Today’s blog post’s topic is about the importance of not comparing your English with others. And I don’t mean it in a way that you’d have to ignore English spoken by people around you. It’s quite the opposite – I want you to perceive this piece of advice as an encouragement not to feel inferior to other English speakers ❗
The sense of inadequacy and worthlessness as an English speaker can sometimes overwhelm you and it can have a detrimental effect on your English fluency.
The goal of my English Harmony project is to help foreigners deal with occasional drops in spoken English fluency which are quite common in those who’ve followed the traditional path of English learning by focusing on writing and studying English grammar.
So not only you have to deal with the actual speech issue itself; you also have to be mentally tough and resilient to maintain the ability to communicate with others when going through the bad English fluency phrase while hearing others perform much better than you ❗
Here’s a typical scenario – and if you have the English fluency issue you definitely would have had similar moments.
You arrive at work, and say hello to your co-workers, but for some reason your English isn’t as good as normally so you feel that you’re struggling a bit to say the simplest things – like morning greetings. Anyway, you’re already under mental pressure to keep your speech steady and slow – otherwise you risk running into even bigger issues like getting completely stuck in a middle of conversation and getting a total blackout in your mind.
And then suddenly you hear some other foreign English speakers having a chat and they just speak away fluently and effortlessly. Or it could even be you involved in a chat with, for instance, your native speaking colleague and another foreign person. The other foreigner speaks freely, but you constantly catch yourself struggling with picking the right word, or expressing your thoughts clearly.
So tell me, what would be the most natural reaction on this?
Of course, anyone who’s in the situation I just described would start comparing their performance with the other foreign person’s performance ❗ It’s a totally natural competitiveness and in normal circumstances facilitates one’s desire to compete, to become better at it.
On occasions when your English speaking abilities are limited, however, this natural inclination to compare your performance with others can backfire and actually inhibit your potential. You can start telling yourself that you’re useless as an English speaker and that anyone else speaks better than you. As a result, quite often you start avoiding communication, and your English fluency suffers even more simply because you don’t use the language being afraid of making mistakes and you don’t want to make a fool out of yourself in front of others.
So how come that a natural desire to compete and speak better English achieved quite the opposite effect? Well, it’s all to do with the wrong emotions being evoked in your mind.
Arrogance (there’s no way someone can speak better English than me!) mixed with lack of confidence (which is born out of the English fluency issue you’ve been probably having for a long, long time) and fear (fear of making mistakes in front of others!) results in you locking in your potential for English improving.
The reality is, however, that regardless of how good your English is – you’ll always hear some other foreigner speaking better!
Personally I get this feeling on a constant basis, but I honestly don’t care about it anymore. Well, it’s not that my attitude is completely ignorant and I don’t care about what others say. I simply DON’T CARE ABOUT THE FACT that some other person’s English is more fluent, or that he or she knows a better fitting word for a particular occasion!
Will I use their knowledge to improve mine?
Will I start freaking out about how bad my English is, and that despite countless hours spent in an English speaking environment I still haven’t managed to get rid of my East-European accent?
Long gone are the days when I allowed such thoughts enter my mind, and now I’m going to give you the main arguments you can always put to yourselves whenever you start comparing your English to others and get a bad feeling about it.
It may only SEEM to you that the person you hear speaks better English!
Actually here I should ask you to define what “speaking better English” means to you.
Is speaking with a near-native English pronunciation a sure sign of a more fluent English language? Read here what I think about aiming for perfect English accent – and you’ll find out that English fluency and pronunciation don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand!
Having a more distinct accent doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t express yourself properly, and it’s also part of your identity as a foreigner. Of course, you have to do your best to make your English easy to understand and that would quite naturally imply that you’re trying to get the English pronunciation as close to ideal as possible. Just judging you by your accent and comparing it to someone else’s, however, doesn’t mean your ability to communicate with others is not as great as that of the other person.
Is the person in question having a very lively chat about some topic that you wouldn’t be able to say a single sentence about? Does that make you feel as a complete idiot and you get the impression of being a much worse English speaker?
All right, now tell me – would you be able to tell me much about the same topic in your native language? You see – there are thousands of interests people are having and there’s quite a big chance that you don’t share the same passion for, let’s say, martial arts, with the other person working in your department. THAT is the reason why you wouldn’t be able to discuss the topic at length.
He, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t have a clue what you’re saying when engaged into a heated debate over the latest computer graphic cards! So as you can see – sometimes it’s all about everyone’s areas of expertise and therefore you can’t judge the real English fluency based on one particular conversation! The guy you overheard having an easy-going chat would probably struggle big time to talk about some other topic you’d be familiar with, and therefore it’s pointless to compare your English to his!
There’s always someone better than you!
Yes, there are plenty of foreign English speakers who actually speak better than you, and you better get used to this fact if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life in misery whining about how useless you are.
You have to understand that you meet more fluent and eloquent foreign English speakers so that you can LEARN from them and IMPROVE your English.
You have to understand that by comparing your English to theirs and realizing that your English sucks serves NO PURPOSE whatsoever!
Your spoken English might be at its lowest level at this very moment, but you have to learn to ignore your mistakes and keep communicating with others as if nothing’s happened. And you also have to learn to accept the fact that there are people around you who perform better, but they’re there to help you improve instead of creating rivalry and causing unnecessary tension!
There are so many foreign English speakers all over the world, that it would be the utterly arrogant to assume that you should be the best among them, isn’t it?
There are foreign English speaking professionals working in certain fields like medicine, engineering, public service and education. It’s pretty hard to imagine how an average Joe like you or me could be as good as they are when it comes to speaking about their areas of expertise in English.
It’s also a fact that majority of such people have dedicated long years to studies in order to attain a degree in the profession. Unlikely traditional school English studies which are most likely to play a big part into your English fluency issue, USING English to acquire more knowledge in other areas of life will increase your English proficiency a hundred times faster.
So if you are an unfortunate product – just like me 🙁 – of the traditional English educational system, the chances are that your spoken English performance goes up and down for no obvious reasons at all, and you suddenly find it impossible to express yourself properly in situations that would normally present you no difficulties at all.
Your foreign English supervisor, on the other hand, always speaks at the same level of fluency – and that fact makes you really angry, right? It’s not fair that you’ve spent the same number of years in the country but you still can’t speak with the same confidence and fluency as he! 😡
Hold on, hold on, this is where the whole NOT COMPARING YOURSELF WITH OTHERS thing comes into equation.
You simply have to tell yourself – NO, I’M NOT A BAD ENGLISH SPEAKER SIMPLY BECAUSE SOMEONE SPEAKS FASTER/WITH BETTER PRONUNCIATION/USING MORE ACADEMIC VOCABULARY/WHATEVER THAN ME ❗
You have to perceive everything that happens around you from a person’s perspective who always seeks to improve upon.
Eliminate the judgement factor.
Don’t judge yourself, be objective and see if you can learn something from that other person instead of seeing him or her as your rival for the best English speaker’s title!
P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!