Language hack: Do you see yourself speak French?

1. The human psyche in the broad strokes

It’s no secret that the human psyche is imperfect. In Freudian psychology, we have traumas and unresolved issues that explain our behaviour. Others speak about “genes”, or about the role of education, about nature VS nurture…

Whatever we call these influences, the professionals of the mind agree that we are never truly the sole captain on board when we steer our ship. Many generally agree that the subconscious part of our minds has a greater influence on our actions than we truly measure.

(Above: a man sharing a point of view while being influenced by his subconscious and other factors.)

2. Self-image and success in learning French

The idea I would like to examine in this blog post draws from these notions and has specifially to do with our self-image. The simple question is: “Are you quite sure that your bad results in French are due to your technique as a student? Could there be things within you that are preventing you from succeeding?

Are you not quite sure that a part of you is not blocking your own progress?

Indeed, each of us has an identity that is ingrained in our person and explains our choices and behaviours. The everyday experiences that take us out of our comfort zone are those that come into conflict with this identity. It’s our rudder, our compass, our auto-pilot…it’s the thing that keeps us consistent with who we are.

(Above: Scientists examine the part of the brain that acts like a compass.)

3. The role of our subconscious

Far from being a hindrance, this “self-image” or “identity” is a natural regulator that keeps us on course and maintains consistency. Some compare it to the self-correcting airplane that is constantly pushed off course by the winds and has to put itself back on track to reach its destination.

It’s what your subconscious considers to be “you” and that it maintains throughout all our actions.

It explains why diets rarely function as long as a person doesn’t identify as being “thin”. If we have it in our minds that we are naturally fat, the subconscious will accept this temporary diet but do its utmost to get us back to where we started. That is unless we link a very positive emotion with the fact of being thin and truly embrace this new identity.

A child who gets bad grades in school will often identify with this self-image and might not see themselves being top of the class. Would it not make sense that the subconscious block good school results from happening? Its role is to do the child a service by preserving a certain behaviour consistency, but it’s actually doing the wrong service. Why does this happen? Because the subconscious does not think. It just obeys.

Close to me in my family, I have people who regularly promise to “never eat again” and even buy memberships to the gym. The emotional part in me wishes that their resolutions stay strong and that it bring them success in their health. But at the bottom of me I know it will never happen. They will continue on their old eating habits and repeat the same promise the next time they find themselves fat.

(Below: Unfortunate smoker whose subconscious makes him smoke.)

As the picture above exemplifies, a smoker who quits might go back to smoking simply because their subconscious does not consider it “normal” that they don’t smoke. And as one who walked that path, I can guarantee that I consciously felt “strange” for not smoking. As if a part of me was missing. Luckily, I was able to link positive feelings to non-smoking and “convince” myself that I rather more enjoyed breathing clean air and smelling flowers. I shifted my identity and can now happily rub my victory in other smokers’ faces.

4. The influence of our identity

The reason for all this has nothing to do with the willpower which is only surface-deep. It has to do with identity. The “mental ID” of overweight people is not composed of parts of healthy food and exercise. At their core, they do not identify with fit people. They rather identify with sitting, hanging out, watching TV and making cheese sandwiches.

It is their subconscious identity that is keeping them on track to being what they were, even if they are very aware that it is not desirable.

The subconscious will maintain our identity, whether it is good or bad. Whether it brings positive or negative results. This is why many people work daily to change the aspects of their “programming” they do not like.

(Below: Though they fully see the absurdity of their actions, Mr and Mrs B. have a subconscious desire to impress people with their car.)

5. How all this ties in to learning French

In French classes, it is exactly the same logic. The students who do well are those who “see” themselves do well in French in the months to come. They fully accept their success as students and open the mental gates towards learning.

In my functions as a French tutor, I consider it one of my first jobs to plant that seed of success in the mind of a student. I do so honestly because I am convinced that everyone can succeed. But I am sometimes met with opposition: the subconscious barrier.

In terms of advice, I would encourage every student of French to think of how much they truly believe in their success. Do you see yourself speaking French fluently with someone? Do you see yourself sitting down at your desk, ready to do the exercises?

In case of a “no”, the question of your success in French answers itself fast.

6. Ways forward and solutions

The first solution I would offer is to realize that a language lesson has more than two participants in it. Too many learners and parents simplify the process by believing that the teacher will place the knowledge in the minds of the student, whose only job is to attend the class.

(Below: Common belief of how knowledge is transferred.)

As well the physical variables of the lesson (type of classroom, location, type of learning support…) there are also determining factors such as the work a student is ready to put in, as well as the many psychological factors. In this blog post, we are focusing on the identity and mental vision of the student and whether or not they can “see” themselves as proficient speakers of French.

In the case they do not see their future success as wielders of the French language, it might be a good indication of the results to come.

The subconscious identity or the student will block any chance of progress in order to maintain coherence with the self. All depends if the self-identity is in tune with being a good learner of French.

Just as Superman can’t become a drunk or Lebron James can’t be anything else than excellent, no student can’t get good at French whose subconscious identity doesn’t agree with this achievement. It will do everything to get us back on course towards what it thinks we are supposed to be.

(Above: Jack’s self-image blocked his efforts to do good in French despite having all the necessary potential. He didn’t “see” himself as a French speaker.)

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