Being a beginner can be intimidating.
When I took my very first classes to learn what are now my favorite activities – yoga, salsa dancing, and photography – I made sure to enroll in programs that were very clearly labeled for beginners.
In fact, they were for absolute beginners – people who had zero previous experience.
(To be honest, I was frustrated when I realized that some of my classmates were *not* complete beginners because they were already better than the rest of us. I mean, better than me.)
I didn’t appreciate being a beginner then. But I do now.
When it comes to learning another language, we often can’t wait to move beyond the beginner level.
Finally graduating into pre-intermediate is such a relief. We feel like we’re getting somewhere. That elusive goal of one day speaking fluently seems possible!
But then something happens as you become a more advanced English learner – you start feeling like an expert.
I can’t tell you the number of times a student has said, “I know that already” when I’m explaining a nuance of the language that he or she didn’t quite use correctly.
(Full disclosure: I’ve said it too. I’m not always receptive when people try to help me with my Spanish.)
Here’s the problem with being an expert: When you think you already know something, your mind is closed to going further and deepening your understanding.
That’s why I want to encourage you to embrace beginner’s mind.
What is Beginner’s Mind?
In Buddhism, beginner’s mind is when you study a subject with an open mind.
Beginner’s mind happens when you approach learning with an attitude of curiosity, eagerness, and possibility.
When you learn with beginner’s mind, you start noticing things you didn’t see before.
You bring a fun, childlike attitude to experimenting with new skills.
You are willing to examine what you know, and what you don’t know.
You gain new insights because you’re open to growth.
Going Back to Basics
Going back to basics can transform how you sound when speaking English.
I recently started working with a new client who is a college professor. Even after 20 years living and working in Canada, he knows that he still needs to reduce his accent in order to improve the clarity of his speech.
Instead, he told me he was ready to go all the way back to the beginning in order to identify and eliminate those bad habits his mouth had picked up over the years.
Each week, he says something like “I’ve never noticed that before” when I point out how a default mouth position is keeping him from sounding natural.
This curiosity is enabling him to transform bad habits into good ones and he is already starting to sound more like a native English speaker.
(If you’d like to sound more natural when speaking English, be sure to sign up for my free five-day email course. Just enter your email below.)
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Identifying Gaps or Holes in Your Vocabulary
Beyond pronunciation, beginner’s mind can transform how you speak about familiar concepts.
I want to encourage you to go back to basics and start examining your everyday habits and routines.
Can you talk through the process of making tea, cooking your favorite meal, or your exercise routine? Are you able to describe how you want your hair cut and styled, or the way you commute to work?
Chances are that you need to revisit how you describe these activities, because we don’t usually talk about them, we just do them. (Even fluent non-native English speakers struggle to talk about these activities!)
For example, when you go to the doctor or massage therapist and you try to explain how you got an injury, it’s often very difficult to describe the process of what you were doing when you were exercising. Like I said, we often don’t talk about these actions, we just do these things.
You don’t actually need to know the precise word for the action, you just need to be able to describe it in order to tell the person what it is that you need them to know or do.
(I call this learning to use your words, and it’s a big step towards sounding more fluent in English.)
Challenge yourself to learn the new vocabulary for these processes without referring to Google Translate, and you’ll notice that your brain will start opening up new pathways to help you articulate these concepts.
This technique can also help you identify any knowledge gaps in your professional and academic vocabulary.
Sometimes when we admit what we don’t know, we end up learning a whole lot more.
Now it’s your turn! Leave a comment below telling me what topic or subject you’re going to approach with beginner’s mind.
If you’re interested in bringing beginner’s mind to reducing your accent and improving your pronunciation, you can sign up for the free email course: Sound more natural in English in just five days!
A few small changes will make a world of difference in how you sound when speaking English.