Obligatory Errors

Fear often stops us from taking risks.  We don’t want to make mistakes; we would look foolish. It’s better to keep it simple, safe, and stick to what we know.

In a language classroom, students are often afraid of sounding funny or saying something wrong. Teachers often reinforce this fear with unrealistic expectations by correcting for accuracy.

What happens then?

Do students begin speaking well because they’ve internalized our corrections and rules?


They stop talking. Or limit their talking to parroted or repeated speech.

How often have people given up on learning a language because they believed they couldn’t learn it, or wouldn’t speak it because they were afraid of making mistakes?

How many other things do we miss out on in life when we are too afraid to make mistakes?

Let me shout it out: I make mistakes! You can probably count too many of them in this first blog post! If I never risked error, I would be paralyzed, unable to do anything. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live that kind of life.

When discussing second language acquisition, we talk about obligatory errors. These are errors that students HAVE to make in order to improve in the language. (This happens when acquiring our first language, too).  Working through these errors rather than avoiding them, is how students are able to truly make the language their own.

How do they work through these errors?

They need time on task. Or in this case, time speaking the language.

One of the foundations of my classroom is creating a classroom environment where students take risks with the language and make lots of mistakes. This freedom to use the language within a safe space has empowered our students, leading to more motivation, interest, and ultimately improved proficiency.

I was afraid to change the approach in my classroom. It seemed radical. I didn’t know if I could do it. I wasn’t a dynamic or energetic teacher. The thing was, I didn’t feel like I really had a choice. Once I experienced a desk-less, proficiency-based approach, I knew it was how I had to teach. I know it was what my students needed. It answered all of my questions about how to bring an immersion experience into the classroom. I faced the fears, cleared out the desks, and changed my whole approach to teaching… in the fourth quarter of that school year. I’ve been desk-free ever since!

This blog is similar…

I can be real with you, right? I’m also afraid to write this blog. I’m not a writer. My imperfections and mistakes will shine through here. I won’t be able to hide. But, in reality, I won’t get better by sitting around doing nothing … and these are stories worth sharing!

Taking out the desks was the first step in this journey of building an inspired language classroom. Writing this post is the first step in sharing our journey with you. Welcome!