12 Ways to be a Mediocre and Unsuccessful English Learner

boring vs fun EnglishAlthough this title might be contradictory to what we usually teach at RealLife, you’ll find that you are probably committing (or have committed in the past) many of the things in this list.

The following are many of the errors, excuses, and fallacies that we’ve noticed almost every English learner makes.

To help you NOT make any of the following 12 mistakes in the future, I will also show you what the Extraordinary English Learner does (that guy or girl you meet who blows you away [really surprises you] with his or her English!).

So, without further ado here we’ve compiled a list of 12 ways to be just an average English learner (inspired by Chris Guillebeau’s “How to be Unremarkably Average”):

1. Remember your mantra: I don’t have time!

One of the biggest excuses of the Average English Learner is that he doesn’t have time to study English every day.

Almost everyone has a full plate [a lot to do]. But I won’t believe anyone who says that they don’t have any time to practice their English. It is probable, however, that they’re not making it a priority.

You’d be surprised by the huge amount of simple ways that you can integrate English into your life, without taking any extra time to study!

So if, you’re still not able to make learning English a priority, then you’re bound to remain average.

2. Let your fear of speaking stop you from trying

Here’s a common question:

How do I overcome my fear of speaking English?

By speaking!!!

If you want to get better at anything (not just English), then you have to do it. If you challenge yourself to try to speak a little bit (even if you only know basic English), you’ll realize that people are interested in what you have to say and they want to help you speak.

There really is no reason to be scared. So, if you don’t want to remain an average English learner, open your mouth!

3. Don’t EVER open your mouth until you can speak without any mistakes

shut upThe Average English Learner continually tells himself that if he just learns a little more, then he can start speaking.

It’s a misconception that you need to know all of the grammar rules and structures before you can be conversational. In fact, at the RealLife Fluency Center, we recommend that our students speak from the first day that they begin learning.

One of the reasons that people fear speaking is that we are all trained from a young age that making mistakes is bad, rather than a positive part of the learning process. The more mistakes that you make, the faster you can learn to correct them and speak better! So we challenge you to make A LOT of mistakes.

The Average Language Learner is ashamed that he doesn’t speak perfectly, instead of being proud of what he already knows, and willing to practice. Learning a language is a really difficult process. So remind yourself to be proud of what you are already capable of, and don’t compare yourself to other learners.

Another similar belief of the Average Language Learner is that he shouldn’t watch or listen to anything until he can understand 100% of it. You can watch almost all of your TV in English with subtitles in your native language; you’ll understand everything and practice listening (even if it’s not active listening).

Likewise, the Extraordinary English Learner listens to the radio in English or podcasts while he is working. Even if he doesn’t understand, he realizes that he’s training his ear to the unique rhythm and sounds of the language, and it doesn’t take any extra time!

Learn How to Speak English Without Mistakes

4. Believe that you can pay someone to make you fluent in several months

The average English learner goes to class two or three times per a week expecting to get fluent, and when he hasn’t improved after a few months he blames his teacher because he hasn’t learned anything. The real problem is that he doesn’t practice at all outside of his classes.

The teacher assigns homework and he doesn’t take it seriously. He does a half-assed job on it, or doesn’t do it at all. And of course when asked why, he comes back to his mantra of, “I don’t have time.”

I’m not saying that paying a teacher is bad. A teacher can be exactly what you need to take your English to the next level. And it doesn’t have to be a native speaking teacher, no, this is a misconception of the Average English Learner!

When I first went to Brazil one of my best Portuguese teachers was fellow RealLife Guy, Justin, who knew exactly the process I was going through and the struggles I was having (we both learned Spanish before Portuguese). He was able to give me resources that helped him and tons of tips that he wished he had known when he started learning Portuguese! There is no way a Brazilian could understand the struggle of learning Portuguese in the same way. So remember, if you want to be extraordinary don’t deny the help of other English learners!

You can’t completely depend on a teacher to help you improve. If you want to be better than the Average English Learner, then you need to spend time outside of class every day doing something to improve your English, even if it’s just for five minutes (for example, you can study vocabulary on Anki or listen to a podcast).

