Feeling, Seeing, and Experiencing Progress

No one likes to be the “new guy”, whether it’s at work, a class, a club,  a game, or group of friends. It can be intimidating. It’s also super uncomfortable because you’re starting at an absolute zero.

You don’t have the rapport that everyone else has built. Your skills aren’t quite up to par. Your abilities are lacking. You feel like you suck.

And maybe you do suck.

But there’s also a huge advantage that comes with being a newb: clarity.

Let’s say that most of the time, no one can eat what you cook. So you work on perfecting your culinary arts. No bites at all become a few nibbles. A few nibbles become an entire plate. Eventually, people just might ask for a second serving!

The same goes for speaking prowess. First, you’re unable to muster a single word, but then you do. Next, you pick up phrases. Your vocabulary builds, and the quality of discussions to be had improves.

And that’s only if you stick with it. Johnny Nguyen from ExpertBoxing put it this way:

“Of everything you do, only [a percentage] of it’s going to be any good… And that’s only going to be when you make your best effort. If you give a half-assed effort the whole time, 0% of it will be good.”

This leads me to the key point I want to cover. No, no, none of that “it’s okay to make” BS. Let’s face it: as true as that statement may be, it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

Instead, let’s talk about the difficulty in tracking progression when you’re not a newbie. Building from the ground up, it’s easier to see how far you’ve come. When you’re in the intermediate stages and try to reach the next level, that’s much more difficult to see.

To take it to the next level, you need to revamp how you see and feel progression. Otherwise, your perspective will trick you into thinking it’s not happening. Just like with fitness, your probably have a terrible sense of self-perception.

For the most part, the school system does a pretty good job of setting a sequence of progression. Whether or not you actually get better, because you’re moving along in classes, you feel like you’re improving.

On the other hand, if you focus your efforts on solely using academics as measurement, you’re going to feel unsatisfied. The payoff isn’t really there. Academics are important, but they’re limited in scope. They can’t really tell you how well you’d do in practical application.

Plenty of language learners, however, will stick to that kind of model because it’s the most familiar method of tracking they know.

And this is why an aptitude for conversation doesn’t feel like an accomplishment. This is why the ability to give directions to a stranger doesn’t feel very rewarding. So even if people are experiencing progression in real life, they can’t see it or feel it.

People have been conditioned to think they need a formalized test in order to get a sense of improvement.

How do I evaluate an advanced speaker? I look for someone who can adapt and deliver.

Too often, language learners obsess about finding the “perfect” vocabulary word. They fail to realize that English doesn’t work in terms of perfect word choices. We need words that are appropriate enough for the topic, context, and listener.

In addition, language learners who obsess on an idealized “perfect English” fail to incorporate variety in their speech. They’ll say the exact same things, the exact same way, every single time. A “perfectly” dull delivery rarely sounds advanced.

Very important speaking qualities to possess, but very difficult to evaluate. And that’s why you need a good coach/instructor to pull you out of your head space. Otherwise, you’re very likely to kill your own progress because you can’t see it.

If you can’t see progress, you probably need a different marker.

If you can’t feel progress, you probably need to re-define your goals. You need to remember the bigger picture.


Remember, true progress doesn’t look sexy. That’s why movies always incorporate montages– watching the daily struggles is boring!

Published by Jon Dao

Formerly, the Conversation Coach

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