How good is your English really?

Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh, who died in January this year, had some advice: You should write “Are you sure?” and tape it to your wall. This will remind you that, although you may believe something is true, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is. In order to make good progress in any area of life, it is necessary to be able to see the world as it really is. False perceptions will lead us to make bad decisions and you might create blind spots that will hold you back from doing what you need to do.

We often over or underestimate our language skills. Have you ever thought you had forgotten a language completely, but then go to the country where they speak the language and realise that you can still understand a lot of what is being said, and even make some conversation? Have you ever started a language course thinking that you knew the language well only to discover a whole new world of vocabulary and grammar that you never knew existed? I know I have! It can be quite daunting.

It is necessary to question our own beliefs as these beliefs will affect our behaviour in the future. Someone who believes their English is still poor after many years of studying might be tempted to give up, but maybe this belief comes, not from reality, but from the harsh voice of a critical teacher or parent from the past. If they could block out these negative voices maybe they could see what they can do, instead of what they can’t. On the other hand, overestimation of our own abilities can come from a fear of failure. This fear prevents us from improving because it stops us from seeing the areas that we need to work on. It’s too painful to face them because we would have to admit that we’re not perfect.

So, my advice to you is never too sure of your language ability. If you ever hear a voice in the back of your head saying “You can’t” don’t forget to reply “Are you sure?”

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