The Average English Learner treats English like a school subject. But this is one of the biggest problems of traditional education. You can’t treat English like math or science. You need to treat it like an art–something that you are creative with, you have fun with, and you use to express yourself. It’s a language, a form of communication.

If you want to be extraordinary, it’s not enough to just learn formal English, although it is important. You need to learn how we REALLY speak English in the United States, the UK or wherever you want to go. There are situations where you’ll need to know strictly formal English, but many more where speaking like this can make you sound robotic and even uncomfortable around other people.

There are so many ways to make English fun if you just unleash your creativity. The Average English Learner thinks of English as something to study. The Extraordinary English Learner doesn’t even need to think about studying; he makes English an entertaining part of his life.

5. Always compare yourself to other English speakers

The Average English Learner loves to make excuses about not having the ability to learn–he believes he’s just not good at language learning and he affirms this belief by comparing himself to other learners who are better at English than he is.

True, for some people learning a language is naturally easier, but everyone has the potential to learn.

Comparing yourself to others is just another excuse. It’s resistance to the hard work that anyone who wants to learn a language will have. Learning a language isn’t supposed to be easy, and it’s something you’ll be improving your entire life. I still find myself learning new things about English–nobody is perfect!

6. Always apologize to people for your poor English

sorryWhen the Average English Learner finally gets the opportunity to speak, he always starts out by apologizing for his poor level.

If you want to be an Extraordinary English Learner, then you need to come from a place of confidence with your English. The Extraordinary Learner fakes it until he makes it! That is, he pretends to be competent in English until he actually becomes competent.

Apologizing right off the bat [immediately] only gives people the initial idea that your English is bad before they’ve even had the opportunity to assess it for themselves.

Trust me, it’s better that you speak English confidently and make a million mistakes than if you speak perfectly but sound unsure of yourself, shy, or scared. People will feel much more comfortable if you are able to communicate openly.

Try this, instead of apologizing for your poor level say something like, “I’m speak a little English, but I’m always improving.”

And don’t worry about the mistakes. You can fix them later.

7. Take it personally when people don’t understand you

When people don’t understand the Average English Learner, he shuts down. It totally ruins his confidence in his ability to speak. And he probably won’t use this as an opportunity to try harder to be understood (by, for example, explaining in a different way).

He’ll take it personally and his fear for speaking will strengthen. Remember, when you don’t face your fears, they only get worse.

8. Tell yourself that you must just be bad at learning languages

The Average English Learner believes that if it’s not easy or if he hasn’t been successful in the past, then he must just be bad at learning languages.

Excuses like this hurt no one else but you. And it’s just not true!

Like learning anything, learning a language is DIFFICULT. Do you think that after a few months of learning football, you’ll be as good as Messi? No?

Then why do people think that they can speak excellent English in 18 months or less?

The Average English Learner is always looking to the past instead of to the future. He judges his current ability to learn on his success (or failure) in the past. If he got bad grades in school, then he thinks it’s because he’s not a good learner. He has a fixed mindset.

On the contrary, he thinks that passing some “official exam” will show that he’s truly fluent. But these types of exams would be difficult even for a native speaker. They actually don’t show that you speak the real life English of daily life, which is crucial for true fluency.

Whether you had problems in school or you’ve had success on English exams and don’t know why you can’t speak well, you probably have just have been learning English the wrong way. We all learn differently, and this includes languages.

So don’t judge your current capabilities on your success or failure in school. In real life, it’s often the case that the best classroom students are horrible learners, while the worst classroom students are the best learners once they discover the right way.

The Average English Learner adores the excuse that it’s hard because he’s an adult. But nowadays even scientist are confirming that this isn’t true!. There are dozens of reasons why you are much better at learning a language now than when you were a child. Check out this great article to learn why.

The Average English Learner also makes the excuse to not speak because he is shy, and that it’s just a part of his personality that he can’t change.

Learning a language is the perfect opportunity for you to overcome the embarrassment that you’ve always had of meeting new people!

I used to be very shy, but learning languages has helped me become more extroverted because that’s the only way to improve. By facing my fear (like with anything) I’ve overcome it!

