6 things to STOP saying when learning English

Most people would agree that keeping a positive attitude can change our life in so many levels. However, when learning English, we tend to doubt ourselves, feeling as if we were not able to be successful and emphasizing “failures” more than achievements. This kind of mindset can interfere negatively in our learning process. Well, what can we do to change that? Many things! But let’s start by paying more attention to the messages that we send to our brains during our learning process and reframing them from a more positive perspective to build a growth mindset.

“English is SO difficult!”

There isn’t one language that is easier or more difficult than another. Some languages will have a very similar linguistic system as yours, others a more different one. So, yes, languages are different! The level of difficulty depends more on how much effort and time you put on learning it than on the language itself.

Do you know how the dictionary defines the word “difficult?” Difficult: not easy to do, deal with, or understand; difficult conditions or situations cause a lot of problems and make it hard for you to succeed; not convenient, or involving a lot of problems. As you can see, there is absolutely nothing positive about saying that English is difficult. Let’s check the word “challenging”: difficult to deal with or achieve, but interesting and enjoyable. You see the difference?

What about saying:

English is challenging! + but I like it! + but it’s fun! + but it’s interesting!

“I want to speak like you.”

Every person is unique and the way each person speaks is unique as well. So, embrace your speaking style! It’s ok to have a model, someone who has speaking skills that you aspire to. That’s totally fine! Actually, you can learn a lot by observing them. But, desiring to speak like someone else can be frustrating and unachievable because speaking has also to do with somebody’s personality. Even in your native language, I am sure you don’t speak exactly like another native speaker. So, have some good models, but try to find your own voice.

What about saying:

Your pronunciation is so clear. Can you give me some advice on what I could do pronounce the “th” sound more clearly?

I want to focus on my conversation skills to speak a little bit faster. Could you suggest some activities to help me with that?

“I don’t speak well.”

First of all, nobody needs to know that you don’t speak well. When we start a conversation with someone by saying “I don’t speak well”, the only thing that this person will keep in mind during the conversation is that you don’t speak well because that was the first image that you conveyed about yourself. Besides, by saying that, you are sending a negative message to your brain.

Imagine that you have a kid who wants to be a soccer player. Then, in his/her first game, you come to him/her and say “you don’t play well, but go ahead and do your best!” How do you think your kid would feel? Do you think your comment would have a good impact on his/her performance? Probably not, right? The same happens to our brains. Sending positive messages to your brain doesn’t mean that you will become fluent out of a sudden, but the chances that you will be successful are much higher. So, why not give it a try?

What about saying:

Somebody: You speak English well!

You: Thank you! I’m glad to hear that!

“I don’t speak English.”

I’ve seen so many students saying that! When you do that, you are telling a lie to yourself and somebody else. What does “speaking English” mean for you? Does it mean speaking like a native speaker? Well, we are not English native speakers, so stop putting this pressure on yourself. Maybe you think you can’t speak English because there are situations in which you can’t understand much or even talk about a specific topic. If that’s the case, don’t freak out! These situations happen even in your native language. For example, if I ask you to talk about quantum physics in your native language, will you be able to do so? I’m sure I wouldn’t! So, relax! It’s hard to communicate in situations in which we have no familiarity whatsoever.

What about saying:

I know some sentences in English and I can understand some things too.

“I can’t understand it.”

“Can’t” is a word you should eliminate from your mental dictionary. When you say “can’t” you are saying that you are not able to do something, that you don’t have any chance to learn it and do it successfully. But, why? Is that what you really think about yourself? Again, think about your brain as if it were a kid. Would you tell your son/ daughter “I don’t think you can do it”, while they are doing their homework? How do you think they would feel if you said things like that to them every time they tried to do something difficult?

What about saying:

This part is more challenging. I’ll need to spend more time practicing that. Can you suggest any extra activities to help me with that?

“I want to learn English.”

Many students come to me saying “I want to have class to learn English” or “I want to have class to learn to speak English.” What is the problem with that? When you say that, the message that you are sending to your brain is that you don’t know English or that you don’t speak English. In some cases, it is true, when the person has really never studied English in their lives. But, that’s not the case if you have been studying English for a while. Again, stop lying to your brain or diminishing what you are already able to do.

What about saying:

I already speak English + but I want to improve my speaking and listening + but I want to gain more vocabulary + but I want to improve my listening.

Can you see the difference between sending positive and negative messages to your brain? This is not only about learning English, but about dealing with any situation in life. Some people might say: “All right! I’ll be positive and then I’ll become fluent! That’s non-sense.” What I have to say to these people is: first, you are not going to become fluent just because you are being positive. However, being positive will keep you more motivated to learn and increase your self-confidence. Besides, it is not only about being positive, but adopting a growth mindset which will motivate you to take on challenges and learn from them, resulting in more achievement in your learning process. Second, what do you lose by adopting a more positive perspective on your learning process? Really, think about it!

Good luck on your learning journey!

Fernanda Carvalho is a Fulbrighter, certified Neurolanguage® Coach with a Master's in TESOL. She believes in a holistic approach to language teaching, which involves people's development as a whole and not only language itself. You can find her on facebook @languagenextlevel and on her website www.languagenextlevel.com. Schedule your first neurolanguage® coaching session for free and check how she can help you improve your communication in English.