English Communication Confidence Blog

The Failing Forward Mindset To Improving Your English

Sep 14, 2022

Did you ever think about how your fear of failure might be preventing you from learning or improving a skill or a language? Yes - I said it. Your fear of failure might be what's preventing you from improving your flow in English and achieving the proficiency you want with your American accent. Read on to consider this idea. 


Failure as a road to speaking English with flow.

Okay, but what does fear of failure look like? How does it manifest? And how does it affect your flow? 

I typically see this fear of failure manifesting in non-native English speakers as a form of self-doubt before uttering a word in English. You may be so cautious and afraid of sounding "unintelligent" that you hesitate your way through your sentences. Does that ever happen to you? 

It happens to me in Portuguese all the time. I've got perfectionism syndrome!

When perfectionism creeps in, we end up not getting to the end of our sentences or even finishing our thoughts. We stop, we chop, and more often than not, we use filler words such as um, eh, and ya know, to get us through our communication. 

Others of us may fear the frustration of not being understood when communicating in English or the embarrassment of receiving puzzled faces as a response to our ideas. These types of barriers prevent us from speaking, asking a question, and expressing ourselves. 

That's a hard place to be. 

Creating hesitant speech is the exact opposite of flow. Remember when we flow, we connect each word inside of a thought chunk. We link, we reduce, we contract, and use that American flap sound. However, when we break our airflow, we are breaking this connection.

The time we take – or even worse – the filler words we add as we think through the vocabulary or grammar we'd like to use is actually creating the idea that we are inarticulate in our second language.

All of this becomes a vicious cycle and we develop a fear of failure.

I won't dive into the psychology of the human brain and our emotions – but for some of us, if there's a chance of failing at something, we think that there's no point in even trying to do it. Often because we're scared of the consequences of failing – feeling embarrassed, humiliated, vulnerable, pathetic, etc. 

The dread of failure becomes so real that people often give up their dreams of learning something new just to avoid the prospect of those unpleasant emotions.

The reality with speaking English as a second language is that you're picking up something completely new – you're gonna make mistakes. A lot of them! You're gonna find yourself using the wrong words, using the wrong verb tense, and forgetting how to say things. It's part of the journey of learning a language. 

So what I hope to offer you today is to give you a fresh perspective on failing as a road to speaking English with flow.

What if you looked at failure as learning moments? It could free you up to flow more. 

Imagine you make a mistake during a casual conversation and someone chimes in and tells you that Americans pronounce the sch in schedule like a /sk/ instead of /sh/ (that's British.) Ah - yes, skedule! Guess what, you just learned something new. You practiced it on the spot and in the future, you'll remember when you learned the correct pronunciation of schedule. 

Learning how to express yourself in a language takes time and practice. But if you aren't taking the initiative of putting yourself out there and being willing to be vulnerable and most likely fail here and there, you probably won't advance...at least not as quickly as you'd like. 

I tell my students that when fine-tuning language skills, I want them to embrace "failing forward." A fail-forward mentality means intentionally using failure to find success. It's a deliberate and conscious process that first requires us to lose the obsessive and, might I add, flawed, need to be perfect. Humans can't be perfect, we're all flawed to begin with. Expecting perfection sets us up for disappointment.  

Second, failing forward forces you to embrace attempting and making those mistakes as a path to learning. I'd rather you make those mistakes, learn and move forward. So much better than stopping mid-sentence, being afraid to say anything, and letting you and your listeners fall behind (and interrupting your flow!). 

Well, what does this look like for flow? For starters, go out there and talk! Raise your hand, ask questions, make comments, and have conversations. The more you get your voice heard, the less stiff you'll sound when you speak. 

Don't worry about your verb tense, your pronunciation, or messing up a word or phrase – native speakers need correcting sometimes too, ya know!

As one of my colleagues once advised: Try describing a word when you can't remember it. It's a great way to keep the conversation going. You can say something like, " What's that word, you know, it's the feeling we have when we accomplish something...?" Our listener helps by saying, "Do you mean, achieve?" "Yes! Achieve. It wasn't coming to me!"

Or going back to our word schedule from earlier. What if I forgot the word? I could say: the chart that helps you plan out your day with specific times. See? I'm using other words to describe the word I forgot. This way, I'm not interrupting my flow and I finished my sentence.

Staying quiet, creating hesitation, and using fillers are all dead ends in communication. 

Ultimately, I just wanted to look at the fear of failure as a potential way in which you may be preventing yourself from accelerating your spoken English and unlocking your American accent.

Next time people are speaking English around you, I don't want you to keep quiet in a conversation because you aren't sure you know the right words. I don't want you to not say something because you worry you might mispronounce a word. 

Instead, jump in! Remember that failure is one of our greatest teachers. 

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