Comparing Yourself to Others When Learning English Can Help You

It helped me, it might help you too

Do you ever compare yourself to others when learning English?

For example, do you ever think, That person is more fluent than me, or That person has better pronunciation than I have?

This might be a good thing to do.

Comparing yourself to others might help

When I first move from Italy to London, I would often compare my English skills to those of my non-native English speaker colleagues and friends whose English was better than mine.

And I would think:

  • Oh, man!!! This guy speaks English so well!
  • She’s so fluent! I want to speak like this woman!
  • Her English is just perfect. I want to get to that level too!
  • He knows so many words.
  • Wow! this Italian guy doesn’t even have an Italian accent!

I never thought, I hate myself! Why can they speak so well but I can’t !?

Instead, I would think that one day I would be able to speak like my friends. I figured that if they could get to such a high level of English, I could do it too.

It was motivating for me.

Comparing myself to others helped me set goals. It made me ambitious.

I also compared myself to others when I was learning how to play the drums.

But I wish I had never done that.

Don’t compare yourself to anyone

In my early 20s I started taking drumming classes and would spend hours watching clips and DVDs of the greatest drummers in the world.

And I would often think:

  • I’ll never be able to play the drums like that.
  • I couldn’t do that thing with my feet even if I practiced 24/7 for the next 10 years.
  • Wow! Look at this guy. I guess he was born with a special drumming gene or something.

I had these thoughts not only when I watched “the gods” of drumming, but also when I observed other ordinary drummers play live in pubs and music festivals around my hometown.

It was so demotivating for me — I knew I didn’t have enough time to practice on my drum kit and become a skilled drummer.

Comparing myself to others destroyed my motivation. It made me unambitious – so unambitious that I ended up quitting drumming.

I should have compared myself to my past self only.

Comparing yourself to your past self

I should have compared myself to myself when I was a drummer.

Instead of beating myself up for not being able to play as well as other people, I could have compared my present drumming skills with my past drumming skills.

Like this:

  • Last year I couldn’t play that song, but this year I can.
  • 2 years ago I would have never imagined I would play in a rock band, but here I am on stage today. I rock, baby.
  • Last month I couldn’t do that thing with my left foot while my right foot was doing this other thing. But now I have better coordination.

This could have motivated me to keep playing and improving.

Too late now – I sold my drum kit!

Final thought: compare or not compare?

In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius said, 

“Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people–unless it affects the common good. 

It will keep you from doing anything useful. 

You’ll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking, and what they’re up to, and all the other things that throw you off and keep you from focussing on your own mind.”

Statue of Marcus Aurelius
Photo by edoardo taloni on Pixabay

Does comparing yourself to others when learning English demotivate you? 

Stop doing it and take Marcus Aurelius’ advice. Compare yourself to your past self only — if that helps.

Does it help you develop your skills? Does it give you a motivational kick in the butt?

Then do it.


I hope this helps. Please feel free to send me your comments and questions in the box below. I reply to everyone.

Fabio Cerpelloni is an easy-going English teacher who helps adult learners speak better English through personal storytelling classes and book discussions. You can join his private email list by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.

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