Self-confidence and foreign language learning
door Amy Verkerk
Struggling with self-confidence can be really detrimental to personal growth – something I struggled with personally for many years; trust me when I say ‘I know what that’s like’! I’ve also seen first-hand how the lack of self-confidence can also affect someone’s ability to learn or practice another language. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the words ‘I understand English really well, but I don’t dare to speak it!’
Our social-media obsessed culture also makes it incredibly hard to achieve the high standards we set for ourselves. We see beautiful pictures on Instagram, amazing videos of talented people on YouTube and wonderful posts of successful people on LinkedIn. Then we compare ourselves and often, we come away feeling worse than we did before. Not a great motivator if you’re already struggling in this area.
So, what can be done about it? Can you ‘teach an old dog new tricks’? Can self-confidence be something we re-learn, even in our mature years? I’ve learnt some key lessons in moving towards accepting myself, liking myself and feeling more self-confident. Here they are below.
1. Believe in yourself
This is the first and biggest step! Start small: repeat the mantra ‘I can do this’ or ‘I’m scared but I’m going to try anyway’ to yourself every day. They say it takes 40 days to develop a new habit, so give yourself at least a month for your inner voice to change.
Think about a time when you achieved something you didn’t think you could do. Last summer I spent the day at the klimbos. I had been there before but didn’t dare to do the highest challenge. So this time I thought to myself ‘I’m scared but I’m going to try it anyway’. It was really scary. I held on for dear life while my legs were shaking. It took me 20 minutes to cross just one challenge of a few meters, but I did it! I did something I didn’t think I was strong enough to do!
2. Make mistakes!
Mistakes are a great way to learn. Let go of the fear of failing and say ‘whatever’ to the worry of what other people think (usually they’re not thinking what you think they’re thinking!). If you dare to speak up in your English class and make a mistake, everyone learns. In my classes, I celebrate mistakes – there’s no shame in making a fault because it’s a valuable learning moment.
3. Be kind to yourself
Our society demands perfection; a high standard that many exhaust themselves to achieve. Do you expect perfection from yourself when learning a new language? Are your standards too high for yourself? Take a moment, reach up and pull that bar down a bit lower. You’re not letting anyone down by taking it easy on yourself, you’re practicing kindness (something this world needs much more of). Language learning is more sustainable when you take little steps forward: it’s a long-term marathon, not a sprint. So be nice!
4. Accept compliments and pay it forward
Did someone say ‘great job!’ after your presentation? Did your trainer smile at you and say ‘awesome!’? Then, for goodness sakes, believe them! If I give you a compliment, I mean it. People deserve to be praised for their hard work and achievements and it boosts our self-confidence when we believe the good things said about ourselves.
Did you hear a classmate say something you thought was good? Did they rock their presentation or telephone conversation? Tell them! Giving compliments is a great habit to get into and helps build up a positive atmosphere where people feel safe.
5. Record your progress
Keep a diary of your progress in the areas you want to improve in. Write an email to yourself in English once a week, get someone colleague or trainer’s feedback, and after 10 weeks, put them all together and see the improvements. Talk for two minutes about any topic you like and record yourself. Listen back and give yourself feedback (positive feedback as well, please!). Do this for 10 weeks and then listen to your improvements. You will be surprised to see the steps you make.
6. Ask for help
Think you can do this all by yourself? Think again! The best way to learn is by doing it together; learning is a community experience and only when we ask for help and support each other can we move forward towards our goals. Share your goals with your class and check in with each other every few lessons to see if you’re meeting them. And when your goals are met, celebrate!
And finally, take your time. Learning something new, whether it is a language, mind-set or a new skill takes a lot of hours of hard work, practice and study. So be kind to yourself, give yourself the room to grow and see the changes for yourself.