At least once a week I get an email, a comment on my website, or a message on Facebook from an English learner who feels very frustrated and discouraged.
They believe that they can’t speak English, and they believe that everyone speaks English better than they do.
I always feel sad when I read these messages. I want to give all these people hugs! While replying to all these messages, I realized that I was writing the same things over and over. I realized there are 4 important things that all English learners should know and accept.
If you are an English learner who feels very frustrated and discouraged, here are some things that will help you.
1. Confidence doesn’t equal fluency.
“Everybody speaks English better than me.”
I hear this often from English learners.
No, everybody doesn’t speak English better than you. How do you define ‘better’?
Some people may speak English more confidently than you, but that doesn’t mean that their English is better than yours. Some people just have more confidence speaking English than you do. Confidence is a great thing to have. I wish more English learners had confidence! However, speaking confidently doesn’t necessarily mean speaking properly. Someone can speak confidently, but make a lot of mistakes. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
~ Theodore Roosevelt
Everybody has different goals. Some people want to learn English just for fun, so they can watch English TV shows or movies. Other people need to speak English at a very advanced level because of their job. Some people are happy to speak English with an accent. Other people want to sound like a native speaker. Judge your English by your own goals, not by how well you think someone else speaks. It doesn’t matter how well other people speak English.
2. Native English speakers don’t care if you make a mistake.
“I’m scared to speak to native speakers because I don’t want to make a mistake.”
Native English speakers don’t care if you make a mistake. (Native speakers make mistakes, too!) Native speakers only care that they can understand you. No one expects you to be perfect.
The great thing about English is that once you know the most common 1000 words, you know 50% of everything English speakers say or write. You can communicate pretty well with just 1000 words.
English-speaking countries are very multicultural. We are used to hearing many different accents and we are used to speaking to people who don’t speak English as their native language.
In some cultures it’s embarrassing to make a mistake when speaking the native language. In English, nobody cares if you make a mistake. You know this already if you follow any celebrities on social media (like Twitter or Instagram). How many celebrities have you seen who can’t spell properly, who don’t capitalize a single letter, or who don’t use proper English grammar?
Of course, a conversation is always easier if you can express yourself as clearly as possible, but never be afraid to make a mistake. You are going to make mistakes when you speak.
If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.
~ Neil Gaiman
Don’t be embarrassed if you make a mistake, and don’t be embarrassed if someone corrects your mistake. You’re one step closer to speaking English fluently.
3. You are not going to learn English from your classmates.
“I am afraid to speak in my English class. All my classmates speak English better than me.”
Then why are you taking group lessons? If you don’t feel comfortable speaking English in public or in front of large groups, don’t take group lessons! Public speaking is hard enough without the added pressure of speaking a foreign language.
You are not going to learn English from your classmates. You can practice with them, and practicing will improve your confidence, but you are not going to learn English from them or improve your English. Improving your confidence doesn’t necessarily mean that you are improving your English skills.
You learn English from your teachers and native speakers. A baby doesn’t learn how to talk by listening to other babies. How are you going to learn if everyone around you is making mistakes?
Everybody learns differently and group lessons are not for everyone. Of course, group lessons are easier to find and cheaper than private lessons (where it’s just you and your teacher). However, if you are someone who doesn’t feel confident speaking in a group, you will improve your confidence much faster if you work with a private tutor.
4. Someone is going to laugh at you.
“I am afraid people will laugh at me if I make a mistake.”
Do you ever laugh at people who make mistakes when they try to speak your language? Of course you do! Sometimes language learners say funny things!
I was explaining the concept of a “spelling bee” to one of my students. He had never heard of spelling bees before. (A spelling bee is a spelling contest. These contests are popular in Canada & the U.S.) A few classes later, he asked about a spelling bee again, … but he got confused and called it a “pee contest.” That is funny! You are probably laughing right now as you read this! He was an advanced student who spoke English very well (and he is now doing his masters degree at an American university), but he made a mistake and it was funny.
It will happen to you. Somebody is going to laugh at something you say in English. Every language learner everywhere on the planet makes a funny mistake at least once. It’s OK. The sun will still rise, the earth will turn, and you will go on learning English. Who cares if someone laughs at you?
No one is going to laugh at every single mistake you make, because nobody cares that you make mistakes (see #2). Stop living in fear that someone is going to laugh at you.
Speak English without fear.