by Niall Doherty

To show you fine folks how I’m getting along with learning Spanish, I met up with my good friend María in Burgos on Sunday and recorded the conversation you can see in the video above. Watch me struggle to think of words and butcher pronunciations 😛

Keep in mind though that I had almost zero Español when I arrived in Spain on May 3rd. Considering that, I’m quite happy with my progress so far. I feel I recently turned a corner and my learning has started to accelerate.

But of course, I still have a long way to go. My goal is to reach a respectable level of fluency by the time I leave Spain in mid-August. To help me get there, I plan to NOT speak any English during the month of July, except when I record videos and partake in language exchange. I often get lazy and speak English with several of my friends here, which doesn’t do my Spanish any good.

Overcoming perfectionism

Another video you should check out is the recent TBEX talk given by Benny Lewis of Fluent In 3 Months. Benny is a language hacker who speaks eight languages fluently, and delivers an overview of his learning approach in that video.

As he mentions at about the 11-minute mark, one of the biggest hindrances to learning a language is perfectionism:

Perfectionists are terrible language learners. If you’re so focused on making sure you have exactly the right word, or exactly the right grammar, you are not going to speak the language ever, because you can never speak the language at 100%. You’ll always have some words you don’t know, you’ll always mess up the grammar a little bit.

Benny has me convinced. Perfectionism is a curse when learning languages, and it’s something I’m trying to overcome. You can see in my conversation with María that I hesitate often, or ask her how to say something, rather than just go ahead and give it my best shot. I’m overly concerned about about failure, as if I expect to be mocked or judged whenever I get something wrong.

What’s especially strange is the disconnect there. Whenever I’m chatting to a Spanish person who only knows a little English, I never mock or judge them for bad grammar or mispronunciation. Who would? They’re making an effort, and you try to understand and help them as best you can.

But, for whatever reason, my expectations are higher when I’m the one trying to speak the foreign language. Bad grammar and mispronunciations suddenly become blasphemy, and I have little tolerance for them.

Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we beat ourselves up for mistakes that we can so easily forgive others for?

I have to admit though, I used to be much worse with this perfectionism thing. Nowadays I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. Perhaps in the future I’ll set up a support group called Perfectionists Anonymous 😛

I remember how anal I used to be with my English spelling and grammar. I’d take forever to write an email and always reread it a couple of times before sending. I’d hate myself if I discovered a typo too late. I just knew that the receiver would notice it and label me an idiot. Then five minutes later I’d be reading an email someone sent to me and happily shrugging off their typos, assuming that they’d probably just been in a rush when they typed it up.

Again with the disconnect.

I’m probably still too anal with my writing, but I’ve started making strides in the right direction. I no longer spend so much time rereading my emails or blog posts before sending them out. And sometimes I’ll even misspell a word or too on purpose, just to remind myself that the little mistakes don’t mater 😉

As with speaking a new language, the most important thing isn’t to be perfect. The most important thing is to get your message across.

Do you have perfectionist tendencies? How might they be holding you back?