My first contact with positive self-affirmations was with the fictional character Stuart Smalley, created by American comedian Al Franken. This fictional unlicensed therapist would look at himself in the mirror with a strangely gleeful smile and say, I’m good enough; I’m smart enough and, doggon’ it, PEOPLE LIKE ME! Needless to say, my perception of self affirmations was not very good. Later on I read Awaken the Giant Within, written by self-motivationalist Tony Robbins who taught that self-affirmations are good but only if you have a plan to achieve whatever it is you are affirming. You can tell yourself that you are handsome all you want but buying some new clothes, losing 10 pounds (or gaining 10 pounds as the case may be) and combing your hair every day isn’t such a bad idea either. That made sense and was more convincing. Lately I’ve had another contact with self-affirmations. Two very competent autodidactical linguists who I respect also use self-affirmations.

In this video you can see that Luca is trying very hard to explain his language learning methods in a way that will help others to be able to learn the languages that interest them. You’ll notice that one of the things he does is remind himself when he has to relearn a word or grammar principal multiple times over the course of several weeks that eventually these things will be very easy and that he will be surprised at how they ever seemed difficult. I think that this is very sound advice. I remember feeling like learning the Spanish language was like trying to drink a swimming pool full of apple juice with a spoon. I liked it and tried to get as much as I could but even after a month of drinking the pool still looked pretty full. Many foreign language students get stuck in between a basic knowledge of their target language and an intermediate knowledge. Instead of forging ahead they give up. It’s important to remember Luca’s advice: what is brutally difficult now will seem ridiculously easy in the future.

Steve the Linguist‘s method includes a full blown self affirmation for learning foreign languages. Here it is:

Have you studied Language X for many years? Are you still afraid to speak Language X? Please study this and repeat it to yourself daily.

I can be FLUENT in Language X. My goal is to be FLUENT. My goal is not to be perfect. My goal is just to be FLUENT. I can be FLUENT and still make mistakes.

FIRST I must FORGET what I learned in school. I will make a FRESH start. I will FORGET the rules of grammar. I will FORGET the quizzes and tests. I will FORGET all the times I made mistakes. I will FORGET what my teachers taught me. I will FORGET my native language. I will FORGET who I am. I am a new person. I am a Language X speaker. I will make a FRESH start. I will have FUN! I will FOCUS on things that are FUN and interesting. I will learn.

I will LEARN how to LEARN. I will LISTEN a lot. I will LET myself go. I will LISTEN and LET Language X enter my mind. I will LISTEN often. I will LISTEN every day. I will LISTEN to the same content many times. I will LISTEN to the meaning. I will LISTEN to hear the words and phrases. I will LISTEN early in the morning. I will LISTEN late at night.

I will UNDERSTAND the language. I will UNDERSTAND what I hear and read. If I UNDERSTAND what I hear and read I will be able to speak and write. UNTIL I can UNDERSTAND what I hear and read, I will not be able to speak and write well. But there is no hurry. I will work on UNDERSTANDING. I will read a lot and especially, listen a lot. I want to UNDERSTAND the meaning of Language X. I do not want to UNDERSTAND the rules of grammar.

EVERY day is a learning day. EVERY day the language is ENTERING my brain. I ENJOY reading and listening EVERY day. I study with ENERGY and ENTHUSIASM. I study interesting things and ENJOY the language. If I ENJOY the language I will improve. Let the language ENTER my mind. There is no need to push myself. I am getting better EVERY day.

I will NEVER say that I am NO GOOD. When I read and listen I will tell myself “NICE GOING”! I will learn NATURALLY and easily. I will be NICE to myself. I will NOT BE NERVOUS. If I make a mistake I will say “NEVER MIND”. If I cannot understand something I will say “NEVER MIND.” If I forget a word I will say “NEVER MIND.” If I have trouble saying what I want to say, “NO PROBLEM”. I will continue.

I will TRUST myself. I will be confident. Confident learners improve quickly. I will TREAT myself with respect. I will TELL myself that I am doing well. I just need to keep going, no matter what. The more I listen and read using THE LINGUIST, the more I will understand. The more words and phrases I save the more I will know. Soon I will be ready to speak and write well. I will take it easy. I know I will succeed. I will TRUST myself and TRUST THE LINGUIST.

The fact that two people taught themselves over seven languages using self-affirmations, among other things, seems like more than just a simple coincidence. Do you think that these attitudes or affirmations would help you to learn a language? Have any of you tried self-affirmations before? Would you consider sharing your experiences with the rest of us?


8 Responses

  1. The truth is we use affirmations all the time: “I’m never going to learn this.” “German is hard.” “If I learn a few phrases, that’ll be good enough.” If you listen to your self-talk over the course of a language learning session in which you’re struggling, you’ll find that you’re constantly programming yourself… for failure.

    Affirmations are long way round to the subconscious, but if – as Tony Robbins says – they’re realistic and you have a plan – they can be used to break up the negative self-talk and instill ideas that will spur you to productive action.

    I use affirmations and self-hypnosis when I’m in an “I’ll never learn this language mode” or when I’m not finding time to study (usually an indication that I’m in an “I’ll never learn this language so why bother” mode).

    One big key: pick small, achievable goals. An affirmation that you’ll master Chinese by Christmas won’t work. An affirmation that you are making progress in Chinese because you study every day is much better.

    As for using these things, a combination of affirmations and a few self-hypnosis sessions got me to open my mouth and speak my poor Spanish. I still don’t speak it well (I know it because I live in California, not because I dream of being a fluent Spanish speaker), but now when confronted with a Spanish speaker who’s totally hopeless in English I can help out instead of sitting there swearing I’d say something if I could just remember how to conjugate X verb in the conditional or whatever.

  2. GeoffB: You are completely correct. I never thought of it that way but we often use negative self-affirmations when we learn languages. Everybody comes across moments of frustration and they need to be countered. Good point.

  3. I recently wrote a list of self-affirmations for language teachers:

  4. Hi, great language blog you have here! I look forward to reading more blog entries from you. Thanks!


  5. That’s a very positive thinking in anyway!

  6. Thanks for the blog entries. Its keeping my head up to reach my goals to learn new languages. I read in an article once that learning a language that belongs to the same language family would be better. Since English is my second language and being fluent in it, I decided to take on Dutch, Norwegian and Swedish. Hopefully this thesis (or is this an accepted fact?) is correct. =)

  7. Jim: That’s and interesting question. Learning related languages has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that you can get to a basic level of proficiency pretty easily, which is encouraging. Another advantage is that each related language expands your knowledge of the other related languages; you notice things you didn’t see before.

    The disadvantage comes when you try to get to the intermediate and advanced stages. Many people find it very hard to keep related languages separated in their head and end up mixing them. To not make this mistake I recommend focusing A LOT on the differences between the languages. False cognates become something to watch out for more than ever.

  8. Thanks for the affirmations. I use them in the classroom and they are proven powerful.

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