I’ve published loads of articles in the past dealing with English speakers’ confidence issues, but I’m resolute to drive it home this time.
I was browsing the Web last night and started reading different language learning articles and related comments, and after reading a particularly heated clash of opinions I suddenly realized WHY so many foreign English speakers and indeed – learners and improvers of ANY LANGUAGE – are intimidated and may potentially develop a phobia of speaking their target language.
Not that I didn’t know it prior to that, it’s just that for some reason it became so clear to me last night…
So here you go – it’s the academically minded foreign language speakers (and sometimes also native speakers) who feel superior to ANYONE who can’t speak at their level that make others feel that they’re useless as foreign language speakers ❗ 😡
If You’re Not As Good As Me – You’re Crap!
Any language should be just a means to an end, not and end in itself (unless you’re a pro linguist or a language teacher – then it’s a different story altogether), which means that you should enjoy living in an English speaking society, for example, and enjoy the very communication process instead of being too hung up on grammar, vocabulary and other technical aspects of the language.
You should approach language studies as a vehicle to become more successful, get a better job, enjoy going out with other English speakers, whatever.
You SHOULD NOT, and I mean it – YOU SHOULD NOT ❗ – see learning and improving English or any other language as a feat in itself to brag about and feel superior to others who can’t use expressions and vocabulary that you can.
Are you a really advanced student of the English language? Fair enough! But then – why be constantly JUDGING other foreigners by the same standards? If you can use the English language better than the average English speaker – it’s cool. But is it any good for the average Joe to attempt achieving the same super-high level of foreign language amidst all other things they have to do in their lives – bringing up children, going to work, socializing, enjoying their hobbies, relaxing, going in for sports, moving houses, setting up direct debits for their utility bills, ringing up their broadband provider’s customer services, making appointments with a doctor, getting a car serviced…?
The list could go on an on, and the whole point in giving you one was to show that there’s so much happening in a normal person’s life that they simply can’t focus so many resources on achieving a complete proficiency in a language they’re using to communicate with others.
Yet those who’ve achieved proficiency in a language often make others feel ashamed of their language skills and as a result they DON’T EVEN TRY to speak and they lose any motivation to improve upon it. I think a typical example is a schoolboy, who’s considered by all teachers not to be the sharpest tool in the shed, so he’s just sitting at a desk at the very back of the classroom and the English teacher pays the least amount of attention to him.
Sometimes, however, this schoolboy who’s never uttered a word in English at school moves to an English speaking country and becomes more fluent in English than his former classmates. You see – it’s all about practical usefulness, and while his English teacher is very good at what he does, the former student now has found practical application to the English language whereas in the classroom he was only forced into doing grammar tests.
But then the brightest girl in the class chooses to study the English language at university in order to become an English teacher herself. She becomes very eloquent in the language and it in turn adds to her self-image and she sees herself as a true professional in terms of knowing EVERY ASPECT of the English language. She develops a habit of spotting mistakes made by other English speakers – be it native or foreign – and doesn’t refrain from making remarks like – “It’s just ridiculous, and he calls himself an English speaker? I could speak in such a manner in the 6th grade at school!”
In other words, this person feels as if THEY OWN the English language and have undisputable rights to make assumptions and judgments about others just because they’ve done so well.
And when she happens to meet the former quiet schoolboy who’s doing very well for himself having acquired English fluency MATCHING HIS PERSONAL NEEDS, the first thing she thinks upon hearing him speak is – “And that’s what he calls speaking English? He’d better be ashamed of himself and he should have kept his Basic English stuff to himself!”
That’s why, my friends, so many foreigners lose any motivation to learn and improve their language skills.
If they feel they CAN’T BE THE BEST, they think – “What’s the point in learning and improving my language skills at all?”
If You’re an Advanced Language Speaker, You MUST Use Advanced Vocabulary at ALL TIMES!
This is the biggest non-sense I’ve come across during my pursuit after English fluency, and it’s also one of the main factors contributing into foreigners’ speech anxiety ❗
Basically you’re expected to speak using sophisticated vocabulary and correct grammar no matter what the occasion is just because you’re a foreign language speaker. And if, God forbid, you’re using informal expressions and wrong grammar the same way native speakers of that language would, or if you’re using very simple vocabulary to get the message across – you’re branded as a bad speaker of that language and a far cry from being fluent!
