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In this blog, I wanted to use some of the inspiration that I received from reading the Carol Dweck book called “Mindset: the new psychology of success”

Part of my role as a teacher and language coach is not only to provide you with the most effective teaching method to learn French, but also to help you with any mindsets issues, self-imposed limits, negative thoughts or unhelpful habits that get in the way of you becoming the French speaker you can be.


I love how Carol teaches, because she explains it in a way that helps us apply the concepts in our everyday life. Her amazing book and research were inspired by her fascination around how different people deal with failure.


If this doesn’t seem like the most relevant thing as you’re learning French, just bear with me.


My first experience with fixed vs. growth mindset

Let me share a story with you…

In France, we start school at the early age of 3 and a half years old.


Growing up in the 80’s, there was a big focus on grading and ranking us in the classroom through standardised testing.


I have a very early memory before I was about 5 years old. I was standing with all my classmates at one end of the classroom, our parents were sitting in the middle area on chairs and at the back of the classroom was a long and colourful table covered in books and games.


The teacher would then proceed to read our names one at a time, starting from the best ranking student and working her way down the list to the least.We went one-by-one to the back of the classroom to select our preferred reward.


You can see that from an early age it was clear that high value was placed on intelligence and grades.


And so, the race to be the ‘smartest’ started…

In her book ‘Mindset’, Carol Dweck tries to figure out why some people love challenges and others shy away from them.


We could expect people labelled as smart or intelligent to love to challenge themselves and use their high IQ to solve difficult problems. But it’s quite the opposite. Her research shows that those people usually avoid challenges due to fear of failing and losing their ‘brainy’ or ‘smart’ status.


People labelled as ‘intelligent’ often avoid trying things they might not excel at. And – as you and I know – there’s nothing like learning French to make you feel embarrassed and cringe as you try to assemble your French into something coherent only to end up sounding like a toddler speaking in 3-word sentences.


When you don’t want to be seen as struggling, you will give up faster or may not even try. If you believe that success is based on innate ability, then you’re classified as having a ‘Fixed mindset’.

The flip side is called the ‘Growth mindset’ which requires hard work and getting uncomfortable by learning new things.


This mindset is characterised by people always willing to take on a challenge or tackledifficult things. They know they’ll learn through the process of doing it, and learn that the process is what increases their ability and skill.

Research has shown over and over that our brain is plastic and has the ability to continuously grow and learn. Our IQ is not fixed; the more challenges we take on, the smarter and more capable we can become.


The lesson in spilled milk


Having a young daughter who started school last year, I’m really taking on board these learnings to try and reward her effort, encourage the ‘trying’ process rather than the results.We have a saying in my house:

“Oops, that’s how you learn”

From a young age, if my daughter knocked over a glass of milk all over her high chair and the floor, we’d say to her “oops that’s how you learn”.


I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise that when she was 3 and saw me knock over a cup of milk on the kitchen counter one night, she turned around to me in her sweet voice and said “Oops Maman, that’s how you learn.”


And I guess this is where it’s valuable for you, my dear French learners.


Even though most of my students are adult and already challenging themselves on this crazy French learning journey, they sometimes approach certain aspects of learning with a fixed mindset.


Don’t worry… I do it too, and I still catch myself saying things like:

I’ll never get this.
My memory is bad these days.
I can’t say thaaat…
I’m OK at listening but I’m rubbish at speaking.

So next time you encounter a setback or make a mistake in your French, consider turning it into a ‘not yet’ moment, rather than a failure.


In fact, the book mentions a school in the US who instead of giving F to students, instead gives them a grade of ‘not yet’.Therefore, they are choosing to reward the process of learning rather than the outcome.


How can a growth mindset help your French?


Here are a few tips for you to start applying in your learning:

1/ Change your language to use more ‘not yet’ statements:

I can’t say that yet.
This hasn’t clicked for me yet.
I haven’t memorized this fully yet.

2/ When you get stuck and feel unable to express something in French, try to simplify it or find another way to express the same idea.

Then make a mental note or jot it down so that you can remember to go back to it and figure it out for next time.

3/ Be patient with yourself. It might take more than one try because it’s all a part of the process.

Embrace the mistakes and learn from them.

4/ You can’t succeed in learning French by studying the theory alone. The words, the grammar, the syntax.

You have to embrace the messy and uncomfortable process of regularly trying to express yourself in French.

And if your objective is to have a conversation in French then you really need to try express yourself out loud, and step away from the books and apps.

5/ By having regular access to a teacher you’re able to get feedback more regularly.

This helps hugely with understanding what you have mastered and what you have not (yet). It helps you focus your efforts on the specific area of the language you’re currently learning.

The key – in Carol Dweck’s words – is to engage with your errors instead of avoiding them.

Focusing on quantity not quality


I’ve been running Meet Ups for French Speak for a few years now, and at the end of each gathering I love to encourage attendees to share a learning or a mistake with each other. Then, together we celebrate those mistakes for the learnings they hold and the improvement they will allow.


Fixed mindset will have you say that ‘You’re good at X but you’re not good at Y’, or that you’re smart in other areas of life but you’re just not good at languages or remembering names or mental calculations…


By embracing a growth mindset instead, you will feel empowered and you’ll willingly tackle challenges with a more positive outlook. You’ll know that you will learn and get better and better in the actual process of doing it.


Focus on growing always.

And remember that the most growth is in tweaking and correcting, not waiting to know more so you can produce the best, most perfect sentences in French.


One of my favourite quotes of hers is:

“Becoming is better than being”

Here’s hoping this has inspired you to grow, take on challenges, get curious about mistakes and enjoy the ‘effort-full’ process to keep on learning French.


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