Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

How to Use Fear to Succeed at Learning English

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Thu, Apr 12, 2012 @ 08:14 AM

succeed at learning EnglishHave you been studying English for a long time with mediocre results?  Are you still looking for a way to succeed at learning English?

When was the last time you felt fear while learning English? Did you fear speaking in a group of native speakers? Did you fear making a grammar mistake during a job interview? I hope you have felt fear recently. Why? Because fear is good for us! Fear tells us that we are challenging ourselves and moving out of our comfort zones, the only place where we will grow and learn anything.

If you haven't felt fear lately in your English learning pursuits, you need to take a deeper look at how you can challenge yourself more. This article is for the rest of us, those of us who intimately know that paralyzing feeling of fear and encounter it every day. Sometimes it's a voice in our heads. It tells us we are not good enough and our speaking skills aren't fluent or fast enough to speak with native speakers. The voice asks how we will be judged by others if we don't pronounce a word perfectly.

Heck, I am even feeling it now. I am wondering if this article will be creative enough or interesting enough to keep our readers engaged. The point is, we all feel fear. We feel it every day. Today I want to let you know that if you want to succeed at learning English, fear is ok. In fact, it is necessary. However, to reach a higher level of English fluency, you will need to turn fear into a tool. In today's article, I will show you how.



How to Use Fear as a Tool to Succeed at Learning English


  •  Envision the worst case scenario: So let's imagine that you relocated to the US as an expatriate a few months ago and there is an important community meeting coming up. You really want to attend the meeting but you are afraid. You know that most of the people at the meeting are native English speakers and you are afraid that if you go the meeting, you will be forced to speak and feel embarrassed by your poor grammar. In this situation, it helps to ask yourself, "what is the worst thing that could happen?" Perhaps you will make a mistake and become embarrassed but do you think that others will pay as much attention to your mistake as you will? I doubt it. Recognize when your fear is limiting you from taking risks and redefine failure.succeed at learning English, Eleanor Roosevelt Quote


  • Remember that fear is just a thought: In western culture, we are taught to value thought and we place great importance on intellectual endeavors. That's ok to some extent until we start placing importance on all of our thoughts including the paralyzing fear that holds us back.  Try investigating your thoughts through self observation. Go through your day, step back from your mind and observe what happens. You might notice how fleeting your thoughts are and that they are nothing more than thoughts. Don't give your thoughts more importance than they deserve.


  • Realize that fear does have a purpose: Yes, fear is just a thought but actually, it is there for a reason. Our fears are often rooted in earlier experiences and they are our mind's way of trying to protect us. While fear might have protected us and helped us stay out of trouble as a kid, we don't need that protection anymore. When you feel that same old fear coming up again, have some compassion for yourself. Laugh out loud, smile and continue in the direction of your goals.


 lean into risk


  • Move directly toward your fear, not away from it: All successful people have succeeded despite their fears. Don't let your fear scare you away from your goal of learning English. Learn to work with your fear so that it motivates you. Consider your fear a message that you are on the right track because you are challenging yourself. Take small steps. Set up a language exchange and try that for a few weeks. When you feel comfortable with that, take a bigger risk and sign up for a public speaking class in English. Put yourself into increasingly scarier and more challenging English speaking situations every day and then look back and witness how far you have come. This gradual progression will give you confidence to keep acting and to use your fear as energy to improve your English fluency. Just like a speed skater, "lean into" the feeling of fear and uncertainty.


  • Create accountability so that your learning becomes objective: Get out of your own head. Make your language learning goals public by creating deadlines and accountability for your progress. A common practice these days is to create videos to show your progress to your friends, family and colleagues. In my opinion, this is a great way to put your goals ahead of your fear. When you have made the commitment to reach a certain level with your English and you know that your success will be judged by people that you care about, suddenly, that little voice of fear in your head becomes less relevant. Your learning has become an objective exercise, not a time for your fear and insecurities to take control. You have more important things to take care of than listening to your thoughts and fears. You have deadlines.


Now that you have learned 5 ways to use your fear as a tool to succeed at learning English, the rest is up to you. You need to decide whether you are going to let your fear dominate you and limit the English level that you reach or whether you are going to question that fear, challenge it constantly and make it your ally. I would suggest making it an ally.


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photo credit:sean_alexander , hwinther

Topics: Advice for English Students, How to Learn English

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