7 Phrases That Hurt Your English Learning and What You Should Say Instead

Teaching Philosophy 9 min read

I love my English learning students, so I’m mindful of how I speak with them.

The words we use affect our mindsets, that is, the way we think.

They help or hurt our perspectives and ability to learn.

Unfortunately, I often hear students use disempowering words when they speak to or about themselves.

After class in Saudi, to relax and catch a quick pic with the guys.
After class in Saudi, relaxing and catching a quick pic with the guys.

Table of Contents:

Do You Do This?
7 Phrases That Hurt Your English Learning
📌"I'm not good at this." / Instead say, "How can I improve?"
📌 "I give up." / Instead say, "Let me try a different way to learn this."
📌"I failed." / Instead say, "Mistakes are part of the process to learn English."
📌"I am done with this" / Instead say, "Have I done my best work?"
📌"This is too hard." / Instead say, "Learning English takes time."
📌"I'll stick with what I know." / Instead say, "I like a challenge."
📌"My abilities decide everything." / Instead say, "My attitude and effort determine everything."
📌 (Bonus) "She is smarter/better than me." / Instead say, "How can we learn from one another?"

Do you do this?

Do you often slip into demoralize self-talk? Do you use disempowering words that cause you to lose motivation, give up trying, or just want to quit?

You may be doing it and not even know.

Being aware of your self-talk can make a great difference your personal growth and learning. After we get this awareness though, we need more something more.

Fill this space with words that empower us. Use words that bring us back to making an honest effort with the right attitude.

When you talk to yourself, talk to your self like you would someone you love.

Before we begin, here's an important point.

Automatic negative phrases are common for all of us. They are a part of our shared humanity, and happen to everyone.

To be a good learner, knowing how to manage them is a skill that you will need to practice.

The key to overcoming negative self-talk has three parts:

  1. Be mindful of them when they happen.
  2. Understand, you are not your thoughts.
  3. Then give your attention to empowering self-talk/phrases (You will learn seven below.)

As you focus on empowering self-talk, this type of thinking will develop. Soon, it will become more natural to focus on them. 

It will become second nature and the negative self-talk will happen less.

It won’t be easy at first. However, with consistent effort, you will start to develop a growth mindset. This is what you need to be a great learner.

7 Phrases That Hurt Your English Learning

1. "I am not good at this"

Instead, say "How can I improve?"

Of course you’re not good at this. That’s why we are learning.

By focusing on the question, ‘How can I improve?’ subconsciously you’re telling yourself, “I know I can get better.”

Knowing that you can get better is the first step to actually improving.

Two things happen when you ask empowering questions:

  1. your mind starts looking for the answer/solution
  2. you pull yourself out of the inactive thought of ‘I am not good at this.’

It may be true at the moment, but these words helps no one. It stops you from making an effort and slows/stops your learning.

Great advice from Jake the Dog.

2. "I give up."

Instead, say "Let me try a different way to learn this."

When your approach to learning isn't working, don't give up. This is the time to search for a different way.


Think of things unique to you or things you find meaningful to interact with English. Here are some ideas:

  • Connect your hobby or habit to English
  • Find groups who share your interest (a gym, a dance studio, an acting class, a computer repair group, a go-cart driving group)
  • Ask friends what worked for them, and adapt it for yourself to fit your needs.

That are a million and one different ways to interact in English and practice.

Your challenge is to not give up until you find the way that works for you.

A river changes its path a million times during its journey to the sea. At every obstacle, every hard rock, it finds a different path.

Like that river, if one method is not working, you can always find a different way to your goal.

Bruce said, "Be like water."

3. "I failed."

Instead, say "Mistakes are part of the process to learn English."

Whatever you're learning, mistakes are an essential part of the process.
Matter of fact, you can't learn without them.
~ Marcus Aurelius Higgs

Correcting your mistakes is what we call learning.
When you make a mistake, that’s not failure. That’s part of the process. 

You try. You make a mistake. You correct the mistake. That’s how you learn.

Never be afraid of making a mistake. They don't define you. It doesn't mean that's who you are forever.

Be careful not to make them habits, however most importantly, don’t ever be afraid of making mistakes.

Yes, she's human. And yes, even Beyonce makes mistakes.

4. "I am done with this."

Instead, say "Have I done my best work?"

When you come to the end of your study/practice/work time. You may feel tired. You may feel excited. You may feel frustrated. You may feel confused.

