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Perfectionism and Language Learning

Perfectionism is something that affects many people and I have seen this even occur in those who are learning different languages here on Duolingo.

As someone who also suffers from this in all areas of my life, I have tried to work my way out of my perfectionist mindset. My perfectionism, in terms of language learning, began with a traumatic experience in my French class and since then it has made me believe that if I am not precise in my performance, then I should not have ever tried in the first place. However, during the years of reading encouraging Duolingo posts and learning how to become more optimistic, I can say that my perfectionism is not as bad as it was in the past. So, I just wanted to take the time to share what I have learned over the years of trying to overcome perfectionism in my language learning progress. Hopefully, this may help some of you who are struggling with perfectionism, whether in language learning or in life.

1) Be comfortable with making mistakes

People say this all of the time and I used to get so angry internally when people told me this. However, it is very important to understand this, so I am going to reiterate and elaborate on this statement.

Making mistakes is all part of the learning process. If you didn’t make mistakes while learning another language, you would never learn (or it could mean you already mastered the language, which would make this discussion pointless). You should not want to willingly make mistakes on purpose, but you should want to learn from the mistakes you do make unintentionally. Making a mistakes is not a sign of failure, nor does it mean that you’re not progressing. It simply means there is something you need to work on, which is never a bad thing. If you make the mistakes as soon as possible, you will learn from them and progress efficiently, not always tripping over small errors during your path to fluency (or whatever goal you have). Mistakes are inevitable, so do not worry about making them.

2) Do not dwell over past mistakes

This is still something that I have yet to learning, so it’s sort of hypocritical for me to tell people this.

Simply put, dwelling over mistakes made in the past heavily impedes your progress in learning languages. For me, it had, at one point, made me love French less because I was always thinking about the mistakes I used to make while speaking. Therefore, I chose to speak French less, lest someone criticize my failures. This also explains why I am more comfortable writing in French than speaking it.

As I mentioned before, mistakes are not failures. If you continue to keep your head in the past, you will never move on towards the future. Because of my experience with speaking French in the past, it messed up my speaking progress in the future. I was so worried about being perfect that I failed to advance myself and even more, I continued to beat myself up for not learning how to be resilient. That was a consequence of perfectionism. Resiliency is the key in these situations. Make mistakes and don’t look back at them. What has happened in the past is merely the past. It cannot be changed, so you should focus on bettering yourself in the future. All that matters is whether you learned from your mistakes. Even if it takes you thirty years to get the grammar of a language decently well, you can always learn from mistakes. Make mistakes your allies, not your obstacles.

3) Perfectionism is a delusion

This should go without saying, but I will briefly explain this statement.

We all know that no one is perfect. Although, that does not stop people like me and others from wanting to be perfect. I assume one of the ways we get to this point is because we have high expectations of ourselves, or expectations that others place on us. Perfectionism can strip away the joys of learning another language when it should be enjoyed to the fullest. In the end, it can make you feel like your life is a waste if you never learned from you mistakes.

However, that is all but a delusion. No one can reach perfection, so you should not try to achieve it. If you want to be “fluent” in a language, you shouldn’t try to be perfect in all of your skills because even fluent and native speakers make mistakes all of the time.

Instead, work to reach your highest potential. Keep working on learning languages and be the best that you can be. Perfection does not exist in language learning. Frankly, I find that quite relieving and I hope this keeps you at peace while learning.

I hope some people find use in these words and I wish the best to all of you in your future of language learning! ^ ^

January 28, 2018



Good post. Having lived in a foreign country and interacted in a different language, I completely agree. The perfect is the enemy of the good enough. Sure, I couldn't discuss philosophy or theology or intricate politics, but I could get around, be sociable, and participate in the economy (shopping, train tickets, the like) just fine. Had I stayed longer, I'm sure I'd have improved more.

Also keep in mind that plenty of native speakers of any language really aren't all that good with it, if it comes to grammatical perfection. Just look at some of the English-language posts here; punctuation, spelling, and grammar - from those with English as a first language - is often horrible.


Just look at some of the English-language posts here; punctuation, spelling, and grammar - from those with English as a first language - is often horrible.

That is the truth for sure.

Thank you for your input! I think many people focus so much on being perfect that they overlook the skills they are remarkably good at, or just decent in.


