Failure is the stepping stone to success
Without a doubt, the hardest part of learning a new language is
Your first conversation with a native speaker is awful, even with the easiest languages: you can’t understand what they’re saying, and you have to work really hard to respond with even the simplest statement. And at that moment it feels like all the work you’ve put into your language was wasted.
This is why many language learners don’t get very far. They love the idea of speaking in another language, but it’s hard to face that failure, like in any case. Failure is tough because it makes us feel like we’re not good enough and never will be.
But that’s just not true. In fact, failure is the stepping stone to success. Unless we fail, we can’t really succeed. Unless we ask ourselves “did I make a mistake?” at some point, that’s all we’ll do. We’ll make mistakes and give up over and over again, because although we really want to reach our goal, we don’t know what to do with that constant failure.
Failure is the mother of success
There’s a reason why we fail, and it’s not to make us feel bad about ourselves and quit. We live in a world where failure feels like a big fat ‘F’ written in red ink on our foreheads, but that really shouldn’t be the case. Nobody succeeds all the time. Nobody. Not even that hot Instagram celebrity or the cool kids from high school.
In fact, the most successful people in the world have really just failed the most until they got to the success. Think of it as paying your dues. In fact, Thomas Edison gave us a famous quote: “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
So why is failure the first step to success? It’s a tool. We fail because we don’t have a complete, 100% understanding of whatever it is we’re doing. That’s not even the only reason, either! Sometimes the most skilled of us fail because of bad luck, bad timing, or whatever number of reasons exist on this imperfect planet that make us all imperfect in everything that we do. Especially in something as complex and difficult as learning a new language.
As far as what’s in our control, however, we can use failure as a tool. A tool to fine-tune our skills, approach our goals from a different direction, or any number of things that any one person needs to do.
How to use failure as the first step to success
Let’s take away that feeling of the big red ‘F’ on our foreheads. It’s painful, depressing, and it doesn’t do anything
Flip the idea of failure around in your heads and congratulate yourself for failing, because you know what? You failed because you tried, and nobody accomplished anything that they didn’t first try, and nobody accomplished anything the first time around, especially when learning a new language.
So, let’s use the example of our first conversation with a native speaker. You and I both know how awful that is. It’s awkward and mentally exhausting (“why am I this tired from saying ‘hello, how are you’???”) and it’s, well, definitely a humbling experience, to put it mildly.
The important thing is your perspective in this situation. When you try something very difficult and fall flat on your face, it’s easy enough to just cut your losses and move on. It’s generally the least painful choice, too, at least in the short run.
Or. See this as growth. See this as how you can improve. Did you have a hard time understanding what was said to you? Looks like you need to work on your listening. Forget your vocab? Make some flash cards. Couldn’t get the words out of your mouth? Maybe practice talking to yourself.
Whatever it is that you failed the most miserably at, work twice as hard on it. You need the practice, and your failure was the universe’s way of telling you. So listen!
The stepping stones to success
Okay, so we’ve got it: failure is the mother of success, so jump in head first and make an ass of yourself and just trust that eventually you won’t suck so bad at it. But even then success isn’t a straight line! Yeah, language learning is not for the faint of heart.
When you succeed at something huge, like fluency in a language or running a marathon or losing weight, it’s not like a video game. It’s not like you get 10 points and then a reward, 20 points
Unfortunately, it’s more like playing a video game that you’re really good at but have a shoddy internet connection: you keep dying and getting disconnected and lagging but then you finally win the level! But then you keep getting errors and then the dog has to go out and the internet goes out again and then you finally win again!
Success vs failure is very fragile. You fail a lot, and you fail often, and just because you succeeded doesn’t mean you’re going to stop failing. You’ll get to a point, for example, when you’re having a conversation in your target language and you’re KILLING IT! It just flows and the native you’re speaking with is laughing at your jokes and everything is great!
So you’re riding this confidence high – good for you! I guarantee you that your next conversation, or the conversation after that, will be awful and you’ll feel like you took ten steps back. And it’s really going to hurt to feel like you lost all the progress you thought you had just made.
And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with you. One step forward, two steps back. The stepping stones to success are bumpy, jagged, uneven, and every once in a while there are stones missing that are probably going to mess you up. A lot.
Or, sometimes even more frustrating: the plateau. When it feels like you work and work and work but you’re not getting any better. Don’t worry, you will get better. There’s more failure waiting for you, so remember the whole point of this post: failure is the first step to success. It’s probably the second and third step to success, too. The actual first taste of success might be step 5, but then remember that steps 6-10 are also failure.
What have you learned from your mistakes?
Now that we understand that failure is good and mistakes are useful, it’s time to think about what this means in our own personal lives. I mean, if you’re like me, you’re constantly making the same mistakes over and over and over again and have a hard time learning from this.
Which is okay! Your job is to figure out what can be learned from the mistakes you’re making, and then use that insight to practice and learn more efficiently.
Now, this can be hard. A lot of us see failure and automatically shut down and decide to do something else because it feels crappy. Remember to shift your perspective! Failure is not bad, it’s telling you what you need to do to succeed.
Figure out what it is that you’re doing (or not doing) that is making you fail. Go from there. How do you go about fixing that thing so you can move on to the next mistake? What grammar are you tripping on? Can you still not understand the sounds coming from your language partner?
And this is how we make sure failure is the stepping stone to success in our lives. Make a blunder, do a mistake, trip up…however you say it and whatever works for you, do it! Do it, do it well, and do it often. The more you do it, the less you will eventually have to.
We learn from failure, not from success, so the more failures you find yourself committing, the closer you are to succeeding. Every failure is a step to success.
Can failure make you stronger?
Imagine this: being good at failure. Feels almost counterintuitive, I know. But once you change your brain’s reaction to failure from “that sucked and you suck and everything is awful” to “okay cool, so what should I have done?”, failure can make you stronger.
And this doesn’t just refer to language learning – it refers to literally anything that requires any effort whatsoever. Like, even walking down the street. If you trip on a root, it’s common sense to make a note that that note is there so you stop tripping over it, right? It’s the same idea.
Everyone makes mistakes in life; even the people around us who don’t attempt big, difficult things make mistakes in life every day. It’s us language learners and marathon runners and business starters who have the gumption to push through the failure until they get to actually achieve anything.
So. Now that we know all about success vs failure and why succeeding at something only comes from failing at it over and over again, what’s the last thing you failed at? What did you learn from failing?