You are an unbreakable language learner 10


sheffield uni

University buildings in Sheffield, UK. Image: Elaine.

I’d like to share a personal story with you today. The idea came to me when I was working on my recent blog post with tips on how to stay motivated when learning a language.

Staying motivated is tough. We all sometimes procrastinate, to a certain degree, but that’s easy to overcome with some minor tweaks to the way we go about our day. What’s more difficult to overcome are the emotional barriers that might be preventing us from achieving our language learning goals.

The story I’d like to share with you starts in Sheffield

It’s a city in the north of England where I went to university to do a BA degree in English and French. In the final year of my studies, some decisions had to be made – what am I going to do next?

I always liked languages and the idea of teaching other people and helping them achieve their goals really appealed to me. I considered my options and the one that seemed the best was a teaching course that would enable me to teach English as a foreign language.

I went to my personal tutor for advice

I was looking for reassurance and advice – she was doing a similar job (teaching French) and had even travelled abroad to teach English herself.

What she said to me when I communicated my intention to teach English would stay with me for a long time.

She said: you’re going to fail

She told me I wouldn’t ever get a job teaching English as a foreign language because I was Polish and English wasn’t my native language. She advised that I shouldn’t even bother to try because what everyone was looking for were native British (or other English-speaking) teachers.

That totally broke my heart

I wanted to be an English teacher and I’d just been told I would fail. It hurt like hell. That’s precisely the kind of emotional barrier I was talking about in the introduction to this blog post. Something that scares you, brings you down, holds you back – something that is like a mouse trap standing between you and your cheese, preventing you from staying focused and moving forward. Because how was I to move forward if I’d just had my wings clipped?

I slept on it for a few days

And then I signed up for the teaching course. It was incredibly fun and engaging – I worked very hard and learned so much!

I got my first teaching job straight away. When it was time to move on, I got my second teaching job straight away – this time teaching academic English to young people who wanted to pass their language exams or go to university in an English-speaking country. I then moved on to teach children and, again, got a job straight away. I was good at what I did and it felt good.

And my tutor had told me I’d fail

I’ve always felt like contacting her to let her know what I’ve done since we had that conversation back in 2009.

I went on to finish my degree with a distinction. I got the various teaching jobs. I got a scholarship to do an MA degree at a world-class university in London. I got a job as a researcher and content writer at a high-profile education organisation in London – writing in English like a native English speaker. I got promoted and now manage a whole team of writers. I set up my own freelance content writing business. I have a popular blog and thousands of language learners read it every month and benefit from my advice on learning languages.

Lille

Me, enjoying a morning coffee on the main square in Lille, France, a few months after my graduation.

The point of this post is not to brag about what I’ve done

The point of this post is to tell you all that if you’ve ever been told you’re not good enough or that you shouldn’t bother because you’re going to fail anyway, you should have all the confidence in the world that it’s not a reflection on who you are or what you can do. It’s just a way for some people to project their own insecurities on to you to bring you down because they’re hoping it will alleviate their own fear of failure.

So, believe in yourselves and continue to plough on with your language learning. You can achieve anything you want if you’re prepared to work for it. As somebody famous once said – ‘the sky is your limit’.

Onwards and upwards.

Agnieszka

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  • Great post! It’s very easy to get caught up in negativity, and your tutor might have even thought she was doing you a favor by saving you the time and heartache.

    I love this story for a few reasons. First, it proves that even (possibly) well-meaning advice can be straight up wrong, so we shouldn’t let people’s opinions determine our fates.

    Second, it shows that obstacles let us know how badly we want something. You didn’t let your heartbreak keep you from reaching your goal. You just climbed over and kept going.

    Finally, it makes me grateful as a reader of your blog that you persevered, and now we all can benefit from you sharing your talent and passion.

    Yay!

  • Good for you! If you pick something you love to do, you will find a way to succeed. The true turning point was when you decided not to take your personal tutor’s advice. Not many people could turn a deaf ear. That’s takes strength. It’s important to share your experience too so younger people remember to always take advice with a huge grain of salt.

    • Thanks for your comment! It’s true – it’s difficult to just ignore it sometimes and do your own thing.

  • Christa Hansberry

    Wow! It’s true that just from reading your writing , if you hadn’t said so, I would never have guessed that you’re not a native speaker. If I could speak Russian or Spanish or Korean or another complicated language (compared to Esperanto), that fluently, it’d be like, awesomeness unimaginable! But toki pona has a vocabulary small enough to fit on a sheet of notebook paper, and is so much fun… and there I go sidetracked again!

    • Thank you Christa!

      I’m sure you can do it in any language – step by step. We don’t become fluent overnight 🙂

  • Erik Alfkin

    It seems to me someone who had to learn English, then teach it to foreigners might actually have some insights into the learning process that someone raised on the language might not. I have only limited teaching experience, but it always seemed to me that teachers do best when they have practical experience around where their students are coming from.

    • I completely agree with you! Lots of language teachers may know the language, but don’t have any great insight into the process of learning themselves.

  • Nina Jolić

    Now this is the one of the most inspirational stuff ever! 🙂 I have some really big issues that are just in my head, when it comes to learning one language in particular, but now I’m trying myself to break from my shell, and to work hard because of it. I am SO anxious because of these things, but I will start finally to make my dreams come true. I *will* be fluent in French !

    • Thank you Nina! I really believe that you can be fluent in French 🙂 Everyone struggles with something when it comes to language learning – some of those issues are small and others are much, much bigger. The good thing is that with a little bit of courage and self-belief, we can overcome them and keep getting better 🙂 Keep reminding yourself that you already know a lot and that’s what matters the most!

      Good luck!
      Agnieszka