something. It kind of insinuated that my English is much worse than it actually is. Obviously, he didn’t mean it that way. I am quite certain of that, right? But I felt that way. Immediately I felt quite bad about my English. Even though I know for a fact that my English is quite fluent, even though I’ve been running this blog for many years, even though I’m actually coaching my own students through the Fluency Star program and all that.

And I know for a fact that you don’t have to be listening to such criticism. Whatever people say, let it just be, just ignore that. But it’s easier said than done, right?

Sometimes You Can’t Help But to Feel Offended…

And sometimes these things just get under your skin, they irritate you. And what happened to me on that particular occasion was I became very conscious of my own speech as it oftentimes happens when you are kind of making sure that you don’t say anything wrong.

And obviously just like I told you in the beginning of this video, the moment you start doing that it has quite the opposite effect on your fluency. You can’t actually speak because you analyze every single word you’re saying.

And yeah, basically this was my experience just because he told me “I will correct your bad English” and I actually took it on board from here on out whenever I’m going to ask someone about what’s the longest distance they’ve covered, I will always use the question “What’s the furthest you’ve cycled?” “What’s the furthest you’ve ever driven?” And I know for a fact that that is the proper way of saying it in English, alright?

But basically I recorded this video just to show you guys how vulnerable we foreigners can sometimes be, okay? And even though I’m a fluency coach and I’ve been running this website and I know all the ins and outs of the mentality of  people like me and my fellow foreign English speakers, it’s still sometimes very tough to deal with all these issues, right?

So I can only imagine what people are going through when they’re actually met with very harsh and severe criticism because in my case it wasn’t really a criticism, the person just said “Let me correct your bad English” and even that hurt me. So I would imagine what you may be going through when someone tells you “listen, your English is really bad and that you should be ashamed of yourself” or something along those lines. That person can’t be possibly imagining how difficult it actually is for a foreigner to learn the English language in the first place and to make such hurtful comments is really bad form.

The Only Thing We Can Change Is – Our Attitude!

But the thing is my friends, we can’t really change the way people treat us. What we can do is change our attitude and that is the only thing we can do. So ignorance is pretty much the only weapon we have in our possession in order to defend ourselves against such criticism, even though sometimes it might not be directed towards us as criticism, we still have to kind of grow thick skin and let it go over our heads, basically ignore it.

And yeah, that’s about it my friends. That’s the message I wanted to convey to you today. And in case you’ve been going through similar experiences recently, please feel free to share them with me and others in the comments section below.

Alright my friends, thanks for watching, I’ll chat to you soon again. Bye-bye!


P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System
  • “How far have you cycled?” would imply that you’re talking about a specific distance and then you’re asking the other person how much of the total distance they’ve covered. Let’s say, for arguments sake, there’s an annual 200km coastal cycle race, and your friend is telling you that he doesn’t cycle all the way along the cost but instead he just does a section of the whole race. Then you might ask something along the lines of “… alright, so how far have you cycled along the cost?”

  • sexy

    “What’s the longest you’ve every cycled?” haha. I’m laughing because I will say like ‘how far do you cycled? and I can stop laughing now. It’s funny not because I laughing to myself nor you. Please correct me. haha again.

  • The funny thing is that the person in question had been living in Spain for more than 10 years himself so he should know more than anyone else what it’s like to be a foreigner in another country and speaking the local language… Double standards! 😉

  • Don’t get me wrong – I really appreciated your comment and I totally agree with you in what you’re saying. And you’re also correct in pointing out that this way of thinking would help to deal with any related drop in confidence etc. – all I’m saying is it’s not worth trying to argue your point with people like that, it can only make matters worse! Btw – a few days after this little incident the person in question showed me his true colors in a completely different set of circumstances, so now I simply know what he’s like.
    Thanks once more for commenting!!!

  • Gunthericious

    Or perhaps learn to say “Thank you for correcting me…” in flawless German, Italian, and French. When they correct you, say the foreign phrase and smile broadly. When they ask what you said, just smile and say “it’s French for thank you for correcting me. I love learning languages.” And just leave it at that 🙂

  • Gunthericious

    Hi Again Robby,
    Ha ha, you’re right of course, Still, as to your main point being “don’t let it get you down”, if “thinking” this helps cheer someone up when they need a boost…
    I feel compelled to say though, calling someone out for “longest” versus “farthest”? That’s pretty weak. I could easily make that same choice of words, and if someone presumed to correct me I’d be tempted to say “Let me try again. What’s the “farthest” you’ve managed to go without being an insufferable snob? Did I use it right, or did I mess up again?”
    At any rate Robby, keep up the noble work!

  • You’re dead right in what you’re saying, but the harsh reality is that most people don’t take well to criticism… It’s one of the life lessons I’ve learned – don’t try to change someone’s opinion because on 9 occasions out of 10 they won’t try and analyze their thoughts but they’ll just adopt a defensive stance. Human nature! 😉

  • And I would imagine the Mexican chap would be using English to “teach” Spanish… Makes me sick just to think how many people fall for that and waste their lives away trying to “learn” a foreign language!

