How to overcome negative self-talk when learning a language

Do you ever tell yourself ‘I’m too old to learn English’, ‘I’m not progressing fast enough’, or ‘My English is so bad I shouldn’t speak with native speakers’?  

Negative self-talk is a normal  stage for both beginner and intermediate language learners. Here are 9 strategies you can use to overcome those barriers.  

1. Learn from your mistakes

It is through making mistakes that we really learn. Stop apologising for your accent, pronunciation, your mistakes, your lack of vocabulary or your use of grammar or lack of it. Practise really does makes perfect, and whatever you do, don’t give up! 

2. Immerse yourself

The more you expose yourself to the language and take risks, the more you will be able to anticipate your mistakes.  

3. Analyse yourself

Find out which aspect of English you find most difficult and set out a plan for developing that skill. Make sure your plan is achievable and that you include practice time. 

4. Join a peer support group

This could be a course, a group of friends or colleagues, or a forum where you can practice your new skills. Receiving feedback and being able to practise regularly will build your confidence.  

5. Do not compare yourself to others 

All language learners will be at slightly different stages and will be better at some skills than others. Even more advanced learners will have gone through your stage at some point. Focus on the level you want to get to and remember that the important thing is getting there rather than how long it takes.  

6. Make time 

Learning a language is a lifelong commitment and you will always be learning new words, new meanings, and new ways to communicate. If you would like more structure, a course is a great way to spark motivation and get immediate, professional feedback about ways to improve and strategies to use.

7. Manage your expectations 

Stay motivated by managing your expectations in relation to how quickly you want to improve. Expectating too much of yourself can often lead to negative self-talk, so set realistic goals and achievable plans. 

8. Focus on communication

Remember that when you are speaking to someone whose mother tongue is English they are focusing on your message and meaning and not on whether you are using the present perfect or the past simple. A lot of native speakers might not even notice any errors. Similarly, when you speak with people learning English, they also just want the opportunity to practise speaking and to exchange ideas, so they are not concerned with you making mistakes. 

9. Take a risk! 

The best way of learning is taking a risk, and remember, you are probably doing better than you think!  


Barrier: a fence or another obstacle. 

Anticipate: to expect or predict 

Feedback: information about a performance, product or a task which is used as a basis for improvement. 

Commitment: being dedicated to a project or a person. 

Realistic: having a sensible idea of what can be achieved or expected. 

This blog has been written at level B2. Practise your reading and listening by reading the blogs below.

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