Episode Transcript

What are your goals in English? If one of your goals is to speak like a native, or to pass as an American, or to lose your foreign accent completely, and you’re still unhappy with where you’re at in your English, then this video is for you.

But before that, let me ask you one question. If you could choose between two things, what would it be: one – being completely fluent, having the freedom to say what you want without thinking about it or without having the anxiety around speaking up; being so expressive that people notice the nuances and your mood; to always have abundance of words to choose from, to not be afraid of speaking in public, and to tell jokes in English, but still have a non-native accent, that kind of accent that when you start a conversation with someone they immediately ask, “So, where are you from?”

Or, number two – to pass as an American or British speaker or Australian speaker; not to have any indication that you were not born in an English speaking country, but still get stuck because you can’t find the right words; feel insecure about speaking up because you’re not sure how you’re going to finish the sentence, and making grammar mistakes, where you think to yourself, “Hmm, I should know better by now. I know that I’m not supposed to make that mistake. Why do I keep making those mistakes?” And also feeling very limited in the way you express yourself? Again, but you sound 100% native.

So, let me know which one do you choose: one – feeling completely like yourself in English – expressive, fluent, confident, clear, but still having a foreign accent; or two – sounding 100% native, whatever dialect you’d like to choose, but not being fluent? Which one would you choose? So put your answers in the comments before we go into the discussion, so before you watch the entire video. And I’m going to come back to this question at the end of this video. But write your answer now so we can reflect on that at the end.

Now, if you’re new to my channel, then welcome. My name is Hadar Shemesh, and I’ve been a speech and fluency coach for the past 12 years. I’m a non-native speaker of English, and everything that I teach has to do with, you know, the things that I’ve learned myself, all the good, bad, and ugly. And my job is to help you sound clear, confident, and expressive in English, even if it’s not your native language.

If you want to connect and find out more about me, then follow me on Instagram at @hadar.accentsway, or come on over to my website at hadarshemesh.com, where you’ll find a bunch of resources that will help you reach your goals in English.

Let’s get back to the ‘speak like a native’ myth. First, let’s agree on two things. One – of course, it would be ideal to speak in English and perform in English as you do in your native language. Check. Okay? Agreed. Second – of course, it would be easier for you in life if English were not an obstacle, if you sounded totally American, or British. Okay? And you applied for a job, and you wouldn’t face discrimination and bias that exists in our society. Of course, this would make your life easier.

It is our reality that if two people would apply for the same job having the same skills and the same experience, and one would have a foreign accent and the other wouldn’t, it is more likely that the person with the native accent would get the job. Because people have biases around what it means if someone is a native speaker. Because research shows, unfortunately, that people with foreign accents might be perceived as less intelligent or less trustworthy. And I’m going to post links to all the researches in the description.

So, yes, of course, sounding like a native may help you have an easier life. Also, looking white and being a man might help you get ahead in life because you have the privilege of being the person in power when you’re a white dude. But it doesn’t change who you are. And this is like a social political and moral question that we all need to ask ourselves, if we want to see a change for the better in the English learning industry.

So the question is, if you knew that putting this ideal and goal – to speak like a native – is solely the number one thing that is hindering your progress and is keeping you from feeling the freedom that you feel in your native language and the exponential growth in your fluency, if you knew that that is the thing that is holding you back, would you still keep it?

In this video, I’m going to prove to you why it is holding you back, and why it is problematic that our industry is pushing this idea as the end goal for our students. I’m sharing my opinion and my thoughts here from not only my own personal experience, but from having worked with thousands and thousands of students, personally.

I’ve been doing this for 12 years. I’ve been teaching like 40 hours a week for several years. I’ve seen it in action. I used to believe that a person needs to sound like a native. I used to because I was the one promoting it for myself.

I’ll tell you a funny story. When I studied linguistics at the university about like eight years ago, and I sat there in my phonology class, and the professor said, “It’s impossible to sound like a true native if you weren’t born into a certain language.” And I was livid! I was just like, “How dare you!” And I started arguing with him and telling him that he is mistaken and it’s possible. And I went on and on like trying to prove my point, even though I knew inside of me that while I can pass as an American when speaking, it never feels to me in English as it is in Hebrew.

