Just like with everything in life, my YouTube journey has started with insecurity, fear and the need to please everyone, and continued with a profound understanding of who I am and what I have to give to the people that can serve them.
I always compare my business journey to my journey as a non-native speaker (and the journey of my students and followers). To find your fluency and voice in English you have to KEEP SHOWING UP. And to be okay with making mistakes. And to trust that no matter how awkward it feels or how long it takes – you have to keep speaking up because more than anything else – your voice matters.
I hope you enjoy this episode, where I reflect on my evolution as a creator from episode ONE to episode TWO-HUNDRED:
Hey, it’s Hadar. Welcome to my channel. And today I want to celebrate with you 200 episodes of the Accent’s Way magazine.
So last week we hit episode 200. And this week, in this episode, I wanted to reflect on my journey from episode number 1 to episode number 200. Crazy! And to talk about my journey, professional journey and personal journey.
Because it wasn’t always this fancy with this couch and plants in the background, and nice lighting, and great camera. At the beginning, it was really lame and sometimes awkward. And I sounded strange, not like myself. And I wasn’t always this confident and expressive and fluent in front of the camera.
And I want to actually talk about it and look first few episodes, and to talk about this development and progress, because I always compare it to the progress that you are going through as an English speaker as a second language. Because when you make a decision of putting yourself out there and starting to speak in English, even though it’s not your native language, it is probably very far from the image you have about who you are as a speaker of English.
In your head, you are fluent and expressive and funny. And when it comes to reality, it is awkward and clunky and slow. And I want to tell you that, you know, reflecting on my journey as a creator and as a teacher, and as a non-native speaker, I think the secret is to keep showing up and doing the work. Even if it’s not perfect, even if it’s not right, even if you get criticized for it, because God knows I’ve gotten a lot of criticism on the work that I’ve put out there. And sometimes I’ve allowed it to affect me, and sometimes I haven’t. And I think that had I allowed it to affect me, I wouldn’t have been here celebrating my 200th episode.
So, I want you to know that the path to fluency is a result of long, continuous, and consistent work. And this is something that you want to do right now, or even yesterday, because soon enough, you will be also celebrating your 200th episode.
And also one more thing, because I know that a lot of English teachers are also watching this and some of you may be timid or insecure about posting yet another video about pronunciation or about English online because the market is saturated and there are already so many teachers. But here’s what I have to say: I was having the same fears and thoughts when I first started out.
But here I am – 200 episodes later and 330,000 subscribers later, amazing students and incredible community that I’m so grateful for. And this would not have been possible had I not decided to go ahead and keep showing up online every single week. So if you want to do it and you’re afraid, then remember that the only way for you to make your dreams a reality is by simply saying yes and doing the work.
So let’s begin with looking at how it all started. Okay. So let’s check out the first video I’ve ever uploaded to YouTube, a little lame. So it was a PowerPoint presentation and me doing a voiceover of drills of words. See, back then I was already all about drills. So, let’s take a look.
“Wade ya want. What do you want?”
“I don’t want to. I don wanna.”
After that, I uploaded a few more videos using my webcam where I speak like a robot Let’s listen.
“Lamb, lamb. Comb, comb your hair. I’m combing my hair”
In 2012, my partner and I wanted to shoot an entire video course about pronunciation. So we rented out a space and we went with a friend of ours to shoot series of videos. We ended up shooting one or maybe two videos that day. I was not that experienced. Again, speaking a little bit like a robot. And it was about the schwa.
“Let’s talk about the schwa. The schwa is the most common sound in English. And that’s because it’s a reduction of all possible vowels.”
Now, it took us so long that I was so discouraged, and I’m like, “I’m not making any video courses and I’m just going to post it to YouTube”. So I posted it to YouTube and I carried on with my life. If few months later I logged in again and I realized that I’ve started receiving dozens and hundreds of comments and the video had about 60,000 views. I was like, “What, what is this?! Who are all these people watching my videos and commenting?”
