Recently, I Skyped via italki with a woman from Brazil on an urgent mission. She was very nervous about an upcoming interview for a job with a Brazilian airline as an air hostess. Of course she had to know English. But, much to her concern, her English had grown rusty over the years.
I reminded her that the most important task of an air hostess or steward is not to serve food and drinks. Rather, it is to remain relaxed under pressure, and of course to remain calm in any real air emergency. The same principle is true of our English-language communication.
So how can we remain relaxed and open when we meet a new person? What happens when we don't understand, when we doubt our English, or when we have to take a job interview? How can we open our mind and heart under the challenge of contact with a new person in our second language?
Perhaps we have already passed an English exam in school, but what about real life? This is where the rubber hits the road.
We need to ask ourselves: did our school experience build on our success in language in early childhood, and prepare us well for our adult life? In my experience with thousands of adult learners, I believe not.
Our education in school calls a second language a “foreign” language. It says that there is just one expert sitting at the front of the classroom. It teaches you that English is only really “correct” during an exam. It teaches you to go into a special room, answer one correct way, get enough marks, and then you “pass”. It teaches you that answers are only “correct” or “incorrect”.
This school process is often stressful, unrealistic, and very often not fun. It delivers millions of students into working life without any useful English-language confidence. In short, students often learn to talk about grammar, but feel unable to talk in English with an unfamiliar person.
Does this resemble your own experience?
Fortunately, our early childhoods were very different. You are sitting here today, reading this article with an excellent command of your native language. You did this nearly all by yourself. I want to say, “Well done!”
Yes, YOU, dear reader, are undoubtedly a talented master in communication! Did your teacher in school ever tell you this? If they did, how often? My learners tell me: not so often.
Please allow me to remind you of your wondrous skills in communication. As a tiny baby you heard sounds, worked out meaning, copied the sounds yourself, tried to communicate, failed to communicate, tried to communicate, failed to communicate, tried, failed, tried, failed, and finally succeeded all by yourself.
No one taught you your own foundation in your own native tongue. Your parents could only offer their example. But you had your inborn natural ability to learn from the examples of communication around you.
No other animal comes even close to our natural abilities in communication. Can a dolphin explain facts about distant places? Of course not, but you can!
As an adult, you are in command of a language that enables you to discuss any aspect of experience. You learned this almost completely by yourself!
I call this deep human foundation for all language “Bulletproof Authentic Confidence”.
“Bulletproof” means that you can communicate even when the bullets are flying… or at least during a stressful job interview! “Authentic” means the ability to communicate in English based on your own identity and values from your country. “Confidence” means a feeling or faith, no matter what. It means you can be sure about something before it actually happens.
Would you like to experience this?
To illustrate, do you doubt your ability to speak your first language? Even if you are completely sick, with a badly swollen tongue, and heavily jet-lagged after a long flight from New Zealand, would you doubt your ability to speak your first language? Probably not. In my experience, no one doubts their identity as a native speaker of their first language.
So this same “Bulletproof Authentic Confidence” is also possible right now for any speaker of English above the medium-intermediate level. This is based on my own experience with my clients. It all comes down to your own deepest internal attitude, and this deep internal attitude can be rediscovered with the assistance of an experienced teacher.
Through dialogue with a sensitive conversation partner, we can re-discover this inborn Authentic Confidence. We were born with it and we have actually never lost it. In fact, all adult first-language communication is still intimately connected with our first foundation in language. It is only school-learning that often causes problems regarding a second language.
So if you need to improve your English-language communication now, then I give you permission to blame your school. Please don't blame yourself! Please don't doubt yourself.
That way, you can immediately feel more confident right now.
Feeling more motivated now?
In contrast to much of school education the “BE in English Approach” says:
1. Reconnect with your own natural abilities.
2. Trust yourself!
3. Focus on any success in English-language communication, even if it is very small at the beginning.
4. Rediscover your own “Bulletproof Authentic Confidence”.
5. Question the assumptions behind school language-learning.
6. Apply the practices of “Conscious Intention” and “Authentic Listening” (more detail in future articles)
7. Follow your own natural interests from life, but now discuss them in English.
8. Use simple dialogue with a sensitive listener as the basis for your success in English.
9. Practice relaxed attention and fun during dialogue in English
Finally, please consider the value of an excellent teacher.
Do you remember your best teacher from school?
Did he or she make all the difference for you?
Do you still remember him or her even many years later?
I still remember my lovely elderly Frau Schmidt who gave me a love of German as my first second language. She came with her hair in a bun, with her very strict ideas about correct German, but she loved her profession, and she loved me! I felt my German flower minute by minute in her company.
In fact for me she was worth five times as much as all my other teachers put together.
So please see how far your budget can stretch.
If your budget is limited then take fewer lessons with the good teacher but use all their advice. This difference in quality and experience in a teacher can really make a big difference to your progress.
So of course I suggest finding the best teacher possible on italki.
Good luck, and I wish you every success!
And, please remember that your success in your first language guarantees your potential success in your second language.
These articles are based on my work with thousands of adult learners from over fifteen countries, in companies, and in five universities. For over ten years I have been obsessed with one question: “How can we learn faster to communicate better in a second language?” Out of this work has emerged the “BE in English Approach” © to effective second-language communication, along with my concept of “Bulletproof Authentic Confidence”© via “Conscious Intention”TM and “Authentic Listening”TM
Please look for future articles on italki as I outline the key concepts behind this Approach. Of course we will also explore the challenges of vocabulary and grammar.
You can also visit my website www.effectiveINenglish.com
Hero Image (Experts everywhere) by Chris Sloan (CC BY 2.0)