Now, there are some things that I can do in English that I can’t do in Hebrew. For example, having this conversation in Hebrew would be probably impossible for me because I think it in English. So yes, I’ve achieved some skills in English that I can only do in English, but that’s a different story, it’s not the same. And the reason why I’m sharing this with you, because I have, as I said, thousands of hours working with students, selling them this idea, working on the nuances. And I saw that it does not serve them.

Let me give you another example. Let’s say you want to get fit. You haven’t worked out in 20 years, you want to lose it a little bit of weight. You want to feel healthy, you want to be more energized during the day. And you’re like, “I want to be fit. I want to feel good inside my body.” What would you set yourself as a goal: to run a triathlon in six months, or to run 5 miles, lose a few pounds, and feel healthy?

Right? You know that if you want to run a triathlon or a marathon, a full marathon, you need to be committed to it. You need to invest a lot of time every single all day. You need to change your diet, you need to plan your schedule around it. It’s not impossible, but is it truly your goal? And if that’s like what you want – great, go for it. But if you just want to lose a few pounds and feel good about who you are in your body, do you really have to become a triathlon athlete to tell yourself that you’ve succeeded? Or to run 10 miles a day would be enough and would make you feel great?

Now listen up, and listen up closely cause I’m getting to my main point, and I want you to pay attention here. When you have this belief that only if you speak like a native and sound like a native, you will succeed in life, okay, and that idea is being sold to you – by the industry and by society, because there is discrimination and bias. So when you have this internal belief that you will not be able to succeed and get the job that you want, or be liked by people, or be able to speak in public and all of that, unless you sound and speak like a native.

And also when you assume that fluency and expression and speaking up your thoughts and your mind equals to speaking like a native and sounding like a native, and you know what it feels like because you have it in your native language, so you’re thinking like, “I’ll only achieve fluency and succeed in English if I feel in English like I feel in my native language”, so you have that belief as well. Two beliefs, okay?

And at the same time, you are somewhere here, right, like you get stuck, you don’t sound like a native, people ask you where you’re from. All of these questions, right? Like all of that experience, you make mistakes. So you are here and that’s your goal. That is your ideal. That is your definition of success.

What happens in this constant situation that you’re in is that it taps into the two biggest fears that human beings are facing: one is the fear of inadequacy, and the other one is the fear of abandonment. The fear of inadequacy is the fear of not being good enough, that you are never enough for what people expect of you or what you expect of yourself. And that feeling is draining. And people are so afraid of it that they end up not speaking or not doing the things that they want to do, and not going after their dreams because they think they are unworthy and not enough. Okay? And it happens in every area in life, not just English. It just manifests itself into English as well. So that is the first fear.

The second fear is the fear of rejection, okay, the fear of abandonment: “People are not going to want to be around me. People are not going to like me.” All right? “They’re going to not be interested. I’m not going to get that job.” So going back to those two beliefs, the belief that you will never be able to succeed unless you speak and sound like a native, right, that taps into the fear of rejection. Because you feel like, “Okay, I’m not going to be able to succeed, people are not going to want me unless I sound like them.”

And the second belief, that success and fluency in English is only when I speak like a native, meaning, only when I feel like I can communicate in English the way I communicate in my native language. And that taps into the fear of not being good enough.

So having these two as your goals are not serving you because they constantly make you feel like you’re not good enough, and that you will be rejected unless you sound like someone else – not like you.

Change in English happens not just externally, but also internally. So the language we use and the stories we tell ourselves are imperative. They are crucial in determining our success and freedom and fluency. Because at the end of the day, going back to the first question I asked you, what is more important to you – image or freedom? Does it matter that you’re rich if inside of you, you are unhappy and miserable and you hate everyone around you? Does it help if you can take amazing Instagram photos that make your life look amazing and you look all beautiful, but inside your unhappy and unsatisfied, and you’re frustrated with your life, right? What is more important?