And it was really funny because I was not really interacting with my YouTube channel. And then I said, “Oh, people are saying that I’m helping them. Maybe, maybe I can do more of those videos. Maybe I should start posting more”. So I started playing with the idea of uploading videos more consistently.
After that, I published a few more videos. And then in 2015, while I’m nine months pregnant with my second daughter, I finally made a commitment to start posting a video every single week. I started my website in English and my newsletter, and I used to send a video to my subscribers every single week. And this is the first video of that magazine.
“I’m often asked why do non-native speakers need to change or reduce their accents. What is it good for? Changing your accent doesn’t mean changing who you are. Your accent is your background, your history and your heritage. Your native tongue is where you can express yourself most freely. And I bet, that some things in your personality and culture just don’t translate well to English.”
Now, if we listen to the video, we see that I’m a lot less natural and less confident in front of the camera. So I attribute it to two things. One, back then I was memorizing the texts. So I actually wrote the script and memorized it and then set it in front of the camera. And I don’t do that anymore, that doesn’t work for me. And I feel that it’s very restricting.
And the second thing is sheer experience. You know, I’ve been making so many videos that simply by just doing it, I have gained confidence and that sense of effortlessness in front of the camera. And even though I have all the respect in the world for that woman being nine months pregnant and making videos for YouTube for the first time, really. Of course I’m still watching this and saying, “Oh, Too much makeup!” Or “What was I wearing” or “Why am I teaching it like that?” Because of course, it’s much easier to be five years later and to know so much more about how things should be done.
Now, throughout the first year of video creation and making videos every single week, I was kind of hiding the fact that I’m a non-native speaker. I mean, I didn’t say that I’m not a native speaker, but I didn’t mention it. In fact, I remember being afraid that people are going to find out that I’m a non-native speaker and say something and comment, and be vicious and mean and think, “Who does she think she is – teaching pronunciation when she’s not even a native speaker?”
And the turning point happened as I was going through some things in my personal life and I was going through this business training. And I said, “Listen, I feel like I’m not being myself and I feel like I’m constantly hiding something”. And I was not enjoying it. I felt like, I felt like I can’t continue that way. And there was this one video where I decided to share my entire story and talk about the fact that I am a non-native speaker, and I started as a foreign student in New York city with a pretty thick accent. And looking back, that video was the permission I needed to be myself in front of the camera and in front of you, and not being so hard on myself when things were not perfect. Let’s take a look.
“So I started teaching, but at first I was really embarrassed to admit that I’m not a native English speaker. I would even try to hide it because after all, there are so many amazing speech coaches out there who are native speakers and what do I have to contribute? How can I possibly reach their level? But as I got better at what I do, and I saw the results in, you know, my students, I realized that what I believe to be my disadvantage, turned out to be my biggest strength.
Because of my background and training and history, I know the way non-native speakers think while trying to process the sounds and intonational patterns of English. I know that because I’m one of them. And because I’ve been there myself, I know what to say and how to explain it to make it specific and clear. So I realized that this is something that is unique to me and only I can deliver it that way”.
Now, as soon as I shared my story and my fears and insecurities, I started getting more and more emails and comments and messages from followers all around the world, sharing with me their stories. And one of the biggest themes was the fear that people experience from communicating in English, the fear of not being perfect.
And at some point I decided that people don’t need yet another how-to-pronounce video. Instead, they need a different perspective to look at things. And I felt that I had that perspective because I had gone through that myself, being that super perfectionist, to being a little more natural and neutral and feeling in my own skin when speaking in English. This is the first video I created about mindset and about communication over perfection.
“I want you to visualize this. Think of this idea of perfection, of perfection as your worst enemy, as your biggest competitor, as your nemesis, who is standing there around the corner, just waiting, waiting for you to fail. Because every time you feed that monster, every time you decide not to speak, not to express your thoughts because it’s not fully articulated, because every time you say no to an interview or a job offer or an invitation because it requires English and you are just not sure if your English is good enough or you’re just afraid to speak, then your biggest enemy is winning and you are losing.
