When I discovered the online language community, my first impulse was to think, “I’ll never be able to do that.”
As I explored the community, I realized that there were so many incredible polyglots and learners, and to be frank, it was intimidating.
At the time I spoke English and French fluently, had studied German and Italian and was starting to get into Croatian. I no longer learnt languages at school and I was trying to figure out how to do the whole ‘independent language learning’ thing. So I turned to the web, having felt as though I hit a wall.
And comparing myself to other learners only made me feel even farther behind.
Comparisons are tough. They’re arguably one of the biggest reasons we find ourselves unhappy in our pursuits. And even if we aren’t making those comparisons intentionally, we’re constantly measuring ourselves up against our peers. And it doesn’t help that others are constantly comparing us too. It’s not uncommon to hear things like, “Your the next XYZ” or “You make me think of ABC”.
And sometimes, even when those comparisons are meant as a compliment, they still can be frustrating.
THE FIRST STEP TO DEALING WITH COMPARISONS IS TO STOP MAKING THEM YOURSELF.
It’s easy to think something like “Oh, well he’s doing that because he’s so much better than me,” or worse, “Why is he doing that, it should be me!”
But neither of the above are good thoughts to have.
Imagine this scenario: You’re reading your favorite language blog and you see what another learner – with about the experience as you – is doing. In comparison, it seems your life isn’t quite as noteworthy. They are constantly traveling, seeing exciting things and you begin to feel like you’re not doing enough. Maybe even that you’re not good enough. You see posts about other language learners attending language conferences, meeting with your polyglot heroes, getting awesome endorsements and begin to wonder why you’re not.
How can you be motivated and happy about your progress and what you’re doing if you think that way?
If you’re working hard on your language learning and focus on yourself, you might not think that way. In fact, you’re likely too busy or focused to think like that.
But even then, you might feel those thoughts creeping in. Sometimes learning just happens differently or more slowly for different people. Why? Because of the word I just used twice in the previous sentence. You’re DIFFERENT.
The sooner you accept that opportunities will happen for you in their own way and at their own pace, the sooner you’ll be able to accept and appreciate your accomplishments. Be happy with what you’ve achieved and do what you can to avoid comparing yourself to your peers!
DEALING WITH COMPARISONS MADE BY OTHERS
A big part of dedicating yourself to, well anything, is creating your “brand”, your identity, or what sets you apart. It’s what makes you different and gives you a place in the industry against countless competitors (at least if you’re pursuing a career that involves languages). Being told that you write like or teach like another language learner can make you feel like you’re doing it all wrong. You thought for sure that what you were doing was unique!
But the reality is, you’re probably not.
People are wired to make connections and comparisons so that they can better understand and validate their interests. We all do it. Have you ever found yourself thinking that a complete stranger looks like a friend of yours? That’s pretty similar to the comparison someone is making when they tell you that you write like someone else. It’s typically meant as a compliment and it’s sometimes their way of validating the reasons that they like you. Or it’s just something that’s done to make an introduction or situation more comfortable.
DEALING WITH NEGATIVE CRITICISM
As a language learner, it can be difficult to put yourself out there. Especially when you’re still ‘learning’. There are so many talented polyglots and sometimes you can’t help but feel like you’re ‘competing’ with them. Plus, it doesn’t help that the Internet has numerous people who aren’t too shy when it comes to sharing their opinions on any material that ends up online – good or bad.
You can try to shield yourself by blocking the comment features on your YouTube videos or social sites, but without the positive or constructive feedback you might receive, it’s hard to gauge where you’re at.
Comments can be one of the best ways to learn how to grow and improve if they are honest and shared with good intentions, but they can also become an easy venue for discouragement and hurt.
Especially when you see your peers getting tons of encouraging comments on their work and it only seems that the trolls seem to find you. When it comes down to it, you are unique and no one will ever be able to do what you do the way that you do it. If you are getting something out of the experience of learning a language, it doesn’t matter whether or not other people think what you are doing is good enough.
We all learn languages for different reasons, so keep that in mind! Share what you’re doing, find your own voice when sharing what you do and as a part of the language community. If you are coming from an honest place (that of doing what you really and truly love), then the positive feedback will come.
It’s easy to get sucked into worrying about whether other people are impressed by what you’re doing, or even if they think that your accent is understandable or your choice of words correct, but you have to remember that you’re doing the best that you can. Worry about what everyone else thinks later.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone. There will be people who don’t like what you’re doing. Those who thing you just speak this language or that language horribly. But that is just their opinion. And it isn’t worth the energy and misery that comes with trying to make everyone happy.
Here are just a few ways to make any criticism or trolling a bit easier:
1. Be brave enough to ask for things – ask your friends or other members of the language community to comment on your content. They can help drown out the noise of one negative voice.
2. Perfect is impossible – think of what you create as a “snapshot” of where you are at in your life. You can always do something better later on, but with that mentality, you’ll never accomplish anything. Do what you can now, but always seek to improve for the future.
3. Laugh at your own expense – when you make a mistake, laugh about it and then move on. You’ll get it the next time, so don’t worry about it for now. Plus, these mistakes show you just how far you’ve come when you look back on it later down the road.
4. Discover who you are, what you are passionate about and how you can share that positively with the world. Don’t just try to become a copy of someone else. You’re you and we’d love to get to know you!
DON’T GET SUCKED INTO PLAYING THE COMPARISON GAME
So whenever you hear someone tell you that you remind them of so and so, say “thanks“! Even if it’s not exactly what you want to hear, it very likely was meant as a way to compliment your abilities.
In the rare case that you’re compared to someone in a way that’s intended as a negative critique, “oh you’ve become just as commercial as so and so”, try to find out exactly why the comparison was made. If it’s something YOU feel you can improve on or change, then figure out how you can do it better the next time around (if you feel you agree with the criticism offered).
But never change what you’re doing if you’re just trying to please everyone else. You won’t ever win with this approach.
If people want to be unhappy with what you’re doing, they will find a reason for it no matter what you do.
Negative criticism is never easy to deal with regardless of the form it takes (comparison, insult, etc.). So when it happens, do whatever you need to do to filter it out. It’s usually just noise.
There is constructive criticism, but the difference between the two is usually quite obvious. Here are examples of each:
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I really enjoyed your post on this, but at a certain point, it just felt like you were trying to get me to buy something. I liked that you used to offer advice for free, but now you’re trying to sell me things as hard as this other blogger.
One just insults you and the other offers a way for you to reevaluate your strategy. (And yes, these are real comments I’ve seen or received about my writing!)
So when it comes to comparisons, learn to focus on yourself for who you are and what you’re doing. Don’t focus on yourself in comparison to others. Enjoy the process of learning language and sharing the process and learn about yourself as you’re doing it.
If you keep working at it and loving it, you’ll continue to grow and improve, and everything else comes second to that.
Has anyone ever compared you to another language learner or blogger?
Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!