How To Make the Most Out of the Feedback You Receive as an ESL Learner

Updated: Oct 6


Receiving feedback on our language learning journey is inevitable.

For example, during an important sales conversation, someone asks you to repeat what you just said because he or she didn't understand. That's feedback.

Maybe your boss informs you that she has enrolled you in English language classes, and you perceive that as negative feedback about your language skills.

Or, you go to get your haircut and explain the style and cut that you want, but you walk out of the salon with the exact opposite of what you tried to describe. That's feedback (or perhaps an example of a bad hairdresser).

When you receive feedback that feels negative to you, it can be discouraging.

But what if you could take the ESL feedback you receive and turn it into a source of positive motivation? Sheila Heen, author, businesswoman, and lecturer at Harvard Law School, explains it perfectly in her popular Ted Talk about feedback:

"What if we could actually see receiving feedback as a skill and we could get better at learning from feedback, taking charge if it, and driving our own learning?"

Man, that sounds empowering! In her Ted Talk, Sheila talks a lot about how the receiver of the feedback is really the one with the power. She says, "...it's the receiver who decides what they are going to let in, what sense they are going to make of it, and whether and how they choose to change."

I love this perspective on receiving feedback and advice. It changes the entire dynamic of the exchange. So, how can we extract positive information from a situation that feels negative?

Here are 4 Steps to Turn Feedback into Something Valuable:

1. Consider the source.

This is important. Is the source of the feedback someone you trust or someone who has a skill or information that you might not have? In other words, is his or her feedback credible? Is it worth considering? Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.

For example, when my German tutor corrects my grammar, I know that she is credible and her feedback is valuable. But when my husband questions my Spanish when he doesn't know Spanish, I can most likely disregard that feedback! That's a simplified example, but I think you get the idea. Consider the source, as we sometimes say in English.

2. Create a positive mindset before evaluating the feedback.

Before you decide how you will respond to the feedback, check your mindset. Look at all of the evidence of success you have around you. Consider the times that you have received positive feedback regarding your English or times when you have had successful conversations. Remember the reasons you have for learning English and how important they are to you.

By making sure that you are in a positive mental place first, you can look at the feedback objectively and not take it personally.

3. Take a constructive look at the feedback.

How can you take the negative feedback and turn it into “constructive” feedback, as we say in English? In other words, what good can come from this feedback? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How can the feedback make you a better English speaker or writer?

  • In what ways is the feedback helpful to you?

  • For what reason did your teacher or coach share the feedback with you? Why was it important?

Perhaps the feedback is exactly what you need to reach your specific goals.

4. Create a small goal around the feedback.

Using myself as an example, my teacher has told me before that I sound like an American when I speak German. Of course I do! But what she means is that there are sounds (like the Z sound in German) that I consistently fail to enunciate correctly. My mouth gets a little lazy when it comes to this sound!

However, I found a list of words that use this sound, and this week I am committed to practicing them each day in order to master this specific phoneme (sound). This is a way I can reduce my accent and turn what feels like negative feedback into something beneficial.

Can you think of feedback that you have received regarding your English that you can turn into a positive stepping stone to success? Send me an email; I’d love to

hear the mini-goal you have created for yourself

#ESLConversation #ESLCoaching #ConfidencewithEnglish #ESLFeedback

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