The Myth of Fossilized Errors

psiloceras planorbis (Ammonite Fossil)

psiloceras planorbis (Ammonite Fossil) (Photo credit: cobalt123)

Even though I have my own blog about language learning, I don’t think I know it all.  I search and read and learn from other blogs out there.  I love reading the experience of others so I can take what I like and use it to improve the way I learn.  Everybody learns a bit differently but you can always get, at least, inspiration from others.

Fossilized Errors

Out there in the blogosphere, It’s common for me to read about “fossilized errors.”  It gives this horrible impression of dead fossils stuck in stone.  If you are not careful and “Speak too much, too Soon,”  then you are going to get these fossilized errors, like it something that just becomes permanent.

What is a fossilized error?  It’s a habit.  That’s all it is.  I know habits can be hard to break, but by calling it a “fossilized error” it creates this scary thing that makes it so people are scared to talk at all.  Language learning is hard enough, don’t make it harder on yourself by creating monsters in your closet that don’t exist.

A real example of a “fossilized error.”

In English, there are two words that a large number speakers, both native and non-native, mix up.  They are ‘good’ and ‘well.’  Good is an adjective and Well is an adverb.  To speak properly, you don’t use ‘good’ to describe an action, only a noun.  Or in other words, you can speak well or be a good speaker, but you can’t speak good.

Up until recently, I commonly made this mistake ALL THE TIME.  My wife hated it.  Every day, she would correct my “horrible American grammar.”  This fossilized mistake, that I had used almost all my 30 years of life, I corrected in about a week.  Why?  Because it was a habit and that’s it!  I won’t use the phrase fossilized errors in this blog.  I will only call them what they are: habits.

How not form bad habits

You still need to avoid getting into bad habits.  How do you do that?  Always be trying to get better! Don’t became complacent with where you are.  No matter how good or not at the language you are, never accept that you are “good enough.”  Don’t get down on yourself, just always be ready to improve.



Filed under How to learn, spanish, Thai

6 responses to “The Myth of Fossilized Errors

  1. Bob L

    “To speak properly, you don’t use ‘good’ to describe an action, only a noun”

    “Good” has been used adverbally for centuries (since at least the 1200s), though, and is listed as an adverb in most (the OED lists it as a quasi-adverb). Merriam-Webster has this note about the usage:

    “Adverbial good has been under attack from the schoolroom since the 19th century. Insistence on well rather than good has resulted in a split in connotation: well is standard, neutral, and colorless, while good is emotionally charged and emphatic. This makes good the adverb of choice in sports . In such contexts as good cannot be adequately replaced by well. Adverbial good is primarily a spoken form; in writing it occurs in reported and fictional speech and in generally familiar or informal contexts.”

    Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (1989) has a much longer article on the subject, noting the first objections to it were only in the 1870s.

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