Excuse my English is not very good looking

Do you know who said this?

I’ll give you a hint. It was the same person who was famous for saying “Azuuuucar” 

Her name was Celia Cruz. She was he most popular salsa singer of all times. She was a successful woman who won two Grammy Awards among many other awards and yet, she had to apologize for her “bad English”

How many times have you had to apologize publicly for not speaking like a native speaker?  How many times have you believed that you are not capable of succeeding because you don’t speak a “very good looking English”?

Hello everyone, welcome to my very first podcast in English. My name is Julieta. I love languages as much as I love science.  I’m super excited to have the opportunity to use this podcast to share with you interesting information about languages and science.

Today I’d like to talk about a common pattern among English learners and non-native speakers. Many of them suffer from something called the ‘impostor syndrome’.  I’m sure that many other people suffer from this syndrome but today I’ll focus on English learners because as a non-native English teacher I’ve met many individuals who suffer from this syndrome. In fact, I suffered from this syndrome when I was learning English many years ago and when I was studying at grad school a few years ago.

The impostor syndrome is also known as the impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience. But what exactly is the impostor syndrome? According to Wikipedia it is a “psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments or talents and has a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’. In other words, people who suffer from this syndrome, in this particular case -English learners and non-native speakers constantly feel that they are not enough.  They truly believe that they are not going to succeed because they are ignorant. They feel that they are ignorant because they don’t speak the language perfectly.

Wait a minute…What does it mean to speak the language perfectly? Well, for many people who are learning a second or a third or a fourth language speaking English perfectly means to speak like a native speaker.  

There is a common pattern that individuals who suffer from the impostor syndrome show. They are constantly apologizing for the mistakes that they make and looking for validation from the people who are considered to be the authority in the field.  English learners tend to look for validation from their English teachers or from native-speakers.

I don’t think that there is something wrong about looking for validation. When we are learning it is natural to ask our teachers and experts to confirm our ideas.  In fact, validation is a necessary step to improve. However, looking for validation obsessively, is a harmful habit that sabotages our success.

What do many English learners do to learn how to speak English perfectly? They hire a coach, to help them get rid of their ‘accent’. Somehow many learners believe that there is a correlation between reducing accent and improving communication skills. Let me tell you something, that belief is wrong.  According to the dictionary, accent is “a distinctive mode of pronunciation of a language, especially associated with a particular nation, locality, or social class”. So trying to get rid of a foreign accent might not be the best approach to improve your communication skills in English.

A couple of years ago I came across with a non-native fluency coach on Youtube  (her name is Hadar, Hadar if read this post, I just want to say thanks)  She empowers non-native speakers and non-native English teachers.  She is trying to change the mindset of many English learners who truly believe that they should get rid of their accent and sound more native in order to communicate their ideas effectively.  I agree with her approach of teaching English pronunciation and helping her students boost their fluency.

As someone who suffered from the impostor syndrome, I can tell you that the only way to overcome the persistent feeling of not being enough is by improving the way you speak to yourself; not by getting rid of your accent.  Sometimes we are so obsessed with speaking flawlessly, with the perfect accent in order to avoid rejection. However, we forget that if we want that other people accept the way we sound we should accept it first. We should not reject they way we sound.

Why is it that we are looking constantly for beautiful, sophisticated and fancy words when we have to speak publicly but we use the most horrible and negative words when we speak to ourselves? Why is it that the first words that come out of our mouth when we have to speak publicly in English are “Sorry, my English is bad” “Sorry, I made a mistake”. 

Don’t take me wrong, I’m not saying that we should never apologize or say sorry. Of course, we must apologize when we do something wrong or when we hurt other people. It is important to recognize our faults. However, we should remember that making mistakes when we are learning is not a sin, and we must not apologize for each single mistake we make when we speak a foreign language.

It’s time to start changing the way you communicate with ourselves and with others. You don’t have to apologize for your English if you don’t speak like a native-speaker.  Remember that learning a language is an ongoing process, we will continue learning even our mother tongue until the moment we die. So guess what?  You will never stop learning English.  Therefore, next time that you feel like you should say something negative about your English please say something positive or funny or something positive and funny. It’s time for you to change they way you speak to yourself and the way you speak about your English. You can say what I say to myself every time that the impostor syndrome is trying to install in my mind:

Excuse me sir !!!! My English is becoming very good looking, you’ll see!!

Well, that’s it for today.  Let me know in a comment what  you are doing to improve your English?  Is your English also becoming very good looking?

See you next time.