There is a lot of pressure that comes with speaking a language expertly and articulately.
But that’s true for most things; once you become a master at something, people tend to expect great things from you. The pressure is on; there is no room for mistakes.
Or, at least that’s how it feels.
That’s why sometimes it’s easier to stay in our comfort zones with our intermediate-level language skills. It gets us by most of the time. At this level we feel safe and not too much is expected of us. We don’t feel responsible for expressing big ideas.
But, as author Timothy Ferriss says, we should “refuse to accept partial completeness.” What does this mean in terms of language learning? When we stop improving our language skills (or any skill), we will never achieve the reward and satisfaction that comes with mastering that skill.
Not only do we miss out on the deep feeling of satisfaction that comes from speaking a second language well, we put ourselves in a position where there is a temptation to stay small and not speak up as much as we would like.
Let me give you an example.
Some of my students have their spouses or partners make phone calls to airlines and other businesses in order to solve a problem they’ve encountered. This seems like such a harmless activity, right? What’s wrong with asking someone to speak on your behalf, especially if you feel like you lack the vocabulary to express yourself?
On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this. But such a seemingly harmless activity has bigger consequences than you might realize.
You see, allowing others to speak for you doesn’t just take away your voice, it can take away your power.
You deny yourself the opportunity to express yourself and to learn from your mistakes. Over time this habit can seriously erode your self confidence in speaking English. This is because making mistakes and learning to correct them is the cornerstone of building language confidence.
More importantly, if you allow someone else to speak for you, you deny yourself the chance to connect with a real person, which—if you think about it—is really the whole reason you want to improve your English in the first place.
So, how can you stop this self-sabotaging cycle of giving away your power to people who you believe speak better than you? Here are three ways:
“Act As If”
My debate coach in high school shared this piece of wisdom with her students, and I still use it to this day. Although research on the origins of this quote gives varied sources, you don’t need to know its source to understand its meaning. Act like you are the person you need to be in the moment. If you need to be a person who can confidently express themselves in English then pretend to be that person. How would this person act? What type of posture would this person have? What type of thoughts would this person have about him or herself?
Now, speak from that place.
Just Do It
Nike owns this tagline, but I recommend you make it your own when you are hesitating to speak up in English. Do you have an important phone call to make or an important face-to-face conversation that you need to have? Allow the discomfort and fear to slide over you, and then speak up in spite of your fear.
You will make mistakes. You have to make mistakes. It’s inherent to the learning process. Yes, understanding grammar rules has its place in language learning but perfectionism does not. The sooner you let go of needing to be a perfect speaker, the sooner you will be speaking fluently.
Remember that no one knows your hopes, desires, and concerns better than you do. So, even if your level of English is not as advanced as you might like, you owe it to yourself to try to tell your story in your own voice. This is where your power lies.
Visit www.talaera.com to find out more and start your language journey today.
Stephanie Schottel, M.A. is an ESL instructor at Talaera and the owner of Cup of Tea Language Coaching, a Houston-based business that specializes in one-on-one ESL coaching that empowers English learners to express themselves fully and confidently in their communities and workplaces. By using her own experience of studying and working abroad in Germany (and feeling unable to express her true self with the language tools she had), she brings insight, empathy, and knowledge of the language learning process into every session. She is passionate about helping ESL students to master the language so that they have the tools at hand to convey their ideas, values, and personality without compromise. When she is not teaching English, you will likely find her doing art projects with her daughter, on a jog or on a paddle-board, or looking up new German vocabulary words in her 25-year old German dictionary (that is literally falling apart).