Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Why Your English Must Get Worse Before it Gets Better

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Wed, Oct 24, 2012 @ 07:58 AM

English must get worse before it gets better, quote about mistakesHave you ever felt that sometimes, once you begin working closely with an English language teacher, your English actually seems to get worse at first?

If so, you are not alone.

In your class, you are suddenly being asked to correct mistakes that you didn't even know you were making before. At first, this is helpful but when you start to realize how many mistakes you are making, it can be become discouraging, especially if you had considered yourself an "advanced" English student before getting started with your classes.

Are you in this situation and wondering what to do?

Read on for some suggestions about how to deal with this and what you can do to keep moving forward.


Could this advice help your friends? Please share it! Thanks



Can you relate to this example?

Example of English student, question markI was working with a student last week who is preparing for an exam in a few weeks and he said that, after about 3 weeks of classes, he was starting to realize that he wasn’t as “fluent” as he had thought he was before he started taking his intensive course.

What’s going on? Shouldn’t he be getting better if he is studying in an intensive course?

Well, he is getting better and that’s just the point.

Have you ever felt like your English was getting worse when you started focusing more and working harder at it?

Maybe you came to your English classes after having reached a good level of conversational English. You could go out, carry on a conversation, and make small talk with any native speaker. You were the one that your friends turned to if they wanted a translation or needed a joke explained. It felt great!

But there was a problem.

You were at an English learning plateau and you probably weren't challenging yourself enough.



Here's what's really going on


English progressIf you feel like your English is getting worse as you start to work harder at it, don't worry. You are not exactly “going backwards” with your English skills.

What is happening is that unlike before, your mistakes are now being pointed out to you and it's uncomfortable.

You are being forced to conjugate those verbs correctly and to pronounce them right.

This is something that wasn’t demanded of you when you were just learning through immersion, without a focused class.

You went out and spoke English.

Did the people around you correct your mistakes?

Probably not.




Now you have a choice

 decisions, different directionsAt this point, you have a choice. You could step down, back off, allow yourself to be intimidated by how much you have left to learn and just accept your current level of English without challenging yourself to go any further or you could acknowledge that it won't be easy and get started on your way to the next level.

It goes back to the old saying: when we don’t know much, we don’t realize how much we have left to learn but as we get better and better and start focusing more and more, we see that, yes, indeed we have so far to go.




Planning to push forward? Here are 5 things you can do


number 5So now you know what's going on. You are not "getting worse" at English, but you are starting to realize how much progress you still need to make. What are you going to do now? If you want to keep working hard, here are some things you should do:

  • Acknowledge and celebrate the progress you have made, but don't stop there.
  • Don’t panic and try not to get discouraged.
  • Continue your focused practice including your English classes and homework. If it's uncomfortable, it's probably helping you grow. Your priority should be to find someone who will correct your mistakes and challenge you to move to the next level.
  • Set up a short and long term goal. Maybe you want to become an interpreter. Maybe you need to pass the TOEFL exam to get into law school. You must have a goal and it should be linked to a deadline. If it's not urgent, break it down into small steps and set deadlines.
  • Drop your identity as an "advanced English learner" or near-fluent English speaker. Get your identity and your ego out of the equation and make learning an objective process.


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Photo credits: boris_licinakristyhall,    dumbledad, Brett Jordan

Topics: Advice for English Students, How to Learn English

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