There are two phrases I hear many students say:
“My English is terrible.”
“Sorry for my bad English.”
Be careful, because these two phrases are dangerous to your English learning!
If you constantly describe your English as “bad” or “terrible,” or if you say things like “I can’t speak English very well” – you will eventually begin to believe that it is true. These negative thoughts will make you less confident, and your progress in English fluency will be slower. You might even give up completely, because you believe you can’t do it.
The people who are most successful in achieving goals are those who believe they CAN do it and who make the goal part of their identity. Even if your English is not perfect, tell yourself:
“I am an English speaker. I am learning to be fluent, and I am making good progress!”
Phrases to describe your English
So how can you say that you’re an English learner without using words like “bad” or “terrible”?
Here are some useful phrases:
Don’t say: “My English is terrible.”
Say: “I’m working on improving my English.”
The focus of the second sentence is positive (“improving”) and it shows that you’re actively working on making your English better.
Don’t say: “Sorry for my bad English”
Say: “English isn’t my first language, so please excuse any mistakes.”
The second sentence explains that you’re not a native speaker and requests patience and understanding – without using the word “bad” to describe your English.
Don’t say: “I don’t understand.”
Say: “Could you repeat that, please?”
“Could you rephrase that, please?”
“Could you speak a little slower so that I can understand you better?”
Asking the other person to repeat means you want them to say it again using the same words.
Asking the other person to rephrase means you want them to say it again using different words.
The last sentence asks the person to speak slower, but still focuses on the positive (“understand you better“) and not the negative (“I don’t / can’t understand”).
If the other person doesn’t understand you…
If you say something and the other person looks confused, don’t worry – maybe that they didn’t hear you, or they weren’t paying attention. It’s also possible that they’re not yet accustomed to your accent.
To check understanding, you can ask:
“Does that make sense?”
If the other person says no, then say:
“Let me try again.”
or: “Let me clarify.”
Then say your sentence again. You can try:
- repeating it using the same words
- rephrasing it using different words
- speaking slower and being careful with the pronunciation
Extra Tip: Keep an English Success Journal
There’s so much to learn in the English language that most people focus on their difficulties and think about all the things they don’t know yet. However, you can change your perspective and learn to think more positively by keeping an English success journal.
Every time you make progress or have some small “victory” in your English learning, write it down in a notebook (or in a document on your computer or cell phone).
- Today I learned 3 new words and used them in sentences
- Today I understood how to use the present perfect
- Today I practiced listening for 15 minutes
- Today I remembered a word without using the dictionary
- Today I understood some of the phrases in a song or movie
- Today I successfully made a phone call in English
These things can be big or small – the important part is that they show progress and improvement.
On days when you’re feeling depressed about your English, or when you don’t have much motivation, you can read your success journal to see all the wonderful progress you’ve made. This will help increase your confidence and encourage you to keep going!