Language Confidence


No worries about vocabulary or accent when you're addressing large audiences

As a native speaker of English, I speak English like a native. Since I am confident in my English ability I do not worry about when I do not understand things -- it is not due to limited English language skills. Nonetheless, I find that I do not always understand bits of English around me. When I started thinking about how much I miss, I realise quite often I do not understand or am not understood. Over the past week, I have:

  • come across terms I didn't understand (quinoa, pancetta, brogue)
  • found myself searching for terms I can't quite recall (in arrears, high fidelity, vertical integration, arm bands)
  • not been able to understand what people were saying (in a very noisy environment)
  • not been understood (although I discovered later the person was hearing impaired)

The problem is not that these issues occur. The problem is when you worry about them. I realise that if these things occurred in my target language, I would worry and believe that I needed to study more.

The solution is simply practice. When you hit words you don't know, look them up. Seek out example sentences to get a feel for how they are used. Ultimately you reach a point where you understand so much of the language you are not concerned about the times when you don't understand -- natives use dictionaries too.

No speaker knows every word in a language. Your objective is never to know 100% of the language, but to improve a little today.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Wright.