Updated: May 14, 2020
Language learning is not a destination but a journey. There is never a point at which you know the pronunciation, spelling, and meaning of every word in English. Consider the fact that English is my native language—one I have spoken for over 40 years—and yet I still encounter words that I have to look up.
Take for example the word apoplectic. I ran across it in a book I was reading the other day. Apparently, it means overcome with anger. Who knew?
With that in mind, it’s important to celebrate the "small" wins along the path of learning, since we will never arrive at perfect English. What points along the way are cause for celebration?
Here are a few important milestones that come to mind:
1. When you can truly read an English book for enjoyment (the emphasis is on the word truly)...
I don’t mean a book that you think you “should” read but one that deeply interests you. More importantly, you find yourself reading it comfortably and only occasionally do you encounter words that you are unsure of. This is a big accomplishment in my opinion, and it deserves acknowledgement. Well done, I say!
I recall a time recently when I was reading a book about a famous German actress and model. It was fascinating, and I was reading the book in German...and, I understood it (at least 90% of it). Damn, it felt good. Can you relate? Let's honor and celebrate experiences like this!
2. When you converse in English and forget that you are actually talking in English...
This is one of the most satisfying experiences. Why? Because finally you are able to express yourself and your ideas without the stress of overthinking each word.
Authors such as Rachel Paling and Timothy Gallwey have written about the concept of the performing brain. And when you are able to talk in English without having to translate in your mind first, the performing brain is at work.
With the performing brain engaged, talking feels natural and—dare I say—easy. It’s time to throw a party if you have arrived at this milestone.
3. When you can watch an English movie without subtitles and enjoy it...
Having subtitles turned on can be a little stressful. You're constantly listening to the dialog, translating it in your head, and then checking your work. At least that is how it is for me. What would happen if you simply turned the subtitles off?
The day subtitles are no longer needed will come. When the day comes when you can just watch a movie—and understand most of it—then it's time to pat yourself on the back and break out the champagne, in my opinion, because the performing brain is again at work.
How about you?
What have you achieved in English that creates a feeling of pride and joy in your heart? Maybe your wins seem bigger or smaller than the ones I have listed. Those are just ideas. The wins that are important to you might be completely different. But no matter what, it's still important to acknowledge them positively before moving forward.
Why, you ask? It's simple really. Honoring our progress is fun, rewarding, and invigorating. And isn't that how life is meant to be? Cheers to you and your accomplishments!