I thought this was going to be about how perfectionism is advantageous in language learning or something, just by reading the title. Shows what kind of mindset I have lol.

But honestly, couldn't have put it better myself! Thank you for bringing attention to this.


Thank you very much for this post, it touched some really important issues for me.

I think, from what I read in your posts, that we may be quite similar. I struggled with perfectionism all my life, whether it was imposed by me or my environment. The bar was never set high enough and it kept moving even higher. At one point, it became so crippling that I gave up on everything. I'm still in the process of overcoming this, there a better days and there are worse days when I feel like I failed at everything, achieved nothing and there's no purpose in it at all.


Since I found the Duo community, however, I'm doing much better. Sure, I still check and edit my posts for the slightest mistakes and obsess that I haven't learned enough. But now, I actually can see some kind of future for me, which before was not quite imaginable :) Perfectionism and OCD are really difficult to overcome...

Thank you again, please keep making uplifting posts like that, I really love them :)


Wow... Your words are actually me quite some time ago, even now. In last December, for the first time ever, I failed a college class and it was a class I never had truly struggled in. Even more, I was faltering in my other classes. At one point, I had a mental breakdown from all of the stress. When I was 10, I made myself promise to my dead sister that I would make her proud by working towards perfection. Since then, my performance consisted of all As (except senior year with that darned economics class...) I always knew I could do better, so I had to do it. Seeing myself fail suddenly placed a crack in my future. Perhaps I was not as smart as I thought I was. I know this is irrational to say, but I felt worthless.

However, to expect so much from me, a simple human, was in itself irrational. Of course, breaking away from perfectionism will be very hard. Maybe it will never go away. But, if you can live with it and love your flaws instead of beating yourself up with them, then that is all that should matter. ^ ^


You are excellent and so is this post. It is written with class and comprehension. Thank you very much. As someone who is also a raging perfectionist with an "engineer brain", photographic memory and low level OCD, I relate a lot to this. From 13 year old on up, I gravitated to college kids because I could have a conversation more on my "wavelength" having grown up with older siblings and very "nerdy" parents. (Luckily, they did not mind this as I was plenty "nerdy" :P).


You sound very intelligent for a thirteen year old. I also have photographic memory, which is more of a blessing for me than a curse. With perfectionism, it can be very hard to live with because nothing is ever good enough for us. But, just remember that perfection can never be met and should never be a standard that we should feel forced to reach. Thank you for your words! ^ ^


I wish I were 13, but that was a long time ago, haha:). Thank you for the nice words! Sounds like we both have very active brains. I remember struggling with a bit of depression at that age. Really my problem was I that I wasn't staying busy enough for my brain to wear out. It goes all kinds of places with misdirected energy)))


Oh, my apologies! I misread your post. Though, the compliment still remains. ^ ^

I'm sorry you had struggled with depression. I hope you are alright now.


You are fine, I read things that way constantly. Thank you! It is not a nice place to be; luckily I left that with my age as well:)


As someone who is far from perfectionist, and has met many, many perfectionist people, I really do find your post to be helpful and informative, and I think everyone should keep things like this in mind when learning any language.

Happy learning! :)


Glad to know this was helpful! Happy learning to you, too!


Lost my streak of about 300+ days two times, but you know what, after a brief moment of despair, I realised that I was more motivated after both occasions. Failures should be motivating and mistakes are TRIVIAL, all long as they can be attributed to "randomness" or "the learning curve/process" and not to "systematic errors". All learning is as the great mathematician said, "You don't understand it, you just get used to it". It takes time. But if mistakes are systematic, then they are something to ponder over and maybe fix them sooner, than later. Perfectionism is an illusion for sure, but high standards in fields of everyday life where one chooses to place them - be it work, relations, study, sports, whatever - are not ill-advised. Why be bad, when you can be good with just a positive learning mindset and time well-spent? Moderation is the key.


I agree. There is nothing wrong with high expectations. I was mostly referring to unrealistic expectations, like expecting yourself to get 100s on every test you take in a class, or perhaps being perfectly fluent in a language in a year. There is nothing wrong with keeping your standards high. I always have high standards for myself. However, perfectionism is different and it is debilitating. When I make mistakes, I continue to punish myself for them. Instead of trying to impede my progress in the future, I should ponder over my mistakes enough to learn from them and advance. Moderation, as well as resiliency, is the key. ^ ^


Perfectionism is a barrier and not a goal. I look for a new pinnacle to climb once I conquer my previous one but it's looking back at how far I have gone what puts me on perspective and makes me happy in realizing my progress.

