Should you let people make mistakes and struggle?

If you’re not already aware we’ve moved to Spain for a year to live, work and learn.  I plan to write a regular update reflecting on what and how we learn along the way –  my husband, Nick, and I are guinea pigs in our own experiment.

Arriving at Madrid airport we were stunned at the heat – 41 degrees at 7pm.  I’m much more comfortable with our English, cool,  grey drizzle.  Fortunately as we approached our destination, Burgos in Castilla y Leon in Northern Spain, the temperature had dropped down to a manageable night time 16 degrees.  The  weather continues to be sunny and warm but a cool breeze is blowing from somewhere kind and keeping the temperature bearable.

We have so much to learn in this new adventure.  First I need to improve my very poor Spanish to a point where I can join in a conversation without having to rehearse every sentence – maybe I’ll even get good enough to eavesdrop on Spanish life.  I  start off well in a restaurant or a shop by practising and anticipating possible responses but of course the response is usually quite different and  I look blank and start desperately imagining what has been said, hoping I  haven’t  created some dreadful faux pas. Fortunately lots of people are really keen to practice their superior English so they view me as a good opportunity.

I’m grateful that the transaction passes swiftly and successfully with our mutual language displays but it’s not improving my Spanish because I’m being rescued all the time. Is this something we’re all guilty of when we see someone trying out a new skill?  They are slower, less confident and it can seem inefficient so we step in to help – perhaps taking over the task or doing part of it rather than waiting patiently for the ‘learner’ to accomplish it.

Last night a helpful waitress offered me an English menu but I told her, in Spanish, that I was learning and would prefer the Spanish menu.  She smiled at my attempt to speak her language and agreed to speak Spanish to me unless I asked her to explain in English; we were both happy.

So, perhaps the greater support is to wait patiently for the person to complete the task, agree to help if they need it and then praise them for getting that far.  Novices seem to flourish by making mistakes and being praised for the effort whereas more accomplished performers relish specific constructive feedback.  The words of Helen Ashton, L&D Manager at Langley House Trust, echo in my ears  ‘Never do for the learner what they can do for themselves.’  Translated into Spanish I think it becomes ‘Nunca hagas por el alumno lo que pueden hacer por sí mismos.’

Hasta la proxima vez – until next time.