How to unlearn how you think about your English self
We all have preconceptions…
…about how someone is dressed, how they speak, how they walk into the room, how they look (fat, slim, tattooed, hair).
We have preconceptions about cultural and national groups which are often unconscious. We unquestioningly accept preconceived ideas about a group, a neighbourhood and so on.
We also have preconceived ideas about ourselves as international speakers of a language we speak. In your case, English.
As an international speaker of English, the preconceived ideas you have of yourself which have been ingrained in you since forever are these:
👉🏾 I make embarrassing grammar mistakes
👉🏾 I use simplistic words
👉🏾 I pause too much
👉🏾 I struggle to understand the question
👉🏾 I sometimes sound like a stuttering imbecile
👉🏾 I will never have the eloquent words my colleagues have
👉🏾 I will always struggle with English
And because of these reasons, you fear:
👉🏾 You won’t get that promotion
👉🏾 You won’t be able to sound persuasive in that pitch
👉🏾 You won’t sound natural answering questions
👉🏾 You won’t win that deal
👉🏾 You won’t make a positive impression in that first meeting or interview
The result is you sabotage your chances of professional success. You dismiss yourself before you’ve even started.
I do the same when I communicate in Italian. I assume I won’t make sense or that I will sound stupid or that I won’t be taken seriously or that people will pity me for my ‘bad’ grammar.
“Shanthi is competent but I don’t think she’ll ever be good enough to get that job because of her Italian.”
This is the narrative I create for myself which only serves to erode my confidence and add to my insecurities.
How do we unlearn these long-held limiting views about ourselves?
It’s not easy but what I try to do is to focus on the fact that as an international speaker, I have unique advantages.
8 advantages you have as an international speaker of English
1/ your brain is more agile and resilient.
2/ you’re an asset to your company
3/ you’re culturally intelligent
4/ you’re more empathetic and accommodating – you’re more likely to give your colleague the time to express themselves.
5/ you’re more willing to listen
6/ you’re more aware of the need to adapt your language to your audience’s
7/ you’re more creative – you’re able to find different ways of rephrasing a sentence without having sophisticated English
8/ you’re more familiar with the false friends that exist between your language and English and able to correct the misunderstanding.
Here’s an article by the World Economic Forum that supports some of the points above.
But reminding yourself of your unique advantages isn’t enough. You need to change your story. The most powerful thing you can do is to proudly acknowledge you’re an international speaker of English.
Before you give a presentation or propose your pitch or address your audience, inform them that English isn’t your first language (without the apology!)
“As you can hear or you may know, English isn’t my first language which means that during this presentation or pitch, I may pause to gather my thoughts or to find the right words to express my message clearly or I may ask you to clarify a question.”
(Note that you’re not saying, “I may make grammar mistakes or may not have enough vocabulary”.)
By doing this, you’re inviting them to focus on your expertise, not your English.
Whenever I feel the urge to apologise for my badly-created (in my mind) sentence in Italian, I stop myself. Instead, next to the sentence I’m unsure about I write “is that how you say it?” in brackets.
By doing this, my hidden message is this:
“Italian isn’t my first language (and aren’t I doing well!), but sometimes when I don’t feel my message is as clear as I’d like it to be I’d welcome your help.”
When you release yourself of your preconceived ideas of your English self and change the narrative, your confidence in your English can only go in one direction – up.
Give it a try and come back and share what you discover about yourself in the comments box.