Yesterday we had the first French Meet-Up in Mexico City and there was a Polish guy who was quite talkative despite not being the best at French (or at Spanish for that matter) but he overlooked all his spelling mistakes and just did his best. We could understood him clearly and he was even jesting without any worry in the world. He was a proof that you don't need an extense vocabulary or the most spot on pronounciation to communicate and mingle with natives.

Also relevant video, from a relevant episode, from an irrelevant cartoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFDldk9D_Qc


Great posting!

If a learner is searching for a "middle thing" between writing and speaking, I strongly want to suggest chatting (IRC, language websites, etc.).

I did it with English on IRC when I was young....

Because of Moses from his "language level up" games on YT https://www.youtube.com/user/laoshu505000 I found www.hellolingo.com (the follower after SharedTalk, which Moses introduced in a video).

However, somehow I am missing that the chat partner can not make graphical visable (easy) grammar / translation corrections :(


how do you get photographic memory?

I've been brought up in a multi-lingual household, and i must admit that there are times when i feel pressured into not making mistakes when speaking in other languages, and it has rather made me stultified about language learning. So learning a foreign language has been put in abeyance. However, I am thankful for this post, admonishing me and invigorating of my passion for language learning!

p.s. amazing loz profile picture!


Photographic memory, in my opinion, is something one is born with. Others find their advantages in hearing exercises or writing. No way is superior to another:). Best of luck to you!!


I still tend to write copious notes in my classes, so I guess I don't always utilize my memory advantage. XD


Excellent points all around! Thank you for sharing your story.


You're welcome! I'm glad you liked this post. ^ ^


Thank you so much for posting this discussion. Most of the things in there were things I really need to understand. I suffer from perfectionism, and I always need everything to be perfect. I get so frustrated whenever I make a mistake. This article has really helped me, and I look forward to taking your advice and putting it to use someday in the future! Thanks, again. Also, please continue to post helpful discussions like these to help people like me! :)


I'm glad this post has helped you! Perfectionism is not easy to get out of, but with time if you really work on it, I'm sure it will become manageable. ^ ^

Thanks for your input!


You're talking as if perfectionism is a bad thing which you have to "fix", it has downsides but to talk about it as if it's a bad thing I don't agree with.

Being a perfectionist doesn't necessarily (have to) equal being afraid of making mistakes I'm a perfectionist but I couldn't care less about spelling mistakes. Perfectionism also isn't necessarily about wanting to be perfect, but it's mainly about wanting to deliver perfection and not even necessarily that, achieving the best possible result within a set of limitations.

What's probably the biggest threat is perfectionism combined with being unrealistic. As long as you're being realistic perfectionism is generally fine.

I know that my learning method currently isn't the most efficient one, but I'm able to live with it and have set realistic goals. My perfectionism towards languages mainly means that I'm not happy about nor have some confidence in my language skills until I reach ~C2 (my English surely is at C2 level, but I'm still not all too happy about nor overly confident in my English skills). It also means that I'll get frustrated when I'm "forced" to learn more inefficiently than necessary (in combination with some other of my characteristics). If your perfectionism gives you more issues beyond that it's most likely because other factors also come into play (like being unrealistic).

As a side-note, perfectionism and efficiency are often presented as opposites, but efficiency can sometimes be the goal of a perfectionist (achieving maximum efficiency rather than maximum effectiveness).


I think you misinterpreted my words, or I just didn't articulate myself clearly. Most likely the latter.

If you read my comment to AlexKarampas, it explains my true intent in my words, which I will admit that I didn't explain myself clearly on the subject of perfectionism.

Striving for high expectations and being realistic is one thing. That's not bad. However, it is unhealthy to have unrealistically high expectations of yourself, which is what my post is hitting at. Or, at least what I tried to hit at, which seemed to be a failure on my part. So, I apologize for the misunderstanding. ^ ^


unhealthy to have unrealistically high expectations of yourself

Ok, now I understand what you meant. I completely agree with that.


This is EXACTLY what I wish I knew two years ago.

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