Unlock the Power of Confidence in Language Learning

Two women drink coffee at a coffee shop and use their language program skills to have a conversation in another language.

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Learning a new language can be an exciting adventure, but it can also be filled with self-doubt. Making mistakes is how we all learn and grow, regardless of where we are in our language journeys, and those mistakes can help unlock the doors to confident communication in any language. 

Imagine you’re in a conversation with two non-native English speakers. According to standardized tests, one of them speaks English at a B2 level, the other at C1. You would think that the C1 speaker’s English would seem superior to the B2 speaker's, and you might be right, but another factor comes into play. If that B2 English speaker speaks with more confidence and the C1 speaker is nervous and insecure, there’s a good chance that you’ll believe the B2 speaker is better at English than the C1 speaker. 

Why? Because it's estimated that close to 93% of communication is nonverbal. It’s not so much what you’re saying as how you’re saying it. You could be terrible at pronunciation in your target language, but mix in some self-confidence through body language and you’ll be perceived as more advanced than you are. Things like the tone of your voice, fidgeting, and your body posture all have the ability to tell the person you’re speaking with if you’re confident (or not).  

Body language is hard to quantify though, since two people could be looking at the same thing and see something totally different. Tests aren’t hard to quantify, though.  

Research has shown that test results don’t always translate into real-life language success, but confidence does. This seems obvious in other realms of life: the confident dancer, for example, is going to be tearing it up at the center of the dance floor, while someone who might be more physically skilled but shy or nervous is sticking close to the wall. The more confident poker player can bluff her more skilled rivals if she’s just more confident than they are. While no one wants an overconfident surgeon or jet pilot, everyone loves speaking with a confident, non-native speaker. 

Of course, it’s easy to talk about the importance of confidence; the hard part is getting that confidence in the first place. Speaking a foreign language is scary (like dancing when everyone is watching or bluffing at high-stakes poker). But it’s not surgery or landing a jet. If you screw up, you might feel a little embarrassed, but nothing bad really happens. In fact, your confidence can be totally fake—a complete put-on, like betting as if you have a full house when you really have a pair of deuces. 

There’s an English phrase that captures this approach perfectly: “Fake it ’til you make it.” This phrase acknowledges the fact that we’re all nervous at first, and research shows that 85% of people worldwide have issues with self-esteem. We all have self-doubt when we step out on the dance floor, and we all worry that someone will call our bluff at the poker table. But we have a choice: we can let those fears and anxieties get in our heads and undermine our performance, or we can push them away and act as if they don’t exist. 

That’s what it means to “fake it ’til you make it.” At first, we’re all just pretending to be confident. But soon, when we see ourselves succeeding, we become genuinely confident. And being confident is the quickest way to sound better than you actually might be in a foreign language. Give it a shot! You’re more likely to succeed than you think. 

Here are a few ways to help increase your confidence: 

Advance your skills: The more work you put in, the more reward you’ll get out. Keep practicing your new language to improve your pronunciation and vocabulary. 

Reframe failures: Instead of talking negatively to yourself about how you just can’t master the conjugation of a certain verb, or you can never remember a certain word, use it as a chance for growth. Change your mindset and start seeing “failures” as opportunities to learn and grow. 

Highlight your strengths and achievements: Write down all of your accomplishments. When you first started your language journey, chances are you couldn’t speak a single word of the new language. Applaud yourself for how far you’ve come – even if that means you’re only able to speak a sentence or two, it’s more than when you first started! 

If you’re ready to gain confidence in your language-learning journey, let us know! Our teachers can help with accent reduction, pronunciation, or anything else you might need to make you feel more confident in your new language. 

This post was written by Jack Marmorstein, Chief Learning Officer.

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