Perfection, The Enemy of Progress

Photo of author

By Mary Clements

Perfection(ism) – as Winston Churchill put it, is the enemy of progress. When we decide we want to try something new, the opportunity and fear of failure and rejection come knocking, which is something that students learning a new language must confront. I was recently talking with one of our online French summer camp teachers, Juana who was explaining, it is better to know another language imperfectly while striving to learn more than to know the language perfectly but be unwilling to communicate with it. I asked her to expand on this idea and this what she shared with me:

A blogpost from Juana:

In my classes, I have had students who would rather answer my questions in English to avoid making a mistake in French. I always encourage them that it is okay to make mistakes, that they are part of the process of life itself, and that we should not be afraid of them.

This is obviously easier said than done, especially when you are studying for exams or practicing conjugations for your next quiz (trust me, I know, the struggle IS REAL). However, as a teacher and also as a learner I have always believed that language goes beyond what happens in the classroom: it is a tool to discover new people, cultures and stories; it is a new pair of lenses with which to see the world.

But let’s back up and maybe let me tell you a little bit about me: my name is Juana (pronounced: “Who-Anna?”) and I am a newcomer to Canada. I am the writer of “Nos Histoires” our Levelled Readers Project and also a teacher here at Les Petites Pommes. (BTW our first book, “Chez mamie”, is OUT for purchase and you can get your copy here). I come from Colombia, in South America and my mother language is Spanish. As you can guess, I have had my share of language learning in my life.

As a child I went to a bilingual IB school in Colombia, my home country. I was a pretty happy and a good student (in Colombia we start school at 3 years old) until at 7 years old I started Grade 1 and suddenly all of my classes were taught in English, a language I had gotten somewhat acquainted with in Kindergarten but not fully immersed in. You can imagine my frustration when I found myself struggling to understand my teachers in class and not doing so well in my exams. Most of the time I knew my lessons, but I would do badly at tests because I didn’t understand the questions that were being asked! (Does any of this sound familiar?).

I remember getting so frustrated I begged my mom to let me change schools to one that didn’t teach English. We were in Colombia, after all. All my life outside school was in Spanish. What was the point of learning English anyway? After many tears, I was finally able to switch schools in third grade to a school in Spanish, which only had English a couple of lessons a week. The equivalent of core French here in Ontario. However, my mother made me promise that if I didn’t want to learn English, I had to become bilingual in another language.

And so I did: I learnt italian.

Now, you may be wondering: “Juana, what does any of this have to do with learning French?” Well… everything! After studying and learning around five languages, and now speaking three of them fluently, I can tell you that the learning process for any language is, at its base, the same.

I went to learn Italian at a language school, a very different school with teachers who were engaging and knowledgeable, but mostly…fun! Italian class soon became my favorite. I learnt through games, reading, songs, cooking and all sorts of different activities. It was much like our programs here at Les Petites Pommes! It was like playtime… but in italian. Before I knew it, I was speaking confidently, reading and writing stories in a completely new language, and I never stopped to think about how many mistakes I made when I spoke (which, believe me, many). I only felt joyful and lucky I was able to communicate and connect with others in a foreign language.

In university, I majored in French and Foreign Language Teaching. Most of my schooling was in French, but because of my experience learning Italian, I was no longer afraid to make mistakes in class. I of course worked very hard to get good grades, but I thought of French classes as a fun time to learn about new cultures and perspectives.

Nowadays I know and can speak three foreign languages fluently. None of them are perfect, I am sure I make mistakes all the time (Mary, who might edit this, can tell you about my mistakes and funny phrases in English) but the more mistakes I make, the more I learn and the more  I have grown to love languages. I am grateful for them, for the people I’ve been lucky to meet, the places I’ve been to, and the stories I can share.