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Why do I lose confidence the better I get at English?

July 14, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

If you feel like you’re losing confidence the better you get at English, it’s actually perfectly normal.

It’s human nature.

We’re designed to find the negative in anything and not notice the positive.

You may have heard of something called the Dunning-Kruger curve. This is a graph that shows confidence on one axis and knowledge on the other:

So what happens is this: when you’re learning any kind of skill, you start high in the confidence axis, thinking you know it all. But as you gain more knowledge about that thing, your line at the top suddenly curves down. You start to lose confidence because you start to realise that you actually don’t know anything at all.

The more you learn, the less you know. It’s cliché, but it’s true.

A good example of this is when I was first teaching in secondary school in Japan, I actually said “if you just let me do everything I wanted to do, I can have these kids fluent in a year!”.

Except that’s impossible.

The reality was, I had no idea what I was doing.

So I decided to study second language acquisition and applied linguistics. It made me realise just how unbelievably wrong I was. My confidence plummeted. I started questioning myself like “how can these people let me teach these kids in class?”.

But then I started to gain more and more knowledge about what I was teaching and my confidence went back up again.

And it’s true of anything you’re trying to learn, including, of course, English.

So understand the fact that when you feel like you’re losing confidence when speaking English — it’s actually a positive thing. Because it means you’re progressing through the Dunning-Kruger curve, and your confidence will start to go back up.

If need some help improving in English faster, I can help.

The best place to start would be the free training I created. You’ll learn the 5 key changes my best clients make to improve their English as higher-level English learners.

Hope that helps.

Dr Julian Northbrook

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