  • Gunthericious

    Hi Robby, I read this a few days ago and couldn’t help but come back and make a comment on your experience. As a native English speaker who spent a few months as a fish out of water in a German-speaking country, it became pretty clear to me that someone who is willing to take on the task of learning a second language is deserving of respect. I’m not necessarily suggesting you actually do this, but then again…

    After they correct you, smile and nod. Then change the conversation briefly by asking them “So do you have any special talents? Do you juggle? Play tennis? Play the piano?” Then after they say what their talent is, say “Well I have a talent as well. I can speak Romanian as well as you speak English. But then again, come to think of it, that’s really not a talent at all, now is it? Every native speaker is fluent now, aren’t they? But hold on a second, I can also do a reasonably good job of speaking a language that I had basically no exposure to until I was 20 years old. And whenever I wish to, I’ll work on learning another, because yes, learning a non-native language is a skill. If I put my mind to it, I can prepare myself for a visit to Rome, or Paris, or maybe even Tokyo because I’m not afraid to dive in and try it. Want to work on some Japanese with me later, or does the very thought of it paralyze you with fear?”

  • I thought of you yesterday. I posted an advert looking for a Spanish teacher on Fb. One guy from Mexico wrote back in English (the advert was in Spanish) and said he wasn’t writing in Spanish because my level wasn’t good! (“tu español no es muy bueno”).
    But then a professional (and positive) teacher wrote to me and we’re meeting today 🙂
    The difference in communication was really incredible.

  • Haha, Brno was surprisingly warm in August. But I then went to Spain, one of my favourite countries. Really like the ‘alegria’ in Andalucia.

    Yeah, I’m from Melbourne which is the coldest big city, but even on a good winter’s day it’s possible to have a coffee in the street and 18C 🙂

    January and Feb are the best – Aussie Open tennis, the cricket’s on, the coast is happening..

  • “People are xenophobic, racist and afraid” – I couldn’t agree more with you on that. Last week I had an encounter of this nature with a person whom I’d never thought would be of such opinion and it made me realize that you never know what people actually think.
    But hey – there’s nothing we can do about it, so just like you said – “we just have to do our best”.
    My summer’s been really busy, weather-wise it’s been total crap here in Ireland and I wish one day I had a chance to visit your country where the winter is warmer than our summer! 😉

  • ps you’re right about them being clueless – I just think it’s the same in other countries and for other languages, and perhaps worse in some cities than others. Eg I would guess speaking English in Sydney or London will be easier than in a village where they’re all locals…

  • Hi Robby, I’ve gotta chip in. I think it’s a human thing – I speak Spanish, Czech and French and I get attitude from definitely the Czechs and also some Spaniards.

    I was in Catalunya just last week, and if you’re a white ‘gringo’ they won’t speak to you in Catalan or Spanish! It’s basically forbidden (though there are always some nice exceptions). Compare this to Sevilla – I want to go back, they were mostly very friendly to me!

    I’ve had an article in my head about this for ages, just haven’t written it. People are xenophobic, racist and afraid. We just have to do our best to respond in a way that helps us.

    I hope you’ve had a nice summer mate!


  • I’m so sorry Ashkeen, but I’m so busy I can’t really do that – I’m away at the college during the day and coaching my clients in the evening!

  • I couldn’t agree more with you on that Juhapekka – hadn’t I known what kind of a mental state to adopt, this particular experience would have been REALLY detrimental to my fluency. Btw – I’ve posted about this kind of native speakers’ behavior previously:
    The saddest thing of all is that the native speakers themselves (or any other person who might be making similar comments) haven’t got a clue what damage they’re doing and I’m sure on certain occasions they have the capability of totally destroying someone’s confidence…

  • Juhapekka

    All those kinds of experiences can be more or less irritating for us but in my opinion your experience is actually more serious than one may think. It can be more serious because the question “What’s the longest you’ve ever cycled?” is completely understandable for anyone regardless of whether they are natives or foreigners. It conveys your question quite perfectly and it’s just fine for communication purposes or at least I think so. Using near-correct questions is also an integral part for us in order to avoid fluency issues where we get completely stuck in the middle of a sentence. I mean that if we start to think every time whether this word or sentence structure is exactly the same collocation or structure as natives would use, then we overthink almost every single one of our words and as a result we feel that we can’t say anything. The worst part of it is that we can start to think that our English is really so bad if we hear similar comments like “Let me correct your bad English” too often. If there is one good thing in your experience, it is that he bothered to correct your question.

    I haven’t had these kinds of experiences that much recently but I know too well that more often than not they do more harm than good. I have recognized the similar pattern in almost every other discipline (mother tongue instruction, mathematics, visual arts, music etc): You make a relatively tiny mistake and then someone (perhaps a teacher) corrects you, exaggerates your mistakes and finally states that your English/mother tongue/mathematics/drawing/singing/etc skills are bad and you really need to improve or something along these lines. It can be serious because it invalidates all of our efforts and previous accomplishments in the past and we forget what we already can do and what we really are capable of.

  • Ashkeen

    Humble request Robby. Could you make few lessions on IELTS or TOEFL.