9. Think that you have to live in an English speaking country to become fluent

expensive travelIf I had a dollar for every person who told me that they can’t learn English and they need to go live in an English speaking country, I’d probably be able to live in different countries every year for the rest of my life and get fluent in 20 languages.

Alright, I’m exaggerating, but it’s a total misconception that A) you can’t get fluent in a foreign language while living in your home country, and that B) you are guaranteed to get fluent if you live abroad for six months or more.

I’ve met a lot of people who speak English phenomenally without ever having left their home country and an equal number of people who have studied abroad without improving their English (or other languages) much at all.

In case A, a lot of people just surround themselves with the language they’re learning by watching TV and movies in that language, reading books, making friends who speak it (natively or not). I’m impressed by how much fluency people can develop by doing this without ever traveling.

In case B, I’ve met a lot of people who have studied or lived abroad with the intention of becoming fluent in English, but they end up spending all of their time with people that speak their native language instead of immersing themselves in the local life and culture.

So if you want to be better than the Average English Learner, don’t wait until you might have the opportunity to live abroad to immerse yourself in English. Do it NOW!

10. Learn English just because you need it for a job

The Average English Learner probably doesn’t want to learn English. He thinks he needs to.

The problem is that necessity isn’t a good motivator, and it certainly doesn’t make learning fun.

What does make it fun?

The extraordinary learner knows that to learn best he needs to find things that motivate HIM personally to learn English. This might include immersing himself in the culture (cooking traditional food, listening to music), making friends from that country, and Lifestyle English (doing what he already loves to do, but in English).

For example, when learning French, I got completely obsessed with everything French: I cooked French food, learned about French wine, listened to French music, made French friends, and read the French news and le Petit Prince. Creating this type of environment made learning the language seem easy (even though when I started learning I was living in Brazil and the United States).

My French is far from perfect, but I sure learned a lot in a short amount of time without living in France and without needing to learn it!

11. Love English music, but never learn the lyrics

Something that is frustrating for me in other countries that I’ve lived in is how difficult it is to find music that I like in the local language.

Why? Because almost everywhere you go people listen to a ton of English music! But hardly anyone understands what the music is about. They love the songs, but they don’t make any effort to know what it’s about (and some of it is really awful!)

The Extraordinary English Learner doesn’t just try to understand the English music he listens to; he applies it to the English that he uses in his everyday life.

The Average English Learner is doomed just to hum the sounds.

12. Believe all the stereotypes you’ve heard, and judge everyone you meet by them

mediocreThis last point goes beyond the language itself.

The thing about learning English is that it can make you a World Citizen. English doesn’t just allow you to speak to people from English speaking countries; it allows you to speak to the world!

If you know English, even at a low level, you can speak to people from practically any country.

The Average Language Learner says that Americans are arrogant, Spaniards are lazy, Germans are cold, and that all Brazilians live in the rainforest.

The Extraordinary Language Learner has met people from all over the world by traveling or online, so he knows that the stereotypes are rarely true.

Are you Ordinary or Extraordinary?

Congratulations if you’ve never committed any of the things in this list… but it’s unlikely that many of us can say that. It’s a process, and these are things all of us need to keep reminding ourselves to work on.

Don’t be average, make English a part of your life with our FREE Mini-Course

However, with your help, we want to make more Average English Learners into Extraordinary English Learners! Sign up for the RealLife Email list so you can stay up to date with everything we’re doing to revolutionize the way people learn English, and get a free slang E-book!

Also, let us know what you think. Which of these 12 fallacies have your committed the most? COMMENT below.

Like this? Then you need to read this:

35 Comments

  1. inaki herrera on December 2, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I´ve all my life committed the 12 ways

    • Ethan on December 3, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      Hopefully this article will help you change that!

  2. Sei Savitri on December 3, 2013 at 2:34 am

    very well, i would never follow this way!

