How to overcome the shame you feel about your English
You feel shame
When you can’t understand the question.
When you feel yourself pausing too much.
When you struggle to find the words to say what you mean.
When your boss ‘helpfully’ paraphrases what you’ve just said.
In essence, you feel shame because you feel that your hesitation when communicating in English could be seen as a lack of expertise.
You compare yourself to others, mainly native speakers and you despair. Everyone else is better, more eloquent, more confident, more professional.
To make matters worse, the more you work in a global team, the less confident you seem to become about your English. Instead of growing in confidence, you keep comparing yourself to others and no matter how well that meeting went or how well you did, you still think you’re not good enough.
That’s because you haven’t reached ‘there’ which is where you believe you should be.
I totally understand because I am like you.
No matter how much I have grown as a Business English coach and business owner, I always feel I haven’t done enough or am good enough.
Every setback is magnified and deeply felt and every success is brushed aside as trivial. I compare myself to others, I see where they are, look at where I am and feel shame.
I tell myself I should be more successful by now and at my age, but I can’t define what success is or what it looks like for me. All I know is that I’ll recognise it when I get ‘there’ whilst acknowledging that I am living in La La Land.
This ‘there’ is a real problem.
Take yourself, for example. Your ‘there’ is to be more confident when you communicate in English.
Your definition of confidence is:
👉🏾 To speak without pausing
👉🏾 To speak like a native speaker (what does that actually mean?)
👉🏾 To have more sophisticated vocabulary
👉🏾 To not have your colleague rephrase what you’ve just said.
👉🏾 To be more fluent (again what does that mean?)
The problem with your ‘there’ is that you’re so focused on achieving this nebulous goal that you overlook the small wins you make along the way.
⚡️ You don’t allow yourself to pause and relish that moment when you understood the question the first time round.
⚡️ You don’t congratulate yourself on how well you managed the misunderstanding during that meeting in English.
⚡️ You don’t reflect on how well your presentation was received by your engaged audience.
What you do is dismiss it as something trivial. “Oh that? Well, yes that was good but I still don’t have enough vocabulary.”
You don’t consider this accomplishment as important on the road to confidence. You don’t connect it to your consistent efforts to communicate clearly, effectively and inclusively with your English. You treat it as an isolated incident, a fluke that is not likely to happen again.
So, the cycle of shame is repeated each time you step into a meeting. A cycle that only serves to erode your confidence even more.
This is a familiar pattern for me too. I have to remind myself to pause and celebrate that small win because it comes from my consistent effort. It didn’t happen out of thin air. It happened because I worked hard, I was consistent and I didn’t give up. And that is a big win.
So, how do you break the cycle of shame and start celebrating your English?
Start with one
Take one meeting you recently had. Taking the English you already have, focus on how you communicated.
Reflect on these questions.
📍 What was your proudest moment during that meeting? For example, was it that you answered the questions easily? You didn’t apologise for your English before asking for clarification?
📍 How did people respond to you when you did this?
📍How did it make you feel?
📍How much did your English contribute to how well you communicated your message or was it something else?
📍 Did you identify any communication gaps?
📍 Were these gaps language or communication gaps? In other words, was it because of your English or because your message wasn’t structured well enough, the questions asked were not logical, etc.
📍 What small tweaks could you make to fill these gaps and boost your confidence before your next meeting?
📍 Which aspects you’re proudest of are you going to use in your next meeting?
Now, go and apply what you’ve learned and observe what happens. Then repeat this whole process for the next meeting.
Complete confidence doesn’t exist in any language. If it did, we would stop making an effort and become complacent.
Mini episodes of confidence are what matters.
With each small tweak, you’re adding a piece to your confidence.
With each small tweak, you’re celebrating your effort.
With each small win, you’re saying “I am not ashamed of my English.”
Go and create your own mini-episodes of confidence. I am right behind you cheering you on.