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I believe it is President Teddy Roosevelt who is credited with saying “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” For language learners, this couldn’t be more true.
One of the most powerful language learning tools is not something you can find in a book or online, it’s internal. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief about their own ability perform to a certain level or accomplish a task. First described by psychologist Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is not based on external influence or past experiences, but on self-perception. Perceived self-efficacy is beneficial through all of life’s stages—adolescence, parenthood, job hunting, etc.—including the journey to learn a new language.
One study on self-efficacy demonstrates that “goal choice without self-efficacy would not lead to increased performance,” indicating “that self-efficacy is a vital component of personal goal-setting.” Self-assured learners are more likely to dive in, set challenging goals, and have the confidence to follow through and achieve them. One student in the study “explained that even though his first goal was easy, he was not sure he could achieve it. However, by the time he wrote about his fifth goal he could say ‘this goal was a lot harder but I was really confident’.”
Insecure learners are more likely to get caught up in the technicalities: “They forget the human element of confidence that can only be realized or developed by finding the courage to open your mouth and make mistakes.” Failure is an important step on the journey to success, particularly for language learners. Some level of uncertainty and guesswork is required, which is also good news for self-efficacious learners, who “are more willing to guess the meaning of an unknown word in English and find it acceptable,” according to a self-reporting study amongst Turks learning English.
If you’re less afraid of making mistakes and believe you’ll success in the end, the process is likely more agreeable. The same self-reporting study, demonstrated that “high self-efficacious students seem more likely to enjoy the experience of practicing with native speakers than their low self-efficacious counterparts.” This is massively important to language learners looking to reach higher proficiency levels, as it is a long and sometimes arduous process.
With those major benefits, among others, self-efficacy should be a priority amongst language learners. For young children, self-efficacy can be instilled at home and in school. Veteran language teacher Gianfranco Conti shares several excellent recommendations for how teachers can foster self-efficacy in their students.
Of course, adult learners cannot simply compel themselves to be more self-efficacious, but there are methods by which it can be developed over time:
So, for what it’s worth—we believe in you and your desire to learn a new language and we’re here to help you get started!