Transparent Language Blog

Silencing The Auto-Correct in Your Head Posted by on Jul 11, 2016 in Archived Posts

Do you ever feel like your brain is getting in the way of your language learning? You’re not the only one.

“Overthinking it” is one of the major obstacles, in my opinion, to learning a language. It’s probably one of the major obstacles to learning anything. Sometimes it just feels like the more you know, the more you know you don’t know, and the more you know you’re getting wrong.

When you first start out speaking a new language, life is good. Ignorance is bliss. You don’t know all the mistakes you’re making. You do know you can’t say much, but you’re just happy you can say anything at all. It feels great! You can order a beer, ask where the toilets are, buy a ticket to the capital city, politely say hello, please, thank you and goodbye, and get all that nice warm karmic feel-good back-slaps from tickled locals who appreciate your efforts. Couldn’t be better.

Then, you start actually learning.

Suddenly your mistakes don’t feel quite so insignificant anymore. You actually start to feel bad and embarrassed about them when speaking. You stutter and get red in the face and try to laugh it off, but inside you feel crappy. You start to notice all the people around you who speak this language as a second language and are way, way ahead of you – you’ll never get that good! How could you, if you’re currently so awful at it?

But despite your worries, you do improve.

You get a lot better, in fact – and yet that annoying little voice in your head refuses to go away. It chatters away while you’re trying to talk, pointing out everything wrong with everything you’re saying. You’ve been at this language thing for a while, dammit! You should know better than this. You’re still making mistakes you already learned how to correct! But old habits die hard, and every time you hear yourself make that mistake, your inner schadenfreude laughs a little harder.

These days, I’ll occasionally stop to think of a word that I know I know, but for whatever reason can’t pull up – and the conversation will completely grind to a standstill. I can see my conversation partner looking at me expectantly, or perhaps just guessing words at random to help me out. I know I could talk my way around it by using other words, but I swear I know this word!! 

The worst part is, overthinking it has now infected my English as well – and it’s my mother language! I get trapped by trying to think of words I used to know that have been pushed out of my brain by disuse. I try too hard to be over-eloquent in my mother language, to make up for how awkward and stumbling I am in my learned languages.

But you know what? That’s okay. 90% of learning a language is just getting good at not caring when you make a mistake – being okay with simply sucking at it. That’s how we learn, after all. And eventually, I assume, that little voice in my head will wander off and find something else to do. It’s already happened to my wife, so I know it’ll happen to me. And it’ll happen to you, too!

Hang in there!


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About the Author: Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.


  1. Eugene:

    I’ve moved to other language area. I was taught the standard language at school and by listening TV, so local dialect and big influence of Russian sometimes enables autocorrect in my head for locals’ speech. The more important that here is about 10% of Russian speakers that often use “everyone speaks in their native language” (i.e. ask in Russian, they respond in local and vice versa) practice, and locals somtimes use the Russian word when responding.

    • Malachi Rempen:

      @c_truong Well, you’ve got me there. Perhaps auto-correct can help YOU meet the hunk of your dreams…

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