My Language-Learning Weakness: “Good Enough!”

I had a student come to me in tears the other day because of a difficult reading we did in class. While the student had been able to answer the target questions and use the target grammar of the day, they were upset because they hadn’t understood the text 100%…. and to them, that felt like a failure.

Something I repeatedly have to drill into students’ head is the concept of “good enough”–if you understand 75% of a given piece of media, you’re doing pretty good in your non-native language. If you understand 100%, what on earth are you doing in my class?

This also applies to vocabulary. So many of my students, afraid of making a mistake, will simply stop mid-sentence to offer me huge, watery eyes in hope that I’ll magically know the exact word they’re searching for. I’ve had to remind students to use the easier word in order to seek help from their peers (or from me) in discovering the elusive vocabulary of choice. Otherwise, they’ll sit there in distress until the topic is changed.

Unfortunately, while my advice helps them relax and communicate more actively, it turns out that it’s one of my greatest weaknesses in language-learning.

I remember when I first learned about the -て (te) form in Japanese 101. “Oh,” I thought, “so you use this to ask people to do something. Blah blah te kudasai. Awesome, got it.” (I didn’t have it; conjugating verbs are a pain.)

A month or two later, I found myself staring at that very same form again, feeling betrayed.

“What do you mean there’s more than one use for this? And I have to remember it?!”

 It’s something I’ve always struggled with- going past what I’ve got in order to improve.

I can only hope that my attitude, while detrimental to my own learning, can at least help my students realize it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have perfect grammar.

It’s just nice if you do!

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