Is ‘Guessing’ Okay when Learning English?
Taking a guess is like taking a chance.
You never know if you made the right choice until it is too late. Guessing feels like you are taking a tiny risk that might be wrong when you are learning English…
Perhaps that is why you feel uncomfortable ‘guessing’ what things mean when you hear them in English or you feel afraid to say a word that seems right even though you have never heard it before.
This is a natural part of learning English and having to take those chances trying to use English with real people.
In my opinion, being good at guessing can help you to learn English faster in certain areas.
Perfectionists + Learning a Language = Impossible
A key to fast learning and making progress with languages is to study things and do activities that are challenging. Nothing too difficult, but challenging, with the goal of trying to learn something new in the process.
The ‘problem’ is that challenging activities can be difficult to understand perfectly… and you might not have a teacher around to ask questions to. In these cases, you have to guess.
Here is the question: Are you ‘learning’ English PROPERLY even if you don’t understand everything PERFECTLY?
The quick answer is YES!
Is Learning in the Classroom Better?
One big difference between learning English in the classroom versus learning English by yourself is that you are often without the guidance of a teacher. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
When you study independently you may doubt that you are learning the language correctly because you often have to guess what something means. This is a very important skill to have for having conversations with people.
There is a normal period between the beginner and advanced level where you don’t understand everything. Especially when you start working on intermediate lessons when you are ready to progress from the beginner level.
In that period of time… you feel like you don’t understand very much of anything.
Is Guessing like Cheating?
Skill to Develop #1: Learning to guess or make predictions of the meaning based on context
For someone that has come from a classroom learning environment, ‘guessing’ what something means can feel like you are cheating or like you are not learning something fully.
Making predictions about a meaning when you are studying a language is an essential skill to advancing. More importantly, it is developing the ability to be comfortable with ‘not knowing’ if it is 100% correct.
What makes languages interesting is that they are understood even though the language doesn’t always follow the rules. Native speakers have learned grammar rule exceptions, expressions, and everyday colloquial communication by simply guessing the meaning from context and accepting their meaning. You can do the same thing too.
Learning to Use the Right Tools
Skill to Develop #2: Learning how to use several different translation tools and websites very well
If Google Translate is your #1 translation tool…. pay attention, you need help!
You need to learn how to use other translator tools that are much more accurate and most importantly, start trusting your own knowledge of English.
Let me explain…
Honestly, the accuracy of google translate is horrible. I mean, it is useful in some cases but it truly is my last resort for trying to figure out what something means.
The first skill is recognizing what part of the sentence you need to understand:
- Is it a single word?
- Is it a phrase?
- Do you think it’s an expression?
- Is it a weird grammar thing you’ve never seen before?
Depending on the answer, you need different translator tools.
To successfully understand a sentence, follow this order:
- Use and apply the knowledge you already have about English. Don’t doubt it, it is likely correct!
- Look up individual words you don’t know for their meaning.
- If there are a series of words together that don’t make sense, check if it is a phrase by using a translator like using context.reverso.net.
- If you still don’t understand the sentence or one part is hard to figure out… then use google translate.
See Faster Progress
After YEARS of studying Spanish (14 years to be exact…) I was only at a beginner level, maybe pre-intermediate.
At this point, I was tired of being a beginner and I decided to figure out what I needed to do in order to reach the next level.
After suffering through a couple of Skype conversations to test the idea of talking to a native speaker; I realized that I had a lot more work to do before I was able to communicate in a functional way.
I could not understand anything that was said to me and what was worse, I couldn’t understand what they were writing either when we chatted by text 🙁
Desperate to understand something and quickly respond, I used Google Translate. During those first conversations, I was often guessing what the person was saying to me based on a very bad translation.
At the end of each conversation, I would look at the sentences they typed to me in the text chat and try to analyze the meaning of each sentence. I quickly learned how to see ‘phrases’ like: however, meanwhile, for the most part, etc.
Additionally, I also realized almost all the vocabulary that I knew was completely useless in everyday communication. After each chat, I added all the new words, phrases and verbs to a list to study for later.
Becoming Conversational and Confident
Within about 2 months, my language skills skyrocketed to the being a conversational intermediate student.
I could understand more in conversations because I had learned the right words and I became really good at guessing the meaning of something based on the words I could understand.
This was the point where I focused on studying real conversations and the progress continued!
Actually, this is where the idea to start Real English Conversations came from.
I realized that English students did not have a good resource to study everyday American English conversations. There were lots of scripted conversations, but there was nothing natural and enjoyable to listen to. Now I’m showing you the tips and tricks I learned while teaching myself another language so you can improve your skills faster.
Building Confidence with Your Guessing Skills
Perfectionists will struggle to learn English (or any language) and suffer from low confidence.
They will be too busy trying to memorize verb tables and grammar to see the benefit of being incorrect or not understanding something perfectly.
Don’t lose sight of the real reason you are learning a language. It is to be able to communicate with people. Real people.
People do not always speak properly and you will continue to hear new words and phrases every day. Guessing will become a skill you need to use and be comfortable with.
Guess when you need to. It’s okay if you aren’t correct. You are still learning!