186: Fake it 'til you make it!

Are you uncomfortable speaking really well?


Hi, and welcome to out 186th podcast. Today's episode is going to be different from every podcast I've ever done before. Today I'm not going to teach a physical skill. I'm not going to talk about the vocal tract or listening skills or ways to practice pronunciation. Instead, I'm going to touch on an emotional aspect that comes when working on changing the way you speak, and that's the natural feeling of vulnerability.

The cause of the feeling of vulnerability that I'm going to talk about is very different than the fear of making a grammar mistake or of embarrassing yourself by using the wrong word at the wrong time. This is the vulnerability that accompanies feeling fake, or feeling like you're acting or pretending when you change your pronunciation.

I can't even count the number of times I've heard a student struggle with a pronunciation skill, and then finally, like magic say something absolutely perfectly. Then, just as I congratulate him or her on how great it sounded, that person replies that it felt or sounded "weird." It didn't really sound like it was he or she who spoke. To that person, it sounded like they were acting like something they're not. The person felt like he or she was "pretending" to be a native English speaker, and somehow that made the speech sound less authentic or less genuine.

It's interesting that this happens so often. Let me tell you a few things about this. First, sorry, but native speakers usually don't notice when something was said really nicely, really clearly, or more like a native speaker. It's a little unfortunate--and maybe even unfair--because so much of the hard work of the student does, goes unnoticed until something was said in a way that causes confusion again. Changes in pronunciation happen slowly over time. Like trying to watch a baby grow, the daily changes are small. It's not until you look back that the change can be seen or heard. Of course, unless you record yourself, it's hard to look back at speech.

Second, and I tell all of my students this, if you want to sound more like a native speaker and have fewer miscommunications, you just have to get over that feeling of being fake. Let it go. You have to become comfortable "acting" like a native speaker. Don't worry, it's really, really difficult to lose so much accent that speakers will think you are actually native speaker of English. Instead, they'll know that you're a non-native speaker who is easy to understand, easy to listen to, and easy to have a conversation with. That's the ultimate goal and the best prize in the journey of learning a language.

I've been working with a lot of students on linking lately, and a lot of our upcoming podcasts will be on this topic. For some reason, it's when practicing linking that people seem to feel the most vulnerable. It's no coincidence, then, that it's during linking practice that a lot of people have such an increase in how fluent they sound. Linking seems to be the magic that brings a lot of different skills together all at the same time.

So, once we get into this beautiful linking practice, don't fear sounding fake. Understand that what you're feeling is normal and that many, many other people feel that way. Also understand that the fear of pretending will hold you back. Let it go. There's a saying in English, "Fake it 'til you make it." It's about any skill, especially a life skill. If you want to be more generous, pretend that you're comfortable giving things away. If you want to be less shy, pretend to be outgoing. Pretend to do it until it doesn't feel like pretending anymore. At that point, you've made it.

So fake it 'til you make it.

I'm interested to hear what you have to say about this topic, so I'm going to post to our Facebook page and Twitter feed. I hope you'll let me know your experience with feeling like a fake and with pretending to be comfortable even when you aren't. Do you have a saying like "Fake it 'til you make it" in your language. Go to Facebook.com/englishassembly or follow @pronuncian on Twitter and join the conversation. I'm genuinely curious what you've got to say.

Thanks for listening to this Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.