An Easy Way to Stop Your Harsh Inner ESL Critic (Part 1/2)

Updated: May 3, 2021

Drumming and ESL

There is a class at the yoga school I attend in which an instructor teaches you how to drum. He uses the reactions that you have when you make a mistake to help you to become more self-aware of the negative self talk you have during the learning process.

In other words, if you miss a beat on the drum, do you get mad at yourself? Do you beat yourself up? Or, are you patient with yourself as you learn to find the rhythm in the music?

These questions and this method immediately remind me of the language learning process. Just like with the drumming example, the way we respond when we make a mistake when learning English provides us with valuable information.

It can reveal a lot about the mindset we have around ESL learning.

What do I mean by mindset?

Your mindset is the attitude you have when you approach a situation or task. Your mindset can vary, but we usually have natural inclinations or habits that influence our mindset.

For example, when it’s time to do the dishes after dinner, I tend to approach the task with hesitation and resistance. Why? Because my mindset is that I don’t want the responsibility of washing the dishes. There are ways in which I can change my mindset (and we will talk about those ways later), but my natural inclination is to resist the idea of washing dishes.

But enough about household chores; let’s look at an ESL example.

Imagine or remember a time when you were speaking English with a native speaker, and you were trying to tell a story about something that happened to you earlier that day. But you used an incorrect word, which left the listener confused.

How did you respond internally? What thoughts ran through your mind?

Did you berate yourself? Or, did you simply acknowledge the mistake and try a different way of explaining the situation to your friend?

If you notice that you often speak harshly to yourself when making a language mistake, then your mindset might be, “I need to speak perfectly” or “I shouldn’t make mistakes.” You might have convinced yourself that these thoughts help you to perform better or keep you motivated to perfect your English.

But this mindset is based in fear, and when we are in fear, we close ourselves off to growth and connection. And, if we really think about it, connecting with others is the real reason we want to learn a new language.

What can you do?

Start simple and just begin to notice the inner voice that arises when you make a mistake. What tone does it use? Does it sound like an angry parent or is it loving and forgiving?

I’m not suggesting that you need to change the voice quite yet, but simply become aware of it. There is great power that comes from being aware of our mindset.

Language learning can be an amazing tool for becoming more self aware of our inner voice and how we respond internally when we make mistakes. In my next blog post, we’ll learn how to change the harsh inner critic into a voice that encourages growth and acceptance of the learning process.

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