Now, do not get me wrong. I think pronunciation is important. I think that understanding what clear English is and identifying the things that are preventing you from having that clarity, even though it’s not 100% accurate. So that obsession about really getting it right, so like you get it down to the smallest nuances, right? I don’t think that is serving. Cause if ultimately sounding clear is what matters, then you can do a lot less, a lot less, and achieve excellent results.

So I do focus on pronunciation, but not to achieve a certain form, but to use it as a tool to achieve fluency, freedom, and full expression in a language that is not your native language. That’s how I believe you should use it as well.

Now, last thing before I wrap up. The concept of ‘speak like a native’ is mainly promoted to you by native speakers. And while it might be extremely motivating for some, for most people who need to use English to survive, to get by, to be able to change their circumstances, but at the same time, they have to invest time and  energy into their careers, their families, maybe they’re immigrants, they have like all these things to take care of. They don’t have the luxury and privilege to learn a language and master all those small nuances.

And if that idea is sold to them, saying, like, “If you’re able to do that, then English would not be a problem”. Instead of like simplifying it and saying, “These are not your goals. Your goals are to feel like yourself, the goals are to be as expressive as possible. And here’s what you need to do. You can only do 20% of what you’re already doing.” So that would make life easier for most people who need English to be able to get what they want.

And because I’m a non native speaker, I’m very sensitive to that. Because I’ve experienced discrimination and bias in this industry. And as a YouTuber, and for many years I’ve allowed it to affect me until I realized that something is wrong with the industry, not with me.

Let me give you a couple of analogies that will help you think about the slogan of ‘speak like a native a little differently’. So let’s imagine that you’ve come across this beautiful ad of a makeup company for one of their products, a foundation. And there is like a beautiful picture of a white woman. And there it says, “You too can succeed in life, if you use our foundation that is going to help you look more white.” How does that make you feel?

Or a costume company that offers their services for women in a recruiting process, telling them that, “Hey, we can make you look like a man and we’ll teach you how to sound like a man. So during those interviews, people will think that you are a guy and then you’ll get higher salary, or you’ll get the position because they’ll think you’re a man. Okay? And then you can tell them that you’re a woman after you, you know, you will have gotten all the things. But we will help you because yeah, we understand that there is this bias, so we’re going to play into that.”

I mean, technically, yes, men and white people have an easier time succeeding and getting the things because of systemic racism. But at the same time, you wouldn’t expect companies to promote that and to tell people that they shouldn’t feel comfortable with how they sound.

So going back to the first question. Because I want to debunk that notion that sounding like a native means absolute fluency and freedom. Because I can guess – I haven’t seen it while making this video, but I have a strong hunch – that most of the comments will say ‘one’, which means to be fluent, expressive, funny, authentic, even though you have an accent. That is better than sounding like a native, but not having the freedom in the language.

So the stories we tell ourselves and the goals that we set are crucial for our progress, not just in English. But when it comes to English, telling yourself a story that you’ll only succeed, if you sound and speak like a native, or you’ll achieve fluency, if you sound and speak like a native – these are stories that are not serving you because of all the reasons that I’ve listed.

And maybe, just maybe, you want to consider changing those stories to “I sound clear and confident in English. My English is enough. I attract the right job for me not because of my English, but because of who I am, because of my skills, because of my personality. People are interested in what I have to say. I’m an excellent communicator.” When these are the stories that you tell yourself, then you will feel those small achievements every single day. So yes, pronunciation is important, but it’s not just the external work.

Okay. That’s it. We had a lot to unpack here, and there’s a lot more that goes into this conversation. So please share your thoughts and opinions with us in the comments. So we can continue this discussion within the community. Also, if you liked this video, please like it and share it, especially if you feel that this can help other learners, as well, feel accomplished and successful in their own journeys. Okay?

And if you want to connect with me, come on over to Instagram at @hadar.accentsway, or visit my website hadarshemesh.com for a bunch of resources that will help you sound clear and feel confident and expressive in English. And remember, the only way to achieve fluency and to feel like yourself is to speak up and to make mistakes, because that’s the only way to learn.

Thank you so much for being here with me. Have a beautiful week, and I’ll see you next week in the next video. Bye.