In English, we say “success breeds success.”  

So, it's time for a little success story.  

After all, what is our focus when learning second-language communication?  

Do we focus on our mistakes, or on our successes?  

I have found we need to practice positivity in a very active way, and that means a focus on progress.    


But, I want you to feel good before you begin.  Are you ready?  First stand up, stand straight, stand tall and feel strong.  

Feel your own strength.  

Wait, wait, wait, I actually mean it!  

No joke.  

Stand up!  


Then stretch out your hand in front of you.  

Bend your elbow and your shoulder until your hand is above the opposite shoulder.  

Now pat yourself on the shoulder a few times.  

Well done!  

You, you human you, learned to speak your first language all by yourself.  

You only needed contact with others and it naturally happened.   So you are part of the only species capable of mastery of complex language with thousands of words.  

Well done!    


So, this kind of positive self-affirmation is essential for our progress in second-language communication. We simply cannot progress fast if we don't feel good about our abilities in communication. We must ignore criticism from outside, including from our colleagues or even from our teachers.  

This is really important.    


We need to talk to ourselves often.  

No, this is not a kind of madness, but rather it is exactly what all top athletes do.  

They talk themselves into a positive state.  

Masters in anything don't wait for positive affirmation from outside.  

They do it for themselves to themselves.    



For English or any other target language, repeat after me: “Yes, I can speak my desired language”.  

Feels good, doesn't it!  

Sometimes words and actions must come before our own belief.    



So, we need to develop awareness of the quality of our target-language communication for ourselves. On the one hand, we must not delude ourselves about our weaknesses in the target language, and we must not ignore the frequent confusion in beginning conversations in a language. This is a reality that any committed language learner experiences daily. But on the other hand, we must delight in every new positive experience, and every new word or understanding in the target language. We must enjoy our own progress.  

So go on! You know what to do!  

Stand up, stand tall, pat yourself on the back, and say to yourself, “Yes I can speak my target language”.    


Sometimes we doubt ourselves and think we can't speak our target language.   But, this is just doubt!  

It is simply a movement of the mind and will not support your progress.  

Let me prove it to you: Imagine you travelled to New Zealand, where I come from.  

On the last day of this imaginary trip you catch flu and a bee stings your tongue very badly.  

You get on the plane and probably travel many hours or even days to reach your home country.  

You get off the plane in your home country and you are jet-lagged, sick, and your swollen tongue fills up your mouth. You literally cannot speak. At such a moment you simply cannot speak your own native tongue; it is impossible. However would you doubt your identity as a speaker of your first language? I say “No.” In fact I have told this story to hundreds of clients and they all agree.   We simply never doubt our deep identity as speakers of our first language.    


So, this is the kind of positive self-affirmation needed.  

We need a very deep conversation with ourselves.  

We first need to convince ourselves, not others, about our identity in a target language.   So go on!  

Stand up, pat yourself on the back and say out loud, “YES, I can speak my target language!”  

Doesn't it feel gooooooooood?    



So, every day, please notice your efforts to learn your target language.  

Every day, enjoy your use of a new word.  

Every day, be interested in your changing competence in your target language.   After all, on some days your words will sound beautiful and on other days it just sounds like rubbish. After thirteen years living in Germany with a German wife and child, there are still some awful days for me. Sometimes I feel I just want to cut off my tongue, because my German sounds so bad! But that's life.  

Still, over time, we can indeed notice an upward trend in our target language.  

Notice this.  

Enjoy this.  

Be gentle with yourself.    


And now to the success story:  

During the Northern summer, my family and I travelled to the island of Ibiza in Spain. I spoke no Spanish, while my wife and everyone else spoke Spanish.  

My brother-in-law comes from the island, so I was immediately in contact with his family and friends. All around me was Spanish and fortunately -- for my language learning -- nearly no English! They were very nice and tried to speak English with me, but I just made it clear that I wanted Spanish, not English.   I listened to the Spanish like my very life depended on it!    


On the first day, I simply copied any possible word that I thought was appropriate.   Sometimes it worked, and many times it didn't. Of course, my Spanish sounded horrible, but sometimes we understood each other. What a joy! And of course, I patted myself on the back, at least in my mind. As a test I also consciously used no vocabulary books, no dictionary, and no grammar book. I wanted to experience Spanish conversations directly, and not through any intermediary like a book. It's like talking to the love of your life: would you want a book getting in the way?    



After ten days, I could manage a five to ten-minute conversation entirely in Spanish. During that time, we and the other person were able to exchange a lot of information about ourselves.   It was thrilling! Now that I'm back in Germany, I can remember nearly nothing in Spanish, but it really doesn't matter because I know I can do it once and do it again.    


Certainly, this is a success story -- at least it is to me. And that's the important thing; I now feel more confident within myself.   Right or wrong, I now feel stronger and more confident learning other languages. Was my Spanish pretty, correct, advanced or comprehensive? Of course not. Did it somehow work with the Spanish people. Yes! Was it fun? Absolutely yes!    


So listen to this song and I'm sure you will get in the groove. It's called “Accentuate the positive”.  


Focus on your own little daily successes in your target language.  

Build on your connections to others in your target language, just like you did first with your mother.    

You did it once with your native tongue.  


You can definitely do it again.          


Hero image by Flazingo Photos  (CC BY-SA 2.0)