Feel inferior? Yeah, I do too sometimes. While it’s totally natural to feel inferior to others sometimes, it can really feel like fat crap. What should you do about these feelings? Should you give up? Hate the person you feel inferior to? In this post I share my personal experience with feeling inferior to other language speakers (not native speakers of my target language) and real practical advice about what to do and how to deal with these feelings.
When it was time for my evaluation at my summer language intensive at PIB. Only a day after arriving (they did not mess around at this program), I found myself in front of the evaluators jet lagged, tired, hungry and incapable to forming words. Twiddling with my thumbs instead of producing sentences because I was unable to control my nervousness. There was a panel of roughly seven teachers staring at me blankly from across a round table with me at the end facing them directly. It felt like I was on trial or worse, my entire worth being judged like meat at an auction. I ended placing with the 2nd years, which is the lowest level they offered and I felt crushed at first, but I didn’t let it get to me.
Then I met the others. There were a myriad of other students at this program from Princeton, Yale, U Chicago, etc and there I was a Brandeis student from Virginia shell shocked. After we signed our ‘no English’ pledge, all the friends I made in English became strangers. They were higher level and I couldn’t understand them most of the time. I was so scared and upset. When I finally found my level of students, 2nd year students, I was relieved but only for a moment. There were particular students that were out performing me in so many levels even though we were both 2nd years! I would trail behind them in listening comprehension and my vocabulary fell short of theirs in every conversation. I felt so defeated. I felt so inferior to them.
I would stay up late nights studying so hard that sometimes I woke up with headaches. Even then I would only make small strides towards my rival’s level. I let my emotions get the best of me and I cried almost all night. I loved what I was doing. I loved studying Chinese and I loved being in China. It just hurt really badly knowing that I wasn’t half as good as some of the students in my level.
My Advice to You
You may be feeling the same way I did, or maybe your feelings aren’t quite as intense. Whether your feeling totally dejected or just a little bit envious, these are all feelings that are detrimental to your language studies and to your overall health. So my advice to you?
Take a deep breath.
You’re learning a new language. There will always been someone better than you.
Take a deep breath and accept that you are learning and during this process you will inevitably encounter other learners further along in their journey. They are not better than you nor you better than them. They are just further along
Realize that the goal isn’t to be better than everyone else
- Language learning isn’t a competition. There’s no need to strive to be better or learn faster than others
- The goal is to improve yourself based on yourself. In otherwords, strive to do better than your past self not someone else’s present self.
- You need to make sure you are going at a pace, retaining material and perfecting your pronunciation at your own rate so that you do the best YOU can do. Not the best you can do compared to everyone else
It Doesn’t Matter in The End
- Who cares if someone is doing better than you!
- When you get in front of a native speaker and practice talking, all they will see and hear is you.
- They probably won’t think, ‘Gosh, she/he is good at X language but that other guy I talked to was awesome!”
- Most native speakers respect that you are trying and are giving it your best shot. They know you’ll get better.
- This is a hard one, but if you are genuinely making mistakes and another learner pointed it out, you must admit that you made a mistake and fix it
- Don’t let your ego get too big that you become angry at other learners for pointing out mistakes and become jealous of their progress. Use it as a learning opportunity
Ask For Help
- This is a SUPER hard one because you have to humble yourself to the point where you ask the better speakers (not native) for help.
- If there is something you’re struggling with, ask them for advice and tips for coping. You may be pleasantly surprised by their responses and find some life changing tips.
This is what helped me push further along in my Chinese language studies. I had to swallow my pride and go ask my classmates for help. I asked how they were studying differently and how they kept outperforming everyone and their answers were amazing!
These students were not using the basic flashcard approach I was. They were using images, videos, audio and even physical objects to help them remember vocabulary and grammar. For conversation, they were wiping their mind of English and learning to go from idea/concept to target language. In other words, they’d learned to THINK in the other language. We got tea together at a cafe and I took vigorous notes.
Think of language learning like a long walk. Someone will always be just a little bit a head of you, but don’t stop walking. Keep going. What matters most is that you are further than where you were.