This is failure. Not trying to say something and making a mistake, not saying something and getting stuck. That’s not failing. That’s just practicing, that’s just living. Even native speakers make mistakes, okay. And then it’s okay because that’s their native tongue. Stop being so judgmental, let go, lose this idea of perfection. Stop feeding the monster because then you are the only person who’s going to pay the price.”
Another turning point on my channel is when I started teaching intonation. So up until the video that we’re gonna watch in a sec, I was only talking about pronunciation and a little bit about mindset as you’ve seen. And the reason why I wasn’t talking about intonation is because I have this fear that because I’m a non-native speaker I don’t have anything interesting to say about it. And actually, maybe I don’t know how to talk about it.
Even though obsessed with it and I was really clear about how to teach it to my students, I was afraid that doing it in public is not going to be good enough. Yet, I did it. And after making this video I realized that, hey, I actually do have a lot to say, and it helps people gain clarity. So maybe I can and should talk more about intonation and prosody. So let’s watch.
“Today we are going to talk about American intonation. Now, I know that usually in this channel, I talk about pronunciation, but don’t get me wrong. American intonation is not less important and sometimes more important than pronunciation. Stressed words are higher in pitch and longer. Higher in pitch so they get a higher note – TA-da. The first note was higher in pitch – TA-da. And they’re longer. Okay? The glass is on the table.”
After that, I had a series of videos where I dismantled and dissected speeches by different speakers. And I absolutely loved it as well as my audience.
“I have yet to give a speech or have a meeting where somebody doesn’t ask me the millennial question”. ‘I have yet’, the next chunk is ‘to give a speech’.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I think we are in a cultural crisis”. ‘I think we are’, ‘think’ is stressed, it’s a little longer, ‘I’ is a bit more reduced.
In April, 2018, I wanted to create a 5-day challenge. And to do that, I posted a video on YouTube called “How I lost my accent and became fluent”. And in that video, I invited people to join my Facebook group. Little did I know, this was going to be the beginning of a new era. Because what was meant to be a 5-day pop-up group ended up being the most incredible community in the world. And I am highly objective with right now over 15,000 people from all around the world, communicating and connecting in English. And that was the video that’s started the whole thing.
“…Live video lessons. You’ll be able to interact with me and ask me questions. You’ll receive a daily email with a PDF sheet with instructions for the next day. You’ll receive tasks and assignments. You’ll make videos of yourself and you’ll communicate with other people. Look, those five days are going to pass anyway. Question is what are you going to do in those five days that will help you reach your goals?”
One of the things that I realized in the middle of this journey is that I realized what works best for me. So I told you that at first I used to write the script and memorize it, and then I used to prepare and write bullet points. But every time I would stand up in front of the camera, I would start speaking and then I would realize that the best way for me to convey my message or to really realize what I want to speak about and to do it in a clear and concise way was to just do it again and again, and again.
While it took a lot of work in the editing room just to throw out all the outtakes and everything that was not necessary, the really good videos were a result of many attempts. Which is, again, just to show you that nothing comes out perfectly at first. You’ve got to do it again and again and again and again, until you realize yourself what it is that you want to say. And until you realize that you’re actually good at what you’re doing.
So, I remember this one video that right now is about to hit 1 million views, it’s probably my most viewed video. And I prepared for it and I did other things, and then I stood up in front of the camera and I wanted to do something completely different. And I started talking and I ended up doing something that resonated the most with my audience.
So while preparing is important, also trust your intuition and give yourself permission to just speak and follow your gut feeling. Because that’s what I did with that video, and it ended up being my most viewed video till this day.
