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

Updated: May 3, 2021

Woman Shouting - Is this your harsh ESL critic?

Your native language might be different than mine, but I believe that our “inner voice” speaks a universal language. Sometimes that voice speaks the language of love and encouragement.

But sometimes it speaks the language of negativity and harshness. Is this true for you?

It is for me, and that’s why last week I dedicated my blog post to becoming aware of that inner voice that speaks to us when we say something imperfect in English, or in any language.

Remember a time when you were talking to an English-speaking client or acquaintance. You were trying to explain a concept that you had never explained before. What happened next? You searched and searched for the right word, but you just couldn’t nail it. And then? You felt yourself tense, and then the VOICE spoke up:

Why can’t you think of this word?! You know this word. What’s wrong with you?!

Ouch. Those are some pretty hurtful words. But that’s okay for now. As I mentioned last week, first we must become aware of the voice.

As soon as you can do that, the real magic starts to happen. You see, once you have become aware of the voice, you can use the following steps to turn it into a tool for growth.

5 Tips for Transforming Your Inner Critic into a Positive Force:

1. Don’t judge the voice. Allow the voice to say what it needs to say. After all, it is only trying to protect you. It’s the part of you that thinks that you would be safer if you just kept your mouth closed and never tried to say anything new. “Better safe than sorry,” the voice says.

2. Thank the voice for trying to help, and then let it go.

3. If you’ve made a mistake or can’t think of the correct word or phrase like in the example above, breathe and relax your shoulders. This makes space for more helpful thoughts to arise.

4. Find an affirmation or a saying that you can use in stressful ESL moments. One of my favorites that really takes the pressure off is the following: “Take all of the time in the world.” What this means to me is that there is absolutely no hurry for me to speak.

5. Close your eyes and take as long as you need to find the word or expression that you need to complete the thought. If needed, tell the person with whom you are speaking that you need a moment to find the right word. You’d be surprised how long people are willing to wait for you to say what you need to say.

By using these steps, you have changed your negative “self talk” into a positive tool for practicing English without feeling stressed or critical of yourself.

I use this method when I am with my German teacher. Sometimes I make mistakes, and I can tell by the confused look on her face that I need to explain myself again. In moments like these, I feel like I need to rush to get the idea out; I don’t want to make her wait.

But that’s just my inner critic talking; the pressure I feel is imaginary. By telling myself that I have all of the time in the world to express myself, I feel my heart rate slow down, my brain focus, and I am able to express myself clearly. Why? Because I have eliminated the harsh inner language critic that held me in fear.

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