Here’s how feeling vulnerable can help you learn a language

So, you think you are not achieving? You probably think your language skills are far from being up to scratch. They may not be, and yes, there is always room for improvement, but most likely, it’s your perception and self-judgement getting in the way. We all have to start somewhere, but, hey, I have news for you! When it comes to learning a new language, you will encounter several new starts within the start. Does that not encourage you? Think again. Any skills you build, practical or not, require different levels, even if you don’t realise it.

Therefore, it doesn’t mean you are not achieving and reaching your goals just because you struggle to say something in the foreign language you are learning. Remember, reaching goals has more to do with persistence and passion than our skills (note to self). I’m not saying your abilities do not matter (because they do!), but I’m sure you have seen those whose expertise in a subject was less than impressive, yet they achieve more than the guys with remarkable skills and knowledge.

So, what do you do when you start stammering, hesitating and feeling like you are in pain for not finding the words you want?  Embrace it! Allow yourself some vulnerability and go with the flow. While you think you ‘stink,’ your language tutor is your biggest cheerleader! They are proud of you!

However, make sure your problem is just a lack of vocabulary. If you struggle with essential verbal awareness (awareness of verb tenses, your ‘action words’ like your junior school teacher used to say), you should talk to your tutor. They will know and try to find a way to help you. However, no help will come in handy if you don’t express your concerns and pull a little weight too.

Can’t say something in your target language? Well, you can’t have the same fluency you have in your mother tongue, so don’t complicate it. Keep it simple, as simple! Find another way of saying the same thing. Work with what you already know for the time being. Then refine it later. For example, if you can’t say ‘I met John last night at the restaurant’ because you don’t know which verb to use for ‘to meet,’ say ‘I saw John last night.’ It doesn’t matter if these changes don’t quite mean the same to you.

If you are at the basic level, your tutor has probably given you the tools to use when retelling a story, for example. Do not use more than you should. Do not run before you can walk- unless you can already walk and run.

Enjoy the process and the journey! Resuscitate the reasons you wanted to learn a new language in the first place. Remember your excitement when you first joined a language class? I get it! Life gets in the way and that initial enthusiasm fades in the background. But you don’t have to be jumping for joy all the time to learn a language. Likewise, remember your main reasons for wanting to learn it. Feel good when you can say something without much help, even if it’s just a short sentence. Learning something new is a bit like dating! Let it evolve to mature love. However, as I always say to my Salisbury students- ‘Give it some love!’ If you don’t care, who will? Follow the Pareto Principle. Your 20% is worth more than the exasperating 80% you put in. Once a week, 20 to 30 minutes, revise! Come on! You can do it!

Now, the one-million-dollar question- What if you are an introvert?

I can sympathise, as I am an introvert too! And I have learned three languages! However, I have an unusual personality type in which the introvert can become extroverted at times. If you would like to take a free personality test, click here (the best set of questions to help you identify your personality type, as long as you are brutally honest. You will be surprised!).

Have I ever struggled in my language learning process? Far too many times to count them on my fingers!

So, what to do? Set small, achievable goals in six steps:

  1. Find out your learning style and respect your personality type. Be yourself! Communicate with your tutor and make him/her aware of how you learn.
  2. Try to be prepared for the lesson- if you can, and when you can, but allow yourself a margin of flexibility and spontaneity.
  3. Ask your teacher if there is any specific topic or passage for the following lesson that will require you to speak and prepare vocabulary in advance. You may already know if there is one.
  4. Express how you feel. Don’t be afraid to show a little vulnerability. If you are nervous, it’s okay to say it.
  5. At more advanced levels, set your goals by preparing what you want to say and stick to your plan. Use bullet points with key words for speaking presentations. You will most certainly be asked something you were unprepared for, but it’s part of your learning, too, sorry. However, the more you practice, the more fluency you will have and be ready for those ‘unprepared’ moments.
  6. Praise yourself for what you were able to communicate. Don’t be too hard on yourself for what you were not able to. Everyone else will be feeling the same uneasiness. Fact! Even the most extroverted person in the group. If it’s a question of polishing your skills, revise! Don’t wait until the last minute to do so. Take 20 minutes a day and do it!

If you don’t like the current topic your tutor has assigned or don’t know much about it, it’s okay to be quieter. Remember that as long as you show your abilities at different times, your teacher will get you!

All in all, feel proud of yourself for trying. And believe your tutor when they say you have done well. You are speaking a new language, congrats! Pat your shoulder, big HIFIs! You are allowed to make mistakes. It’s not your native language, and you only learn by making those mistakes you don’t like. Allow your vulnerability to come out. I know, easier said than done. Society has taught us to pretend we are always okay, but being strong is being genuine. So, take this on board next time you think you have failed!

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and if you are brave enough, tell us about your personality test results. Which initials did you get? Are you a rare type like me?

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