I bet you’ve felt this sort of an attitude directed towards you at some stage, and I’ll hazard a guess that it might be the reason why you’re always trying to over-deliver when speaking in English with others. And you know what?
Trying to over-deliver is probably also the reason why you often get stuck in a middle of sentence and start having the monkey-mind syndrome ❗
I’ve had it myself, and I know how it feels. You feel overwhelmed, you have all these English tenses and words and what not floating around your head and you literally want to say it ALL OUT but all of a sudden you can’t say a thing… All because you’ve been PRESSURIZED into trying to speak like an English professor!
This stupid and completely unfounded notion that once you’re a foreign English speaker you SHOULD KNOW BETTER than to speak using simple sentences is utter rubbish.
Just think about it – do you always speak in your language as if addressing a board of directors in a Fortune 500 company? Do you always use the most sophisticated vocabulary and expressions JUST BECAUSE YOU KNOW THEM? Of course you don’t! So why would it be any different for a foreign speaker of that language? Why should foreign speakers feel the scrutiny of perfectionists and why should they be pressurized into speaking meeting the highest English language standards?
Those perfectionists will tell you – because you know better, because you’ve been well educated, because high standards must be maintained, because THEY THINK that if you speak in a simple way you’re lowering yourself to a beginner student’s level…
Why should YOU or ME or ANY other foreign English or any other language speaker meet some ABSTRACT industry imposed expectations? Did we sign some sort of an agreement binding us to speak and write the language we learnt at the highest level and highest level only? I didn’t. Did you?
Next time you feel obliged to speak using the most sophisticated vocabulary and super-perfect grammar, tell yourself – “I’m not lowering my language standards by speaking this way; I’m OK to speak in a simple way and if I weren’t a foreigner, no-one would ever judge me for using simple vocabulary or hesitating during a conversation when under stress!”
Oh, but those perfectionists would even judge native English speakers; they would gladly point out an odd mistake made by a native (do you not make mistakes when speaking or writing in your native language?) and they would feel very important while doing it!
I personally think it’s a way of making up for shortcomings in other parts of their lives – most likely their own insecurity or something, so my only advice to you would be – IGNORE if:
- native speakers make assumptions about your level of fluency based on separate incidents – an odd mistake or hesitation;
- foreigners make assumptions about your level of fluency just because they can use more sophisticated vocabulary than you OR their academic knowledge is at a highest standard than yours.
I come from the Eastern Europe myself and over the years spent in Ireland I’ve heard many comments made by other Latvians, Russians and Poles regarding the English language. “Irish themselves can’t speak proper English!” or “This is not how you’re supposed to say it in English, my English teacher was a true professional and this is how it should be:…” or “When I was with the military, our interpreter could speak better English than the English themselves!”
Do you feel the arrogance shining through such comments?
I understand the mentality of the former USSR and other Communist block countries’ people, and I know that it’s the decades long suppression in nearly all aspects of life that makes them find something that they’re very good at – or someone they know is good at (in a curious way it still adds to their self-worth!) – and use it as a stick to beat others with!
You may not come from a former Communist country – but still there are so many countries on the world where the living standards are lower than in the western world that those countrymen of yours who’ve become perfect English speakers (or speakers of any other foreign language for that matter) will perceive their knowledge of the language as something that makes them superior to others.
Basically it’s the mentality of those feeling hard done-by and now that they’re become perfect at something, others have to follow their example. Either be like me, or I’ll call you an idiot, so to speak.
A really intelligent person will never judge others if they fall short of their own standards ❗
They’re not going to tell others how to speak, and they’re not going to impose their standards on others.
Maintaining high language standards throughout the educational system and in media is one thing, but telling the average native and foreign speakers that they can’t speak properly in everyday situations just because you can speak perfectly is simply the ultimate display or arrogance, nothing else.
