“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” by ~Winston Churchill~
You may be wondering what trust has to do with language learning. I am here to tell you that it has everything to do with it. It is one of the qualities we talk about as being essential to great relationships. It is also one of the qualities that I would suggest is essential to being a well adjusted and happy person. I will go further and say that to be really good language learner you need to be able to trust yourself.
Needless to say, in infancy and for a few years we implicitly and completely trust ourselves and the people we are with. There is nothing else possible for us. Combined with that is the observation that in those years our learning powers are at a high.
Trusting ourselves is one of the qualities that is seldom talked about, one of the exceptions being in the instance of exceptional people. Exceptional people always talk about trusting themselves, their gut feelings and their senses.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first rule of success is “Trust Yourself”
This is what we all did when we were young. We did not ask anyone to confirm if we were learning how to walk correctly, or learning how to use our fingers or a spoon, or how to negotiate our way down the stairs, or how to make sounds and be able to make exactly the same sound every time at will, or how to combine words together so they sounded completely native like.
Some people who have not thought much about this might actually think it is the parents who teach children how to speak their first language. For anyone who understands the complexity of a language will know that parents have no inkling why we use “the” and not “a” or how we learn and make the myriad of combinations and transformations we do to create something so sophisticated as our language.
In fact for some children, their parents put little or no energy into helping them with their language and still the children learn. They learn because they are engrossed in whatever they do, see or hear. They learn because they are open to be impacted by their environment (internal and external) and they have an instinct, which continues to the day we pass, to “grow”.
Fundamentally we learn from our experiences in part because we trust ourselves, our perceptions, our deductions, our guesses, our intuitions and our abilities. We do not ask anyone else to confirm our findings or to assess our attempts. It is we who make the adjustments and changes, no one else.
We start out in a state of trust. We rely upon it. Our sense of trust in ourselves however can be undermined by what people say to us and how they treat us. What we may be doing might make sense to ourselves and be entirely reasonable for us but when that is questioned by people in “authority”, like our parents or other adults, then we may end up questioning ourselves and and end up learning to have less trust in ourselves. We in time start to doubt ourselves, despite the fact that we have learned so much purely by trusting ourselves and no one else.
We also start out trusting others. This trusting of others can work against us as may end up deciding to trust others more than ourselves. So our sense of trust in ourselves can be undermined.
One clear example of this happens when our schooling begins. Schooling impacts our understanding of trust in a systematic and profound way. One unintended consequence of the ways we are taught is to trust ourselves less and less. Instead we are taught to trust the teacher, the formulas, the examples provided, the theories. By doing so, we are lead away from the ways we learned all through our lives, of trusting ourselves and our own senses. So we give up on using our senses of knowing what is “true” and instead let others decide.
It is no wonder then that in adulthood so many people believe that learning can only happen with the aid of a teacher and courses. It is also not surprising that so many people struggle to learn languages, as we have been taught, to varying degrees, not to trust our own abilities, experiences, thoughts and hunches.
Without learning to trust ourselves again, learning a language to any reasonable level is not really possible. Learning a language is so much more than its grammar, vocabulary and sounds. There are countless nuances and variations that can only be picked by being attentive to ones interactions in using the language, not studying.
Trusting oneself also means knowing that mistakes are a natural part of learning and in fact are needed for real learning to happen. Without finding the boundaries, we will never know what they are. Going over a boundary can be seen as a mistake or can be seen as a strategy of a competent learner to find the limits. Learners that trust themselves intuitively know the place of mistakes in learning.
Trusting oneself is linked of course to the view we have of ourselves, who we are and how comfortable we are with who we are. If one has stresses here, clearly there is no simple answer that can be provided here. However being aware of how a lack of trust in ourself can negatively impact our language learning is an important step towards making improvements.