  3. Wallace on December 3, 2013 at 9:41 am

    The truth hurts sometimes when someone read this article and just realized u almost described his/her life in this topic i wanna give special thanks for this amazing job that you guys have been doing the truth hurts but if you work on the mistakes you’ll probably bounce back and to be a better learn in the future if you don’t follow these 12 ways up here how to be a mediocre learner
    just remember guys NO PAIN NO GAIN!!

    Thanks a lot

    • Ethan on December 3, 2013 at 9:48 am

      Wow Wallace, what an AMAZING comment!! Thanks so much for your feedback, and I wish you the best of luck. We all struggle with these things–that’s how I came up with this list. They are all things I’ve done or that I see my students doing. I’m sure you’ll do fantastically with whichever languages you’re learning.

  4. Ethan Zinho on December 3, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    That's AWESOME Sei 🙂

  5. Pedro Supertramp on December 5, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Way to go, Ethan.. Sarcasm is priceless!

  6. Julia Bay on December 6, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    thanks for sharing:)

  7. Bdoor on December 9, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    I am student in the English Department in Saudi Arabia.
    I have problem with speaking , sometimes I feel shy . another thing our sociaty is not bilingual community, so I do not speak Englis too much just in the universty and if I go to the hospital I use it but not too much . I want to speak English . also I want to speak with native speaker . Can any one help me?
    Thank you

  8. Mirian Regina Workout on December 11, 2013 at 12:19 am

    need to tell all this to my students!! Gosh I was an extraordinary student myself!!! Just having fun learning English spending about 20 hours a week!!

  9. Merci Flight on December 17, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    ????????

  10. Tiago Shizuo Torii on December 21, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    So good

  11. coccinella on February 6, 2014 at 9:29 am

    What about grown people who know grammar but are not fluent?

  12. Alberto Serafin Contreras Cabrera on March 15, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Very good! Congratulations …

  13. Jill Lin on March 20, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Very good tips for learning English.

  14. adriana on May 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Great article Ethan!

    • Real Life English on May 20, 2014 at 4:17 am

      Thanks Adriana!!

  15. Maria on January 6, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Really it is very good 12 Mandras I am going to follow up here after.

    • Ethan on February 26, 2015 at 3:51 pm

      🙂

  16. Shortcuts ForEnglish on February 5, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    i heard it then i forget it, i watched it then i understand it but i did it and finally i learn it!!!

  17. […] you can see, even native English speakers don’t always speak English correctly, and commonly make grammatical […]

  18. […] on the other main areas of English, too. It’s important to master all of these in order to be an exceptional English learner. Check those out […]

  19. […] right, “I don’t have time” is no longer an excuse. You just need to know where to find the time to learn English, and how […]

  20. Josh on July 15, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    I can’t believe this is the first time I’m reading this.

    You did an amazing job of describing the mindset of weak language learners.

    #12 is an especially dangerous one to watch out for.

    • Ethan on August 7, 2015 at 10:15 am

      Thanks so much Josh! Means a lot coming from you 🙂

  21. hiwa baban on July 16, 2015 at 6:16 am

    This articlue is one of a kind. I would love to share it with my students.

    • Ethan on August 7, 2015 at 10:15 am

      Please do! I hope it’ll help them, aww yeah! 🙂

  22. Frank CHEN on July 26, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    Exceptional opinions!

  23. Nao on October 30, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    I read many articles to improve my English. This article is the best! I didn’t realize that I went a wrong way to learn. I’ve been studying English 4 years and I moved in USA 7 months ago, but my English improves very slowly and I ashemed of myself. The article helps me a lot. Thank you!

    • Ethan on August 2, 2016 at 5:39 pm

      Hey Nao, sorry for the late response, but I really loved this comment! I’m so glad to hear that this article was helpful for you 😀

  24. […] You’re not a bad language learner, you’ve just been learning in a way that isn’t right for […]

  25. Mohammad Haydar on September 4, 2016 at 10:42 am

    That’s all I needed thanx for the advice.

  26. chellini chellini on September 5, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Its a very long article on the contrary it includes in very effective and beneficial tips to improve your english or to get reach your english level to next level. Thank you so much for this article.

    • Ethan on September 5, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      Thanks for your feedback, Chellini. I really appreciate it! I’m so glad that the information was helpful.

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