So what can you learn from this? Well – STOP FEELING GUILTY for speaking English (or any other language) in a simple way!
Just because you’ve just passed the highest ESL certificate doesn’t mean you can’t speak with a 10 year old using the same language they do!
If You’re Not as Eloquent as Shakespeare – You’re Not Fluent!
Am I a fluent foreign English speaker? Yes, I am.
Am I as fluent English speaker as the former Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who’s also a foreign English speaker? No, I’m not.
Will I ever be as fluent as him? Probably not, but then the most important thing you have to realize is that IT’S NOT RELEVANT.
I’m not a Californian governor, and I never will be. My spoken and written English skills are adequate for MY PERSONAL SITUATION – my work, interests, hobbies and social life.
Am I saying I don’t aspire to achieve more? Not at all! What I’m saying is that there’s no one-fits-all English fluency definition, and every person’s situation is unique.
Had I chosen a different carrier path in my life and had I become an industry professional in an English speaking country, I’d probably be a much more eloquent English speaker having tens of thousands of words large active vocabulary and being able to talk about the most sophisticated subjects using the same means of expressions as the native speakers would.
Well, anything is possible in life, and who knows – maybe in 20 years I’ll be in a much different position than I’m in now. At the moment, however, my personal and professional needs don’t call for an academic level of English knowledge. I’m working as a dispatch clerk in a knitwear factory, and here at EnglishHarmony.com I’m blogging about English fluency and confidence related issues. I cater to the needs of my audience and I don’t doubt my average website visitor likes my simple and easy going way of writing and delivering video lessons.
I’m not saying I’m not improving on an ongoing basis. Anyone who uses the English language or just about any other language in everyday conversations is inevitably improving.
What I’m trying to say here is simply that one shouldn’t determine fluency in any language by comparing their abilities to the highest academic standards!
I’m going to the gym and I’m working out, but I’m not a professional athlete and those who are HAVE NO MORAL GROUND to judge me unless I’m entering an official competition.
I own a car and I’m a driver, but I’m not a rally-driver and I wouldn’t even stand close to more experienced drivers who know how to drive in bad weather conditions like on ice and how to manage situations when the car goes out of control. And they also have no rights to judge me because I’m not trying to compete with them.
What I don’t like is that there will always be people looking down on others just because they’ve achieved more in the particular field.
I’ve heard muscleheads in the gym making comments about me working out, but what’s the point? I’m working out to keep fit, and that’s as much gym work as I need.
Similarly if I don’t ask for some other English speaker’s unbiased opinion on my fluency levels, who’s given them permission to make comments and judge my English skills and put me down?
What such people don’t realize is that it’s so EASY TO HUMILIATE and DESTROY the other person’s CONFIDENCE, but it takes an enormous amount of work to restore it and get back on the road to fluency ❗
My plea to you is the following – please DON’T LISTEN TO ANYONE who looks down on you and starts bragging about their English (or any other language) literacy, or tells you how wrong others speak. It’s OK to point out mistakes in a normal way, but when someone looks at you and says with a sneer in their voice – “What did you just say? They don’t say it like that in English!” – just ignore such people and never go back to them for advice or anything.
On the finishing note I’d like to say that I haven’t got anything against those who choose to pursue the academic path and study a language thoroughly. It’s no mean feat, and I respect professionals who have become fluent in a foreign language close to a native level or even above – like Dr. Constantin Gurdgiev.
What I have an issue with, however, is condescending attitude by both native and foreign nationals who make assumptions about my English fluency levels, and I strongly believe that this factor is at the heart of the English fluency issue faced by so many foreign English speakers, and it’s also responsible for many learners of foreign languages in general feeling ashamed of speaking with others and losing motivation to improve.
If you’ve had similar experiences in your life, you have to come to terms with it and open a new page in your life.
STOP CARING ABOUT WHAT OTHERS THINK of your language skills, DON’T COMPARE YOUR LANGUAGE WITH OTHERS for any reason other than mimicking and improving, and tell yourself – “IT’S MY LIFE, IT’S MY ENGLISH, AND NOBODY HAS ANY SAY OVER IT!”
Hoping this will help you,
P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!