Not being vulnerable is probably the reason why most learners are not making as much progress in their English as they could be. But first what is ‘vulnerability’ and what can we all do about it?
American writer Mark Manson says:
“Vulnerability is when you consciously choose to NOT hide your emotions or desires from others…Vulnerability is not a conversational tool or technique, it’s a mindset. It’s your relationship and comfort with your own emotions. ”
For me, vulnerability is being who you really are, your true and honest self. Revealing to the world who you are and that you are comfortable with that.
What has this got to do with learning English..?
Well, to answer that, let’s have a look at some examples Mark gives to describe vulnerability:
Making yourself vulnerable doesn’t just mean being willing to share your fears or insecurities. It can mean putting yourself in a position where you can be rejected, saying a joke that may not be funny, asserting an opinion that may offend others, joining a table of people you don’t know, telling a woman that you like her and want to date her. All of these things require you to stick your neck out on the line emotionally in some way. You’re making yourself vulnerable when you do them.
Can you see where this is going?
Mark goes on to talk about some occasions where you want to share an emotion or something about yourself, a ‘vulnerable’ person will go ahead and do this:
- If you’re on a date and a girl complains about how her mother irritates her, and asks you if you ever get frustrated with your family relationships, then not being afraid to share those and connect with her about that.
- If you feel disrespected by someone, not being afraid to tell them and stand up for yourself.
- If you approach a woman, not looking for a cheesy line to cover up your intentions or not lying about who you are to impress her.
- If you want to travel or attend something and no one else wants to go with you, still going anyway.
Studying English v. living English
Over the years, while I’ve been teaching at language centres and institutions, I’ve often asked students if they have any relationships or friendships in English. Or if they use the language at all outside of our once or twice weekly lessons. The answer? Very few students said ‘yes’.
So this means that for many students at schools in Prague or Brno, their only real exposure to the language is during our lessons.
My question to you is that if you are in a similar position, why is this? Why would you ‘go through the levels’, from beginner to advanced, and not make real connections with people from other countries in the language you are learning?
The answer could be that it’s not that important to you. It could be that you’re happy going from level to level and being fine with it taking one or two years for you to reach the next step, depending on how many lessons you have and how much homework you do.
Or it could be fear.
It takes vulnerability to go to an English event in Prague, Brno or wherever you are based, and go there to meet people in a foreign language.
Like Mark Manson said above, vulnerability means sticking your neck out – taking risks and putting yourself on the line.
It also means sharing ideas, thoughts and opinions – something that many Czechs are hesitant to do with people they’ve just met.
In big cities like Prague and Brno, there are events in English pretty much every day. There are parties, business seminars, presentations, and events, and Facebook get-togethers all in English.
So why don’t you go?
Some say: “I’m too lazy to go out and meet people in English.”
But the real reason for not using English as part of your life is deeper than that. It’s about being vulnerable. I’m willing to bet that those who make the most progress are those who are ok with themselves and who don’t care about the mistakes they’re making.
So again if this is you, what can you do to improve things? Would you agree there is some fear there? As the famous book title says, feel the fear and do it anyway!
Finally, the issue of vulnerability also poses the question:
Should English teachers make a shift from teaching language to teaching how to connect and how to be authentic with others?