At that time, ask yourself ‘Have I done my best work?’ 
When the answer to the question is ‘yes’, you are on the right path.

I'll agree with Dwayne on this one.

You might feel that you are not getting the results you want. 
Analyze your results and see how you can improve.

However, also enjoy the satisfaction that you are giving your best effort.

Tomorrow, you’ll begin your journey from the point where you end it today, not from the starting point.
If you did your best, you’ll feel a deep satisfaction from your progress.
You’ll start again, knowing that you are better than last time.

“Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow.”  ― Mary Anne Radmacher

5. "This is too hard."

Instead, say "Learning English takes time."

You may feel frustrated because you’re not getting the results you want. You may feel the target is too hard to achieve (at this time).

Remember however, consistency and perseverance can get you across the mountains.

Learning takes time.

Look at a seed. It grows into a seedling, a seedling into a small sapling, and small sapling into a towering tree of the forest.

Now look at the largest tree in the world, the Giant Sequoia. It is 1,487 cubic meters in volume and more than 2,000 years old. There was a time when it was just a seed in the dirt.

Learning English is not too hard. It just takes time.

Anything worth having takes effort over time.

As long as you stay consistent, you’ll continue to improve and eventually become good at it.

People have achieved what you're working for. They have come to this point too. They way they overcame it is that they continued.

Arat always reminds me to never give up.

6. "I'll stick with what I know."

Instead, say "I like a challenge."

Do you just stick with the skills and abilities you already have?

Growth and learning only happen by going through challenges. Facing your challenges opens new doors of opportunities for you.

For instance, this article you’re reading and the community of English All Together is my particular challenge.

  • Yes, it is difficult to convince myself to sit down and focus to write articles.
  • Yes, building this community without a model is a unique challenge. 
  • Yes, it is scary to expose my work and words to the world.
  • Yes, I get nervous before I hit publish, each time.

However, through it all, I decide to take the challenge and go for it.

I know I will find fulfillment in doing it and it'll serve others.

If you're reading this, I’m on the other side of the challenge, and I know what it feels like.

Although I’m not finished with the community, overcoming the challenge is an experience for me. It helped me gain confidence in writing and other areas of my life. 

7. "My abilities decide everything."

Instead, say "My attitude and effort determine everything."

You have your current skills and abilities.

You know you can get better as you practice and grow.

You also know, sometimes you'll be tested and your skills will fail you.

As a teacher, I create exercises that I know for sure students can do 70% of the work.

25% of the exercise is a ‘stretch zone’. Here, the learner’s skills may fail or not. They have to make an effort to find out though.

And 5% of the time, the exercise is above their ability. In this 5%, the learner may be able to meet the challenge, but s/he is not expected to.

Through this whole process I remind the learner of these two points:

  1. give full effort
  2. keep the right attitude knowing you will get better, regardless if you're right or wrong (that is, a ‘growth mindset’)

These two are the most important parts of the learning process. Another way to say this is, 'what you do' and 'what you think', or 'your psychology' and 'your actions'.

Bonus 8. "S/he is smarter/better than me."

Instead, say "How can we learn from one another?"

Every learner is on his/her own journey. When another person is better at a skill than you, learn about his/her method. See what s/he does and learn how it might help you.

The phrase, ‘S/he is better than me’, may be true, but it doesn’t empower you. 

Also, I know for sure, there are other issues and problems your partner is having that you can’t see. 

Ask the phrase, “How can we learn from one another?” This creates a win-win situation and helps keep your attitude strong. Also, it can open you to new methods of learning.


When you talk to yourself, pause and think, "How would I talk to someone I love?"

Don’t ask, “Is this true or not?” It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. Ask, “Does this empower me to make an effort? Does this help me to continue improving my skill?”

Instead of disempowering phrases, use the phrases you learned today:

  1. “How can I improve?”
  2. “Let me try a different way.”
  3. “Mistakes are part of the process to learn English.”
  4. “Have I done my best work?”
  5. “Learning English takes time.”
  6. “I like a challenge.”
  7. “My attitude and effort are everything”
  8. “How can we learn from one another?”

Learning takes time. It takes effort. Other’s have done it before. And so can you.

Your attitude and effort are everything. You will take your skills and abilities to new levels by using these two.

Remember, it's your English. It's your life.

I know that you can make it awesome.

What other phrases have you learned to say to yourself to empower you thoughts and actions? Share them with the community in a comment below.

mindset motivation empowerment