Congratulations for your errors!


Congratulations for your errors!

According to the dictionary, a mistake is a “breach of a rule” while an error is “believing what is false to be true.” At Qoclico, a mistake is considered to have occurred when, for example, a verb is not conjugated in the right tense when the tense in question has already been learnt and should have been mastered. It will be an error, if the tense expected for the sentence to be correct is still unknown to the person who is writing and who will therefore use, instead, a tense that they know. Commiting errors is therefore quite natural and expected; we do with what we have!

Errors are used to move forward, because they highlight what is needed but not yet available. Errors should not frustrate the learner but rather stimulate his/her curiosity and desire to go further, which is why the benevolence of the interlocutors is essential, and above all in the teacher / tutor, who should use errors as points of reference and information on the “path” to be taken by the learner.

A good tip for teachers (and others!): when your interlocutor makes a mistake (this applies both in writing and orally), instead of repeating it or pointing it out to him/her, reuse the word or the wrong expression in its correct form or rephrase the message incorrectly expressed in your answer. An attentive learner will realise this and will have learnt something through your more nuanced approach.

What about native French speakers, then, they don’t commit errors? If we assume that they have had a completely classical education with teachings delivered in French, we will be tempted to classify all the clumsiness committed orally and in writing as “mistakes”. But let’s not be too strict, and unnecessarily so; we’re not robots. We all make mistakes related to inattention or  fatigue. You may also have forgotten a rule, have a doubt when writing a word, use an expression orally, because of lack of practice or because of the influence exerted by other languages that you speak or hear on a daily basis. You may also be a person who has difficulty concentrating and has difficulty controlling the accuracy of  your expression at all times.

Is it so important to express oneself without mistakes? Do others have the right to judge us if we do? Do our mistakes reveal something about us to our interlocutors? It seems to me that the answer to these questions is often cultural. As long as I make myself understood, why should I care about the quality of my writing and the accuracy of my writing? I would tell you that it is up to you, but I wouldn’t hide from you that through your writings in French, however short they may be, you will be judged, and this is even more true in a professional context. I cannot say whether this applies to other languages with the same strength, but one thing is certain, native Francophones who are able to write without making mistakes or recognise those of others will easily be uncomfortable, even annoyed, by words (especially commonplace) misspelled, verbs poorly conjugated, and even more so by abbreviations belonging to the SMS code in texts that are not SMS.

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What about indulgence in all this? Of course, when you know that your interlocutor did not grow up speaking French, but learnt it during school or later in life, or is currently learning it, the judgment will often not be as harsh; understanding the message will become the priority again. But towards native French speakers, on the other hand… it’s another story.

Perfect: accessible to all?

Without seeking perfection, we can all make peace with writing. Some by becoming less rigid and accepting that our interlocutors do not have a level of idiocy or ignorance that grows with the number of their faults; tolerance, benevolence and delicacy are always required to avoid embarrassing the interlocutor or getting carried away by imperfect writing and remain focused on the message. The others by seeking to improve themselves, that is, to deliver their message in the best possible form; we then seek meaning, readability and a little aesthetics all the same, understanding that some mistakes “sting the eyes” and may well disappear with a little effort. Until you see that progress, we can get help.

You can also start by helping yourself:

  • make sure that the word processing software is set up in the language in which you are writing (In Word: Tools>Language>French; in your phone, install the “French” keyboard and use it when you type a message in French)[1];
  • go to the “Grammar and spelling” menu of your software to set your preferences (systematic capitalization, reporting of repetitions, etc.);
  • learn (or note on a post-it that you stick on your keyboard) the keyboard shortcuts that allow you to manually accentuate the letters that need to be accentuated;
  • use sites dedicated to conjugation (, synonym sites (; do not rely on “Google Translation” if no one reliable can ensure proofreading;
  • when replying to an e-mail, do not hesitate to repeat the same turns of phrase as the person you are dealing with; this way you gradually develop your base of standard sentences and over time you acquire them and enrich your vocabulary;
  • reread (not for hours either) before clicking on “send”.

For more “visual” people, reading is an excellent way to fix the spelling of words and learn common sentences. Some will use “flash cards” to train while others will systematically look for a mnemonic. We come back to it every time: get to know oneself (auditory, visual, kinaesthetic), discover the way of learning that suits you best to progress with pleasure.

Anne-Sophie @Qoclico