How to Take Control of Your English: 2 Empowering Steps to Confidence.
You have a 1-1 2-hour lesson with your English teacher. Today is going to be a good day. You can feel it in your bones. I mean, you even completed your homework. Teacher is going to be so impressed. You walk in feeling cheerful.
Two hours later, you come out totally deflated. Your teacher spent the last hour correcting every other word you said. He flashed the ‘s’ card every time you didn’t say “he speak(s), hear(s). He told you understanding the gist of your favourite Netflix programme isn’t good enough. You must understand every. single. word.
He says you’re not ready to present at next month’s crucial meeting with your suppliers. Not until you’ve mastered English irregular verbs. Completed more vocabulary sheets.
At the next not so important meeting you shut up. You let your colleagues do the talking. You don’t want to embarrass yourself with your terrible English.
You’re feeling bruised. You’re feeling crushed. You’re never going to improve. How long has it been? 2 years? Still no progress.
You’ve tried so hard to follow your teacher’s instructions.
➤ You’ve put that list of irregular verbs on your fridge door, as instructed, and tried to revise them whenever you opened it to reach for the milk.
➤ You’ve truly tried to complete those phrasal verbs sheets at the weekend.
➤ You’ve painfully watched that Ted Talk without the subtitles.
➤ You’ve downloaded that recommended app of English Idioms and tried going through them each morning on your way to work.
You’ve done all this because you told your teacher that you needed to be fluent, mistake-free, vocabulary rich and grammar-perfect in English. Because that’s what you’d been conditioned to believe is what you needed to be successful in business with English.
So you offered yourself up to your teacher’s expertise. Teacher knows best, right? And yet, no progress.
You are nowhere closer to feeling confident in that meeting, phone call or presentation. You are nowhere near to being able to do your job in English.
What’s the matter with me? I am so useless in English.
The voice in your head
The thing is, all the time you’ve been having these lessons and trying to follow your teacher’s instructions, there’s been this annoying little voice in your head.
A voice telling you that your teacher’s ‘textbook’ approach isn’t right for you. It doesn’t resonate with the way you learn. It doesn’t inspire you. To be honest, it’s boring you into a coma.
But what’s the alternative? There isn’t one as far as you know.
Everyone tells you that to nail that presentation, lead that meeting, solve that tricky situation during your conference call, you must have ‘smooth’ English. You must be eloquent, articulate, mistake-free, a speaker who doesn’t pause.
You don’t think you have a choice but to continue with those excruciating lessons and silence the voice in your head.
Well, you’re wrong. You do have a choice.
But first, let’s clear something up.
To do all the above, you need to focus on communicating effectively in English, not speaking ‘perfect’ English.
You know you’re communicating effectively when you know how to:
➤ listen to understand,
➤use plain language,
➤ ask checking questions,
➤ involve the other person in the conversation.
➤ speak the other person’s language.
Your peers and clients want you to communicate with them, not speak at them.
And you know what? You can become a confident business communicator with the English you already have.
What you need is to take control of how you get there.
Here’s my 2-step plan to finally take control of your English.
STEP #1: Dig Deep and Observe
Ask yourself what’s your business reality? What do you need to do with your English? With whom do you need to communicate in English?
Are they international speakers or monolingual speakers of English? If they’re the former, what’s their level of English? How do they speak? Do they make mistakes? Do they use simple language?
What language do you already have in English? Are you comfortable with it? Be honest with yourself. Focus on what you know, not on what you imagine you should know.
Is it allowing you to do your work? Think of the last call you made or meeting you attended. How did it go?
If you can’t remember, take a future meeting and observe. Observe what’s happening around you? How are your international peers communicating? How are they responding to you? How are you responding to them? Make a note of the successes and weaknesses.
Celebrate the successes. Identify the problem areas you’d like to improve.
STEP #2: Talk to your English teacher
Tell them what’s not working for you. Grammar drills, vocabulary sheets, etc.
Tell them what you need from them instead. Tell them you need them to help you work on the problem areas you’ve identified. To take a situation you’ve experienced and analyse it with you and offer coping strategies you can implement in your next meeting.
Tell them you need them to listen to what you have to say, not on how you say it. To allow you to speak freely without judgement. To allow you to make grammar mistakes.
Tell them they need to work with your business reality, not the textbook illusion.
Gently remind your teacher that you’re not a school child obediently following their instructions but a senior experienced and successful professional who’s an expert in their field. Who knows exactly what it takes to be an effective business communicator in your language but needs them to help you achieve it in English
If your teacher is unwilling (or unable) to change, ditch them and find yourself a coach who’ll empower you to become a confident business communicator with the English you have.
Have courage and belief in yourself. Don’t blindly follow the ‘accepted way’. Especially if it’s not working for you. Take control of your learning. You owe it to yourself and your career.
PS: This blog post is inspired by a true story. My latest immersion client’s story.