Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

how to stick up and defend yourself in English

Have you ever had a bad experience with a teacher or director, or a boss where they offended you and you had to speak out?

Do you know how to stick up for yourself in English if you need to?

It’s important to be able to defend yourself if you feel that you are not being respected.

Today you’ll learn how to do it.

Let’s start with a question from a listener:

This week I had a trial class with a teacher (not your recommendation) who is a native speaker, we talked about pictures and I described what I saw, while she said “native” in the sentence, at that moment, I suddenly forgot the meaning, then, I asked teacher how to spell the word.  Sadly, the teacher’s response was “You don’t know this word?” in using incredible tone.

I felt sooo hurt, if possible, I would like to end the lesson right away, but I am an adult, I chose not to think too much and kept going; Very soon, I forgot another word “religion” and I asked teacher and received the same response “You don’t know this word?” in using same tone.  My feelings got hurt, I raised my tone and told teacher “My English is not good.”  She smiled and we kept going until completing the lesson.  Ugh, I will not book this teacher anymore.

I know there are many teachers who are listening to this podcast, I would like to have your help to express my feelings during the program, while teaching ESL students, they don’t forget the students are “ESL”, even if native speakers, they sometimes forget some words.  How to drive your tone?

Sorry to convey my bad feelings to you.  AEE is not just a English program, for me, it’s like a friend. Thanks and have a wonderful weekend.

-AEE Listener


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What might have happened:

1) You both misunderstood each other: This could easily be a cultural misunderstanding. Sarcasm is a common form of humor for American English speakers. You might have mistaken that she was criticizing you, but she was actually showing enthusiasm. It really depends on the tone of voice. Keep in mind that what feels offensive to you in your culture might be a completely different intention for someone from a different culture.


2) The teacher was actually being rude and abrasive: If the teacher truly intended to be rude then you have a choice. I think it’s good that you continued the lesson without creating a problem but you will not want to book another lesson in the future with that teacher.


Sometimes when teachers have been teaching a long time they can build up a wall and become disconnected from students.

They are no longer happy as teachers and at that point they shouldn’t be teaching. 

When we get a negative comment like that from a teacher our First Listening Shock goes up with the Affective Filter.

When this happens you are never going to be able to learn anything. Your mind is blocked. That’s why it’s crucial that you work with a teacher that you enjoy and that respects you.


Choose your battles:

In this situation it’s only a trial lesson, but if it’s a colleague that you’re stuck working with or a teacher where you are locked into a certain number of lessons then you need tools to defend yourself.


Here is what we recommend: 


First: Push back lightly with some humor. You can say, “Hey did you forget I’m a student?! Or “I’m still learning here” (laugh a little).  If they say, “got it” or “yeah you’re right” or “sorry” then that should be enough to get things back on track.


Next:  If they continue to be rude then you will need to get more direct and explicit.

  • “Maybe I am misreading you, but I find your comments kind of rude, (offensive)”
  • “I feel like your comments are a little out of line, are too much, are inappropriate.”
  • “When you said ____ it kind of caught me off guard. It seemed kind of harsh.”


Finally: Tell them what you need from them in order to learn (teacher) or to work well (colleague).

  • “I need a lot of positive feedback/ support/encouragement from a teacher.”
  • “I need to feel supported at work by my colleagues.”



Sometimes we can’t control how other people act.

It’s usually more about them than it is about us.

Sometimes we need to “let things roll off our backs.”

Other times when it matters for the long term, we need to be ready to stand up for our voice and be explicit about what the person is doing that is hurting us.

This was an important question.

Let us know if you have any other questions below!


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