Trial and Error

When you are asked if you have any secrets to learn languages and how you have learned them but you cann’t put your finger on something because you actually tried out many different methods and found some helpful and others useless along the way, or you still make terrible mistakes, you say…

「試行錯誤」 shiko sakugo

maa shiko sakugo shinagara desukedo, jibun narino yarikataga mitukareba iina to omotte imasu.
Well, it involves a lot of trail and error, but I hope I can find a way that I feel right.

試:try; trial
行:do, act; deed, action
錯:mix up
誤:error, mistake

This idiom “Shiko Sakugo” is kind of unusual in Japanese idioms in that it’s a translation of the English equivalent “trial and error”. There’s no original idiom in Japanese meaning trail and error? Well, we have one close in the meaning. “Ah demo nai. Koh demo nai to (This one’s not right. That one’s not right either. /in a this-might-be-good-or-maybe-not way)”. It indicates that you’ve spent some time trying out many different ideas and methods, not necessarily indicating embarrassing mistakes but emphasizing that you gave a lot of thought to a problem.

What makes this trial and error experience invaluable? Think about taking a bus while traveling abroad. Well, even here in Japan there are so many different systems that you need to consider when you use a bus: Get on a bus from the front or the back? Pay first or later? Need some change or not? Need to take a boarding ticket or not? A flat rate or not? When you have trouble, you probably feel the cold eyes of those at the back of a queue. In an unfamiliar situation like this, you feel challenged, embarrassed and frustrated. But you will feel no fear once it’s over. When you travel, use a foreign language and make a mistake, you get a sticker saying “You did it!”, meaning you get more experienced and familiar with the situation, whether it be traveling or learning.

No challenge or frustration can be wasted. All of them are blessings that make your experience much richer and your anecdotes much funnier.

「試行錯誤」は、英語の”trail and error”の訳語であるという点で、日本語の熟語の中でも珍しいのではないでしょうか。他に同じ意味の熟語がないか?近い意味のものならあります。「ああでもないこうでもないと(これも違う。あれも違う。/これならいいかも、やっぱりだめかもという風に)」意味は「いろいろと考えたり試したりしてきた」ということですが、恥ずかしい間違えをしたかはあまり問題ではなく、そのことについていろいろと考えてきたことが強調されています。