Many of us suffer from a disease in our culture today. That disease is a feeling that if we make mistakes, there must be something wrong with us. How does this disease impact you as an English learner? Where does this mindset come from?
I imagine that we can trace it back to our school days. If you are anything like a lot of adult students that I have spoken with, you went through high school English class in your home country swinging between feelings of fear and boredom.
Maybe you got scolded when you didn't pronounce a verb correctly and perhaps you were embarrassed in front of your classmates when you had to do extra homework because you didn't know how to conjugate the verb of the day during class exercises.
These are the memories that most adult English learners carry with them into their professional lives and into their new lives abroad in the United States. You may have poured over books and grammar exercises until you were ready for the English exam to enter college and you passed it, but you were never a part of the language. You never felt like you owned it.
I would like to help you change the way that you view the process of learning English. The first step in doing that is to challenge your assumptions that making a mistake is something that is bad and should be avoided. It's not true!
What really happens when you make a mistake? Maybe people laugh at you and you feel silly for a few minutes.
What happens when you don't make a mistake? Something even worse happens. It means that you are staying within your comfort zone of the 5 or 20 or 100 phrases that you actually know and therefore, you are never going to get better.
Making mistakes is temporarily uncomfortable. Not making mistakes is detrimental to you, not only as an English learner but also as a person who is trying to make a life in a new culture.
Check out today's post to find out why.
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1) Learn English as a process of experimentation
Can you think of it as an experiment each time you practice your English?
Forget about what happened during your previous lesson or what will happen in your business meeting in English next week. You are just trying something new and you are staying in the present moment.
In order to succeed in English, you need to be constantly challenging yourself to move beyond the words and expressions that you already know. If you do not try new words and expressions, you might find yourself in an English learning plateau, or a place where you aren't getting any better and you continue to have the same conversations over and over.
Get motivated by challenge. Stay in the present and let your mistakes be your motivation to figure it out next time.
2) Realize that perfection is nothing more than an illusion
Perfection is the big illusion that we keep chasing after.
We don't realize that perfection can never be achieved. Indeed it's good to have ambitious goals but perfection can NEVER be achieved.
In our pursuit of "perfect" English skills, we blame ourselves when we can't say something "perfectly." This is not the path to English improvement.
The way to improve is to have compassion and patience for yourself. In order to avoid letting perfectionism be your only form of evaluating your progress, try shifting your focus to what language learning is bringing into your life. Those things will be different for everyone, but for many people they include connections with new people, opportunities to experience new forms of art and communication in a different language, and a different angle of insight into American culture. You can also challenge yourself to imagine what the worst case scenario might be if you actually made a mistake. What would happen?
3) Don't fear making mistakes each time you speak
Fear can have such a strong hold on us when we are learning a new language. Our language is the way we express ourselves and the way we communicate our identity. For an adult English learner, fear can be very real and can hold us back in so many ways.
The truth is, you can use your fear to succeed at learning English because fear is energy. You can step back, examine the fear, and give it some space. Then recognize that it is just a thought. The thought is there to protect you from harm, but it's just not necessary in many English-learning situations.
Once you recognize why the feeling of fear is coming up, you can start to learn how to take smaller and then bigger risks with new vocabulary words, perhaps telling jokes in English or even volunteering to give an English presentation at work. Figure out what the fear is really about and stop fearing your mistakes.
4) Leave test-takers anxiety in the past
For many adult students, the fear around making mistakes goes back to the school days.
You may have taken an exam that was required for you to pass into the next grade.
There was probably a lot of pressure on your shoulders.
Those tests are over for most of us. At this point, what you need to focus on is communication between people.
The reality is, people will be much more forgiving of your mistakes than those high school teachers with their red markers ever were.
Try to get out of the test-taking mentality and see if you can change your general approach toward mistakes.
You won't be getting a grade on your English but your ability to work through your fear of making mistakes will indeed determine your success in the United States.
5) Remember that you are your own biggest critic
When we are learning a new language, it is important to recognize that we are usually our own biggest critic. No one is more critical of our language skills than we are.
The inner critic tends to focus only on the mistakes.
However, if you look at things from the perspective of the native English speakers who are communicating with you, they see a very diffferent picture.
Just the fact that you are trying to learn the local language will make people want to help you.
It will also make people respect you.
So remember that the world does not view your mistakes in the critical way that you do.
6) Accept that anything that is worth building takes time
Another thing that probably makes language learning more difficult these days is our expectations.
In our society today, we want results right away. For many things like fast food, we can have what we want right away.
However, for a skill like language learning, it is a gradual and steady process of constant practice and improvement that will bring you to your goals.
Part of that consistent practice plan is consistenly making mistakes, maybe even striving to make mistakes.
7) Recognize that mistakes are the best way to learn
This final quote is really what it comes down to.
When you make a mistake, it's not the end of the world. Your life in the U.S. might already be stressful enough just because of the cultural transition. Why would you want to add more stress to it by forcing yourself to be perfect?
Indeed, you should have high goals and strive to achieve them but don't be aggressive towards yourself.
Don't go through life fearing that you will make a mistake.
Let yourself be wrong and let yourself make mistakes often.
Remember that learning a new language will happen gradually, with many mistakes as part of the learning process.
I hope these quotes will inspire you to stop taking yourself and your mistakes so seriously! There really is a way to maintain goals and strive to reach them, while recognizing that perfection isn't possible. When you do that, you can start to take yourself less seriously, get your head and emotions out of the process and start seeing real progress. Change your attitude toward making mistakes and you will see a major change in your English improvement. Now get out there and start making some mistakes!