It seems so strange on the surface. Of course you want to get better at English, especially after you’ve paid for your lessons this term. Yet a few people avoid or delay coming to class – and may not even be aware of how they’re ‘avoiding’ English.
“I’m really sorry, I haven’t had much time to prepare for today’s lesson,” Jitka says apologetically as she walks in the door. I’ve never been quite sure if Czech students really mean to use the word ‘prepare’ when referring to their English lessons, or whether it’s a mistranslation. In any case, whenever a student hasn’t done the homework, they’ve said this.
Jitka* has been learning English for quite a few years now. She really wants to learn and speak much better, but there are a few things which are stopping her from achieving her potential. The first thing is that at school she was told that mistakes were bad, and as she didn’t really get much practice at developing her communication skills, she was quite shy and not as confident as she could be at speaking English.
Added to this, she is a perfectionist. Her schooling probably didn’t help her in this matter – making mistakes are a natural and positive part of the learning process, but her teachers didn’t tell her this. On the contrary her marks for English at school and university were sometimes given out on the basis of how many mistakes she made. Last year she got a ‘C’ on an English exam because she made 3 mistakes, even though her essay was very well organised and she answered the question well. Her best friend, who didn’t write as well, still got a ‘B’ as she only made 2 mistakes.
Fast-forward to today. Sometimes Jitka gets nervous before class because she doesn’t want to make ‘simple mistakes’ in front of the others or the teacher, especially if everyone else has done the homework and she feels like she’s falling behind the others.
It’s a bit like top athletes before a major championship or when you have an important meeting at work. Some people are anxious about performing and being vulnerable in front of others.
When it comes to Jitka, if the anxiety is too much, on occasion she may come later in the lesson (hopefully after the homework has been corrected) or she may even cancel the lesson if it’s a one-to-one class or simply not attend if it’s a group lesson.
“I’ll come next week after I’ve done all the homework. I’ll feel better then,” she reassures herself.
But avoiding things is not the answer, and deep down she knows it.
Some learners who miss class are simply busy and have too much to do. Sometimes I wonder if English really is a priority for them. In Jitka’s case, it’s more complicated because the same action of ‘avoiding’ English is due to a completely different reason.
What to do next
Do you relate a little to Jitka’s story? Here’s some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you get nervous before your English class? If so, why do you think this is?
- Do you sometimes come late to class or miss a lesson because you are feeling nervous?
- Is English a priority for you?
- If you answered ‘yes’, what can you do to tackle this problem?
The first step is simply to be aware of this issue, and to accept that you’re not alone, that there are many others who feel the same as you. The second step is to make sure you come to class, especially when you’re feeling nervous or anxious. When you do come to class on a ‘bad day’, you’ll feel so much better about yourself!
Beyond this, if you are motivated to improve your English but occasionally avoid coming to class, you’re likely to be doing the same thing in other areas of your life. What can you do here?
Finally, become a doer, and take full responsibility of your own learning. It’s related to confidence, and the best way to deal with not feeling as comfortable or as confident at doing something is not to avoid it, but to embrace it – to do it again and again until you feel you CAN do it. As they say, confidence is competence.
*Jitka is a mix of a few students I’ve met
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