It’s ok to forget words when learning a foreign language

Picture the scene. You’re in Vietnam, sitting down to eat with a friend and having a conversation in Vietnamese. It’s going well, your understanding is high and you’ve asked lots of questions. It’s a great feeling. Your food arrives and you bite into a piece of carrot. It’s still raw in the middle and you want to exclaim your disgust but the word has totally slipped your mind. You’ve been in Vietnam for months, you love the food and talking about food. You know this word well, but right at this moment you simply can’t remember it.

Raw.. what is the word?!
Raw.. why can’t I remember this word?!

It’s a situation we’ve all been in. How did you feel? Frustrated? Angry at yourself? Disappointed with Anki because it’s supposed to help you remember vocabulary? Doubting your ability because you can’t remember a ‘simple’ word that you ‘should’ know?

If you’re anything like me, you experience one (or several) of the above emotions and you’re pretty hard on yourself because it’s something well within your comfort zone, yet you’re drawing blanks. Often it’s not forgetting the word that disrupts the conversation, but the frustration you feel that ties you up in knots. Because actually, when it comes down to it, we forget words mid-conversation all the time. Even in our native language.

Think for a minute about conversations in your native language. How many times in the last month have you had the same pause in a conversation where you’ve had to ask the other person ‘what’s the word when…?’ and a guessing game ensues until one of you figures out what the specific word you were looking for was.

While it doesn’t usually happen on a daily basis, it is no strange occurrence. In fact, it’s common one that we’ve all faced. Remember, we’re talking about your mother tongue here! So if it’s natural to forget words in your own language, it’s more than natural to forget them in Vietnamese. Stop beating yourself up about it and accept it as it is – a natural part of communicating in any language and part of the learning process in another language.

So next time you forget a word, pause, remember it’s natural and ask your conversation partner ‘what’s what word when…?’.

Over to you: How do you react when you forget words while speaking a foreign language? Does it frustrate you or do you take it in your stride?

Photo credit: SteveFE

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