There’s theory… and then there’s practice…

“Estoy embarazada” means “I am pregnant” in Spanish, and is example numero uno of embarrassing language mistakes.

But language learning awkwardness is not just limited to these slip-ups. Simply exposing yourself to conversations with native speakers is a (small) social risk. The best time to learn is obviously when you’re a kid, not just because it’s easier, but because your mistakes cause you no embarrassment whatsoever.

Conversely, learning as a young teenager (when most British kids start) is almost the worst time, because your self-consciousness is at its hideous peak. This can really hamper your willingness to throw yourself into speaking practice.

Happily, adults have less shame about sounding a bit foolish (exhibit A: dads everywhere). One morning last week, I got into the elevator at work and greeted a friend with a “ça va?”, and we shared a few words of half-remembered French. As the other person got off on the third floor (thankfully a different company), she wished us a “bonne journée” in her native accent. At least we gave her a laugh!

And let’s not forget one of the clumsiest Spanish exchanges I had in a local cafe. I’d only been learning with Duolingo, and when I heard the two baristas speaking Spanish I tried out a little conversation (“hola…”… “estoy aprendiendo…” “de donde es?”). It was so awkward, but I was pretty proud.

Best of all was the horror on my sister’s face when I told her later what I’d done.