Every day you work hard, you study, you train. You follow the steps
of others, observe the way you speak, and try to make corrections.
You are on a journey, one that many before you have made to speak
English fluently. But we are all at different parts of this journey,
coming from all directions. Confidence versus competence in English
are the markers that usually distinguish us Confidence meaning how
comfortable you are with what you think is your ability and competence
meaning the level of your actual ability to speak English fluently.
Eventually you will fall into one of four categories of English
speakers, which I refer to as a confidence/competence ratios.
The low confidence & low competence speaker has a limited grasp of
English but does not draw attention to that fact or flaunt it. They
will usually shy away from conversations and seek out others that
speak their native tongue. These individuals are not actively struggling with their English because they are shaping their surroundings to match their abilities. They limit their exposure to English to protect themselves. It is like a person who cannot play football and has no interest in becoming a football player. While some may judge this person by their competence, I actually see a problem with those who impose an ability level on a person who may not be trying to learn a language. You may not realize that you too fall into the Low/Low category in the Russian language, or in Swahili, but you also may not have been pursuing achievement in that language in the first place. Therefore, you are not emotionally affected by the judgment. We should be respectful to Low/Low because they may not be
on the same journey as you.
The most dangerous ratio to the listener and the most enjoyable to the speaker. Essentially, this English speaker has the high confidence of a native-fluent English speaker without the competence or skill to match. They are very difficult to understand but never hesitate to speak. They keep on talking while leaving everyone to try and figure out what they said. As a rule of thumb for me, this is the most difficult person to train in English because they simply do not see there is an issue. They are a player on the field who thinks they are doing so well but they are actually just disrupting the game. As I said before that the Low/Low should be left alone and unchallenged, in this case it is the opposite. The High/Low needs to be challenged at every opportunity to get them to step back and acquire the skills they lack. This student should be taken back to the beginning and refreshed with the core basics without focus on confidence.
The Low/High is a person who is riddled with low confidence but actually has a high competence ability in English. Just like the football analogy, they are on the field and playing but feel their performance is lacking, even though by all accounts they are playing just like everyone else. These are the people who were successful in work or academic pursuits, but struggle with an internal gauge of the quality of their English. These individuals will usually spend a lot of time working on the skills they have (their competence) in order to see only a slight boost in their confidence. The issue is that they will typically only do what they've always done to improve – incremental or small steps. They will not take big leaps forward because they do not want to lose all they have already achieved. It is a paradox for them. Essentially they know the game but struggle within about their own performance. Many of these issues related to
confidence arise from cultural factors where the person was taught early on in their childhood to not stand out unless they had something to show or contribute. Their culture may establish, early on, the element of competence always needing to outweigh confidence. This, as a result, allowed for learning to be much more passive in nature and the person simply never got a chance to try out and test their skills to their full potential. And here they are now, with an amazing competence in English without the necessary confidence to match. For the Low/High speaker, I recommend going back to basics and redoing an accelerated English reintroduction while focusing only on confidence factors.
To have both high confidence and competence, feeling strong and fearless, while having the skill to back it up. This is when you feel
you can do anything in life. Knowing you can say everything that you understand. Speaking with fluidity without hesitation or worry. The High/High does not have to read their audience for misunderstandings of speech but rather for misunderstandings of ideas. It is the next level of performance and my ultimate goal for the English speaker, to find that daily peace in communication. No longer do you have to fear saying something with a strong accent and being concerned the other person fell into a subconscious loop, trying to figure out what you just said, while you still want to move on with your thoughts. You no longer need to stop every conversation to check to see if you are understood. The High/High does not have this problem as they can trust in their fluidity. This should be the goal for all English students – not to increase their knowledge of English or take more lessons to learn more things – but to finally use the language without restrictions or reservations.
In the game of life, we all have different skills and abilities. But when the vehicle for that game is often English, the way we navigate
(our confidence) is almost as important as the vehicle itself (competence). My advice to the English speaker at any level is to find your confidence/competence ratio of where you are today, and only then move forward. Do not keep learning if it impacts your confidence. Do not keep speaking if you are not improving your competence. Everyone from beginner to advanced must find their balance and only then they will know from where they need to restart their journey towards better and more successful English.
So who will you be?