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“Fossilized errors”: Why is this mistake stuck in my brain? How can I fix it?

When you learn something new and keep using it, your brain creates and strengthens neural connections.

In the past we though that we could replace an old brain pathway with a new one, but turns out it doesn’t work this way.

The new path is just another path, it won't kick out the old one. What you can do is make the new path stronger, so your brain prefers it over the old one.

What does this mean in practical terms?

If you’ve made a mistake a billion times, you have to use the correct version more often, with spaced-out practice, to make that path stronger in your brain.

So you need to be aware that you’re making a certain mistake (a teacher can point it out to you as many times as necessary) and you need to create opportunities to recall the correct version.

Keep in mind — retrieval practice is the best way to learn something and hold on to it long-term.

Next time you feel bad about making the same mistake again, remind yourself that this is completely normal and it will take time and effort to fix it.

I think flashcards can be an excellent way for recall in this case! I’m digging deeper into the topic of flashcards now; let me know if you’d like me to tell you more about how you can use flashcards to fix your fossilized errors.

Tina is a professional English Teacher with a Cambridge education and 10+ years of teaching English to adults in-person and online.

She wants you and English learners like you to develop a solid understanding of what you need to do to start speaking better English faster (and not fall for English-in-a-month scams).


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