“I hate nothing more than hearing the term ‘speak like a native speaker’. Because when you set the bar so high, the gap is so wide that you’ll feel that you’ll never be able to reach there. If this is your goal, then this becomes impossible. You don’t need to sound like a native speaker. Sound like yourself, but your most fluent, expressive, and confident self. That’s your goal.
Don’t try to achieve something that will hold you back, try to achieve something that will empower you. Really, trust me on that. I know, I know that it’s hard to change that mindset because you’ve been told for years that the only way to become fluent is to sound like a native speaker. But understand that being a native speaker is something that happens if you’re born into the language. And if you’re not born into the language, you can become very fluent in the language and you can master it. And you can master the accent, I know that. And again, I’ve done it myself. But I know that the journey is long and it takes a lot of hard work.
And sometimes the goals should be expressing yourself, being fluent, finding the words, sounding clear, even if it’s not like a native speaker, even if people still ask you where you’re from. Okay? The thing is that you need to be okay with that. You need to understand that what you bring to the table as a non-native speaker is your gift, is your advantage, okay? Don’t try to hide it. Don’t try to wash out your identity. Become clear, have a powerful voice, say what you have to say. Doesn’t matter if it’s with an accent and it doesn’t matter if it’s with mistakes.”
Being so involved in the community and being in direct touch with my students and my followers, I’ve realized that one of the things that need to change in the English learning industry is how English is being taught and who should be teaching English. So, I was on a mission to decolonize how English is being taught. And that was all to the point where I started uploading videos that are a little more political and socially conscious.
“Just like you wouldn’t talk about someone’s weight or skin color or sexual orientation, you shouldn’t talk about someone else’s accent. You don’t know what their journey is, you don’t know where that meets them, you don’t know what emotions that generates. Why put them in a state where they feel like they have to prove themselves with that simple silly question?”
Also, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, we started talking about the lack of diversity in the English learning industry as well.
“If we look at the voice of English that we see on YouTube, most of the teachers who teach on YouTube, who are native speakers, most of them are white. And as white American or British speakers, they have a very particular voice and very particular accent. This accent, because it’s so dominant, is associated with what seems to be proper English. And everything that deviates from that might sound to us inaccurate, wrong, or sometimes unintelligent.
There are many different dialects of English that English learners are less exposed to. And as a result, they may associate English as being spoken in only one certain way. And that is a problem because if you don’t follow enough voices, you will always think that this is how you should speak English. And to be honest, it’s not. English is very, very varied. And when you feel that there is only one way of speaking English, and what proper English is, you will always be trapped in this complexity of, “I don’t sound like a native speaker because native speaker is good and non-native speaker or an accent is bad.”
And let’s not forget that I also had incredible guests.
– How are you? – I’m good. I’m like exploring, exploring my new abilities as a DJ.
– World. Oh my God, it’s groundbreaking!
– Hi Hadar, how are you?
– And I’m thinking about black coffee, in my head.
– And you have your own YouTube channel now, which you haven’t mentioned by the way.
At the beginning of 2020, I also announced my new podcast, the InFluency podcast, and sometimes shared the episodes here on my channel as well, which turned out to be great. Looking back, it’s really nice to see how I started with a very narrow perspective of only teaching pronunciation and actually being very fearful about talking about anything else out of the fear of making someone angry or upset because I wanted to please everyone.
But gradually, as I was growing and as I was building confidence, and as I was truly listening to my audience, I realized that what I really need to do is be myself and talk about the things that interest me, even at the price of repelling some people who are not going to like when I make fun of Donald Trump; or are not going to like where I talk about the fact that you don’t have to sound like a native speaker.
And the last thing. This would not have been possible if it weren’t for you. So I want to say a big, big thing you for being here, for liking, for sharing, for commenting, or for simply just viewing and sharing that moment with me, even though we are not in the same space and not at the same time.
Still, I feel that this format of a video helps me create relationships with people from all around the world. And I want to thank you for being a part of that relationship. So thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you next time in the next video.
And here are the videos mentioned on this episode: