On learning from mistakes

“Learn from your mistakes !” is something you may have heard very often. But is it really that easy, as it sounds like ? I wrote this article to share with you my experience from learning from mistakes by showing some mistakes I made and the conclusions I draw from it. To start off I think all the mistakes can be categorized into two categories.

First category I:
Mistakes which are based on simply not knowing something. These can be irregularities or just things you didnt know. These are the mistakes, which should be easy to fix. Let’s look at an example from Spanish (same applies to French or Italian):

“La problema todavia no esta resuelta”

Now, as the word “problema” ends with -a, you would normally think it has the article “la” (feminine). But here’s the thing: it’s a word from Greek origin. Words from Greek origin keep their original gender (that it has in Greek) in Spanish.

El sistema σύστημᾰ
El programma πρόγραμμα
El idioma ῐ̓δῐ́ωμᾰ

All these words have neutral gender in ancient Greek. So the correct way to write this phrase is:

“La problema todavia no esta resuelta”
“EL problema todavia no esta resueltO”

Well was there any way of knowing this ? Of course not, unless you have studied ancient Greek before, but then still you would have to know, that these words keep their gender in Spanish.

Let’s look at the next one, again from Spanish.

“La agua esta fria”

Now this is a tricky one, because the gender has actually been found correctly, but still the correct way to write this phrase is:

“La agua esta fria”
“EL agua esta fria”

It’s EL agua. Even though the gender of “agua” is feminine. The reason for this: the first A of agua is stressed. Therefore “la agua” can’t be pronounced without taking a pause. Again, something you just have to know. So now let’s look at the second category.

Second category II:

Mistakes which have been made, because the grammatical foundations are not correct. These mistakes are of course the hardest mistakes to find and correct. It takes a lot of effort to do this. So let’s look at some mistakes I made, and what I did, to learn from them.

Let’s look at an example from Bulgarian:

I said:
“Днес е последният ден ми в София” which somebody corrected to me as:
“Днес е последният ми ден в София”. (Translation: Today is my last day in Sofia.)

So the mistake here being not having “ми” at the right place. Which is a syntactical error. Normally, when you want to say in Bulgarian “my …” or “the … of mine” then you say ” … ми “. But it turns out, that when you say “the ….(adj.).. ..(noun)… of mine”, then ми comes BEFORE the noun and after the adjective. So the grammatical mistake I had in my brain, was applying the regular rule for “my” to constructions with “The” and “…(adj.)…”, where the “my” comes before the word. I fixed this mistake by just looking at these kind of constructions, when I come across them while reading, and I really found out, that in all of these kind of situations, the “ми” really comes before the noun. So lesson learned.

This was a situation, where the mistake was obvious. All the constructions where correctly made, just being the “my” as an exception. So it’s not hard to just change one thing, it’s not a hard thing to grasp. But what if you make more than one grammatical mistake in the same phrase ? Let’s look at yet another example of a mistake, made by me.

“Anderen Tag werden wir es machen” corrected to me as:
“Wir können es an einem anderen Tag machen”. (Translation: we can do it on another day.)

As you can see there was a lot not right about that phrase. Maybe “Wir werden es an einem anderen Tag machen” would have been correct but still we see that actually the only word, that stayed at his place was the word “machen”. So which transformations of grammatical constructions have been made ? We see that “Anderen Tag” has been transformed to “an einem anderen Tag”, from which we can make the generalization “an dem/einem (adj. with -en ending) Tag” when we talk about days. Okey, this one was understandable, we mapped the transformations of “Anderen Tag”, but still we see that there have been some other changes as well. The position has been changed for example. It has been moved to the right. So why was that? Why not “Wir können es machen an einem anderen Tag” having “an einem anderen Tag” at the end ? When just looking at it, without doing any further research, I can’t see the rule applied to “an einem anderen Tag” with the result having “an einem anderen Tag” in that position. And why was “wir werden es machen” changed to “wir können es machen” ? Maybe it was just suggested to change the degree of formality ? Well, the fact is that you just can’t understand it without asking why this change has been made. And thus making this correction (about “werden machen” to “können es machen”) as good as worthless when it comes to trying to learn from your mistakes. So the things to look for, in this kind of situations, are:

  • Ask for extra info on the changes made, without additional information on the corrections, some the corrections just become worthless (if we want to learn from our mistakes)
  • Look for the rules, which have to be applied, to get from the original input to the transformed output of the correction you received. Maybe make some exercises for yourself to drill this grammatical construction into your head and to get it into your system. That way the next time, when you want to say a similar thing, the right construction will pop just right up.
  • Don’t try to learn from all the mistakes, because, as we see, sometimes it’s just not obvious, to see the mistakes, which have been made. Try to look for the mistakes, of which you actually have enough information to make logical judgements about them. If there are any mistakes, of which you can’t really see, what changed to them or the reason behind it, then just forget about it or keep it aside into a log of mistakes, with the mistakes being categorized (otherwise you will never find it back). Maybe the next time, you will make the same mistake again, but, this time into a phrase, in which the total amount of mistakes is less. At that time, as the total amount of mistakes in the phrase is less, the mistakes and the transformations being made on the mistakes become more obvious. And thus the actual important thing is the accumulation of the things you learn from your mistakes, not learning from all your mistakes.

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