If you’ve been learning a skill for several years, you’re probably pretty comfortable about your performance and abilities. You might have a high level of confidence in language learning.
And you probably haven’t learned anything new lately either.
You’ve probably been repeating the same techniques, and falling into the same old habits.
Why is this? It’s because what you have been doing works. It’s sufficient. It’s enough to survive, enough to get by.
But, you should ask yourself: Is this really where I want to stop? Or can I do better than this?
The dangers of the comfort zone
When we as humans learn something new, like a language, we often start carefully. Step by step, word by word, we carefully construct meaning with small, uncertain sentences. Just like a toddler learning to walk.
Then, something miraculous happens. We break through to a higher level, and suddenly we can use the language confidently.
- We can read a text and understand most of it
- We can pick out the general meaning when listening to the news
- We can write short texts, like emails or compositions
- We can speak out about our needs and feelings
After all that hard work and struggle, we finally know how to use the language.
Now we can just sit back and relax, right? We’ve succeeded in conquering the English language, right?
If you like to speak with the same sentences and the same words again and again, that would be a great idea. If you are satisfied with stability and don’t feel the need to improve yourself, that’s fine.
But if you actually want to learn the language—not just maintain your current level—then that feeling of comfort is your own worst enemy. Confidence in language learning leads to laziness if it’s not balanced with risk-taking.
Don’t get stuck with stability
Stability is nice. It’s quiet. It’s comforting. Unfortunately, we never learn anything new through stability. We fall into a routine of doing what we know, a routine of doing what we are already good at.
In language learning, this means talking about the same subjects by using the same words, phrases, and expressions.
Risk taking, on the other hand, will get you further. This is because when you try something new, you recognize the areas that need improvement. You make some mistakes, maybe you laugh at yourself, and then you keep going. You do it because you enjoy the challenge.
It’s no surprise that examiners in the speaking sections of exams like IELTS or CAE will award a candidate higher points for attempting more difficult grammar structures, such as conditionals or passives, than if the candidate just plays it safe and uses the same structures.
Notice I said attempting. Not perfecting. Of course, perfecting the difficult grammar will get you very high scores, but take it one step at a time. First you have to walk before you can run.
“Consciousness is only possible through change; change is only possible through movement . . . Where there is no movement, there is no perception.” —Théodule Ribot
Every step counts towards confidence in language learning
I’m sure everyone would agree that their main priority in using a language is being understood. The next priority is to be professional and accurate.
Admittedly, trying to sound professional can hold you back from taking risks while speaking. No one wants to appear stupid in front of their friends and colleagues. Therefore, any risks you take should be calculated risks.
So if you want to break out of your comfort zone as a language learner and reach new heights, here are a few steps you can take:
- Firstly, perhaps it would be a good idea to plan ahead if you have something important to say. Even a few seconds of thinking in your head will help to organize the language you need.
- Secondly, you should have a curiosity for the language. Learn it like a child would. Every moment is a new opportunity to explore.
- Thirdly, you should develop a systematic approach. Everyone learns differently, but only you know the way that you learn best.
- Finally, you should be disciplined and take responsibility for getting to the next level. Envision yourself as a successful user of the language and begin taking action today!