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The ABC of a positive mindset for Language Learning

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

I came across this idea at a property workshop I attended in the autumn. Although property investing and language learning may not seem related, they both require a strong mindset in order to succeed. I love the idea of an ABC of mindset because it is simple to remember yet powerful when used. In this post, I'm going to dive into each part of the Mindset ABC and relate it specifically to language learning.

First, let's clarify what a 'mindset' is Imagine two people - Jose and Juan. Jose and Juan are both from the same country and are both preparing for CAE. Their English is more or less the same level and they do a busy job in the same company. They've both got foreign girlfriends and are both mad about football.

Jose Jose is convinced he is too busy to find time to study, especially with all the overtime he's doing at the moment to save up for his holiday. He feels worried because the exam is coming up and because he knows he hasn't worked enough, he's not sure if he will pass. He often comes bottom of the class in the mock tests. Despite this, Jose plays football three nights a week and enjoys watching films with his girlfriend at the weekend. His girlfriend is from Germany and has excellent English, but she wants to improve her Spanish and Jose is too ashamed of his accent to speak English with her so their conversations all take place in Spanish. Juan Juan is a master at exploiting small spaces of time in his busy schedule and has told his boss that he can't do overtime until after the exam. He does vocabulary review on the bus in the morning, listens to a podcast on his way home and has temporarily stopped playing football so that he has three evenings a week for some decent study time. Overall, he's feeling confident about his exam and about his English. When he gets something wrong in a test, he makes sure that he knows why he made the mistake so it is less likely to happen next time. When he watches a film he makes sure it's in English and he and his Swedish girlfriend talk in English every evening at dinner. These two people have similar lives but very different mindsets. One of the mindsets will bring about success and the other very probably won't. Mindset, as you can see, has nothing to do with the external situation and everything to do with how we perceive the situation and our response to it.

Now that's clear, let's explore the ABC of Mindset for Language Learning! A is for Attitude Your attitude is all about how you approach a language challenge such as an exam or increasing your CEFR level. For example, do you:

  • get really organised and make a plan?

  • leave it all to chance and hope for the best?

  • make some sacrifices to give yourself more time / money / energy?

  • decide you will work and succeed no matter what?

  • decide that it's just too difficult and give up?

All of these show different types of attitude.

Juan showed a very positive attitude to learning. He has set boundaries with his boss, has made a sacrifice (I know, but sometimes we have to make sacrifices to get what we want!), has a clear study plan and exploits opportunities to access and speak English. He also responds well to his mistakes. To learn a language successfully you need a positive attitude towards learning in general and also towards making mistakes. This is a huge problem for so many learners who are convinced that everything should be perfect at all times. Believing that everything should be perfect is an unhealthy attitude to have because it is impossible. No-one and nothing is perfect at all times so it's important to develop a healthy attitude towards mistakes. You also need to cultivate determination to see you through the difficult times and to keep you going when your motivation begins to falter.

B is for Belief

What do you believe about yourself and language learning? Really?

After all, learning a language is a tough endeavour. It takes a ridiculously long time, even if you live in an English-speaking environment, is incredibly mentally challenging and requires vast amounts of effort. No wonder so few people make it to native-speaker-like levels! It's just too damn hard! Or is it? What if you cultivated the belief that you were learning effortlessly and easily? Or the belief that new language came to you quickly and readily? Or the belief that your brain is primed to absorb new language and information and is doing so constantly? How might your language learning change if you adopted some of the positive beliefs above? How might your feelings about yourself as a language learner change?

Jose did not show a positive belief about himself, perhaps this is why he is still playing football three nights a week! He knows he is not working enough, yet he can't seem to motivate himself. Perhaps because he doesn't believe in himself, he has been unable to set boundaries or make the changes he needs to pass CAE. C is for Courage It has been proved that language learners who take more risks tend to learn faster. By 'risks', teachers and linguists usually mean speaking up in class or striking up a conversation with a stranger. Not everyone feels confident about doing this - some of us are more introverted - yet even the most introverted language learner can take risks and boost their courage. If you don't act in a courageous way, there is a danger that you and your language will stagnate and not develop. In order to change and grow, you need to gently push yourself beyond your comfort zone on a regular basis. Examples of courage:

  • moving to an English-speaking country!

  • public speaking

  • taking an exam

  • speaking to someone new

  • joining a speaking club

  • finding a speaking partner

  • answering a question in class

  • getting a penfriend (yes, you can still do this and it's great for introverts!)

  • writing a blog in English

  • making posts on social media in English (written or spoken)

Jose and Juan both have girlfriends with fantastic English. Jose feels inferior to his girlfriend and isn't brave enough to speak much English with her whereas Juan is more than happy to use his partner to practice his English with! Who will learn quicker, do you think?

Ultimately, the way we combine Attitude, Belief and Courage has a huge impact on how we approach life's challenges and the results that we experience.

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