The Power of Beginner’s Mind: Go Back to Basics to Transform How You Sound When Speaking English

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.

Because he’s studied pronunciation before, it would have been easy for him to say “I already know that” when we started working on stress patterns in words commonly used in professional settings.

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.

Your Turn

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.

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Why You Need to Use Your Words to Sound More Fluent in English

I don’t have kids yet, but when I spend time with my friends who do, I pay close attention to how they are raising their children.

After all, parenting is a skill that takes practice, so I figure I better start storing up the information for when I need it. 😉

A few weeks ago, I hung out with one of my oldest friends and her four children. I was shocked by how articulate her kids are – her four-year-old daughter is more polite than most adults I know. Seriously.

One thing I’ve noticed is that she always encourages her kids to use their words rather than cry (or worse, scream). Her twins are just learning to talk, so they need to be encouraged to express themselves verbally.

In American culture, we use the expression “use your words” as gentle encouragement for toddlers who are learning to speak, but this advice is extremely useful for adult English learners too.

After all, one of the biggest frustrations for non-native speakers is that they don’t have the vocabulary to express the precise ideas they’re so comfortable speaking about in their first language.

But here’s the thing: you can’t let not having a word stop you from speaking.

You need to find another way to express the idea, describe what you mean, or otherwise encourage your listener to supply the word for you.

I credit using my words with achieving fluency in Spanish – I never pulled out my dictionary, I just used the words I *did* know to express the idea.

Without fail, someone would provide me with the word I was missing or share a more appropriate synonym.

Not only did I keep the conversation flowing, but I also naturally learned new vocabulary. Win-win.

Remember, even native speakers forget words from time to time. (Ryan and I discussed this during our conversation about culture and mindset for next level English.)

Challenge yourself to use your words without opening up Google Translate, and your brain will start creating new pathways to help you express these concepts.

That’s how kids learn to speak, and it can help you sound more fluent too.

Remember, the word “fluent” means “effortlessly smooth and flowing.”

Speaking fluently is about flowing with the conversation, not about completely perfect grammar or vocabulary.

You sound fluent when you are able to keep talking and keep the conversation going, even when you forget a word, aren’t sure how to explain a concept, or need to clarify or rephrase an idea.

So try it today: deciding to use your words is an important mindset shift that can help you sound more fluent immediately.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn! Did this tip help you shift your mindset about how you’re learning English? Let me know in the comments.

For more quick, practical videos, be sure to sign up for my free email course on how to sound more natural in English.

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Following Your Why on the Journey to Fluency in English – A Conversation with Sabrina from Calm English

If I asked you to tell me why you want to be fluent in English, would you be able to?

Perhaps you’re interested in having conversations in English when you travel, or you need stronger communication skills to succeed professionally or get a promotion.

Maybe you want to watch your favorite TV show or movie or learn more about a hobby where all the latest, most up-to-date information is in English.

Maybe you haven’t identified your “why” yet.

Don’t worry – deep inside you, you know the reasons you have this goal, but you just need some help uncovering your true motivation.

Lucky for you, I know someone who can help you. Join me for an in-depth conversation with Sabrina from Calm English. (Click play on the above video or read a summary of our conversation below.)

Sabrina is a fluency coach who works with learners who want and need to advance their professional English. She helps guide non-native speakers along the journey to fluency by working with them to create an effective system that combines their internal motivation with learning approaches that get them results.

The Journey to Fluency

In this conversation, we discuss the truth about fluency.

Fluency is a lifelong process; you’re always going to be working towards it, or maintaining it, or aspiring to it. There is no end to this journey.

We discuss our own personal journeys to fluency and how fluency shifts and changes over time. You may actually temporarily “lose” your fluency when you’re not immersed in the language or not following your system, rituals, and routines that keep your language skills active and growing.

But don’t despair – your fluency will return to you as your life circumstances change and as you discover different reasons that you need to be fluent.

The Secret of Fluency

Despite what you might read, the only secret to achieving fluency is the one you discover for yourself.

Once you identify the primary thing that motivates you, you’ll be able to create the system and identify the path ahead of you.

But just like our life’s journey, the path to fluency will change and shift.

When I first worked towards fluency in Spanish, I wanted to have fascinating conversations with other people and make friends. I knew I’d achieved fluency when I was able to tell stories and make other people laugh. This was enough for many years.

But then I moved to Chile and realized I needed to learn how to use Spanish in professional environments. It was fascinating to discover that I still had room for growth.

Following Your Why and Finding Focus

In order to achieve fluency, Sabrina suggests focusing on fluency in a specific field of work or study so that you can interact with a specific type of person. By concentrating your attention on your highest priority needs, you will improve more quickly.

In the end, you end up improving your overall English by focusing on one aspect.

This is why you need to identify the deeper why – why are you learning English, right now, at this moment, for this month?

As Sabrina explains, what’s fun is not always what’s going to help you achieve your goals. As a coach, she encourages people to go to that harder, more uncomfortable place.

This is where the growth will come from. This is what will get you from where you are now to where you want to be.

Remember:  We sometimes feel resistance to learning the things that we most need. Staying focused on your why will keep you moving forward.

Mindfulness While Learning English

Besides guiding you towards your why on the journey to fluency, Sabrina brings the practice of mindfulness into her work.

She encourages you to notice how you feel in your body when you have to do something in English. Pay attention to how you feel before you meet in the conference room or connect on Skype, and really experience how that feeling shows up in your body. All you have to do is notice the sensations and maybe name them.

Are you nervous? Are you resisting studying?  Do you feel joy when reading or studying certain articles? Do you feel happy when listening to English podcasts while exercising? Do you feel tired because it’s early in the morning or after work?

Bring awareness to these feelings in the moment, and pay attention to what clues they give you.

When you know what learning activities bring you joy, you can add more of them into your learning routines and create systems to support them.

Although this technique may sound simple, it requires you to do actually do it.

The practice of mindfulness will empower you to discover your own joy and listen to your own inner guidance in order to stay motivated, rather than listening to what someone else told you that works.

Over time, your system for becoming and staying fluent in English will grow and change. You’ll continue to uncover what works best for you. When you notice that things seem too easy or too hard, you can adapt your system.

In the end, you are in charge of your own learning.

Small Steps Lead to Big Progress

Sabrina points out that it easy to get overwhelmed on the journey to fluency. When you want to become completely fluent, you want to learn all of the words and speak all of the English, but no one actually needs to learn all of the words.

(She talks more about this in her free guide, which you can download by clicking here.)

Instead, relax your expectations and calm the monkey mind, that part of you that is easily distracted by all the possibilities. Choose what you are going to do to improve your English right now, in the moment, for the next 30 or 90 days.

After all, it’s the small steps that you take over a long period of time that lead to the greatest success. Sabrina suggests creating a system that focuses on your central why because these small steps will move you forward along your journey, even as your needs shift.

Your fluency goal is a moving target that constantly changes, but you’ll always be able to use the skills you’ve already developed.

When your goal is important to you, then you’re absolutely headed in the right direction.

Your Turn

Journey to Fluency with Sabrina


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Now it’s your turn! Which insight from this conversation was most useful for you? Did Sabrina’s approach help you consider or uncover your why? We want to know: Why do you want to achieve fluency in English? Leave a comment below and share it with us.

Please be sure to download Sabrina’s free guide with her top tips to improve your spoken English and learn the effective fluency strategies that she teaches her students.

You can learn more about Sabrina at Calm English and subscribe to the Calm English YouTube channel.

If you liked this conversation, be sure to check out the others in this series:

And don’t forget to tell us how your why will guide you on the journey to English fluency!

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