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Why you need an Inner and Outer path to learn English

This idea is adapted from Christine Kane's Soul and Strategy Track idea. When I first began working on my business, I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was how to teach English. I thought that I would be able to go online, find lots of students and make some money. How wrong I was! Very early in my business journey, I came across a woman called Christine Kane. Kane is an American business coach and has built a wildly successful business coaching people like me who have an idea but no knowledge of building a business.

Kane's ideas and teaching made a huge difference to the way I think about my business. One of her core teachings is that to be successful in business, you need to have a Soul Track and a Strategy Track. The Soul Track is all about mindset and beliefs. It's all the ways that we hinder our progress, make excuses or procrastinate in front of YouTube videos about giant Alaskan Malamutes (that's my personal favourite!). The Strategy Track, on the other hand, is what you probably already associate with business. Things like marketing, advertising and budgeting.

Giant Alaskan Malamute!

Four years into working on my business, I can absolutely say that the Soul and Strategy Tracks are both vitally important - without soul you can't make good decisions or maintain motivation; without strategy, you have no tools or methodology.

I now believe that any human endeavour contains a Soul and Strategy Track. For the purposes of this blog post, I'm now going to call them an Inner and Outer Path and I'm going to explore how these ideas might apply to language learning. Let's begin with the Outer Path.

The Outer Path of Language Learning This is the language path that we are all familiar with, the one we have been following ever since we began learning our second language. On this path we:

  • learn about grammar

  • improve pronunciation

  • practice role-plays

  • work for exams

  • prepare for interviews

  • watch YouTube videos (I can recommend a great channel about Malamutes!)

  • read books and articles

and so on. The Outer Path is made of all those familiar things we know we need to do in order to develop our foreign language(s). Because this path is so familiar, I'm going to jump straight to the Inner Path.

The Inner Path of Language Learning

This is the hidden path, the one that few people know about. It is not taught in school, nor is it explained in course books. Most teachers are unaware of it and massively underestimate its importance.

The Inner Path is, of course, the mindset and belief system that are at work in the mind of the language learner. In my opinion, the Inner Path is far, far more important than the Outer Path because without sufficient work here, our efforts on the Outer Path can lead to smaller results than those we want.

Allow me to give you some real-life examples:

The Nervous IELTS student I once worked with a Japanese student who was preparing for IELTS. Their company was paying for their IELTS exam so that this student could go to university in Europe to study business, learn new skills and then return to their Japanese company with new ideas and information. Unfortunately, the university was asking for a Band 7 and this student was nowhere near that level. Not only that, but this student was still working full time and even taking regular business trips abroad. They were under a great deal of pressure from their bosses to get the Band 7 score. This student was very, very nervous, particularly about their speaking. Their reading and listening skills were reasonable, but their writing needed work and when it came to doing speaking practice, they simply fell apart because they were so anxious and afraid of making a mistake. They worked incredibly hard, possibly exhausting themselves in the process, but despite my efforts in helping them develop a more positive mindset, they were resistant to this and were therefore unable to overcome their fears. We could say that this student had a strong Outer Path in that they were studying, but they had not backed it up with work on their Inner Path to develop their mental strength and healthy beliefs (and maybe the courage to tell their boss that they needed more time to prepare!). The stressed-out CPE candidate I once worked with a lovely Swiss student who was in a similar situation. This student was a high-school teacher and in Switzerland, high-school teachers must pass CPE. This student had already taken the exam three times. Each time, they had failed. They were literally running out of time as they had a deadline by which time they had to have passed CPE or they would lose their job! And as if that wasn't enough, they also had three small children at home! This student was extremely stressed-out when we first met. They did not need to score highly in CPE, nor did they care what score they got, they simply needed to get a pass. Fortunately, their language was just about high enough for them to achieve this and we got to work. We did work on the Outer Path; I encouraged the student to read extensively and to build up a lot of vocabulary notes. We worked on specific exam strategies to help them with each part of the exam. We worked on writing and speaking a lot too. I noticed that although this student was generally quite fluent, when we practiced an exam task, their fluency dropped significantly because they were monitoring themselves for mistakes rather than communicating their message. We did quite a bit of work around this, helping the student learn how to focus on communication. We also worked on creating some positive affirmations and visualisations as well as relaxation techniques the student could use in the exam. Guess what? The student passed CPE within 3 months of us meeting. They had worked not only on their Outer Path, but also the Inner Path. Working on the Inner Path in any endeavour is not easy. We are not taught to do this at school, or at university. If we are lucky, we will have a boss who understands the importance of a healthy mindset. For most of us, however, we have to take the necessary action to develop a healthy Inner Path through our own volition and investigation. This might mean reading books or watching talks about beliefs and mindset, working with a coach, changing our social circle, meditation….. the list is endless. What I can say for sure is that without working on our Inner Path, our Outer Path won't be as strong as it could be and we may not end up with the results that we really want.

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