Mastering a second language is not an easy feat. Sometimes we get discouraged when we still struggle despite having reached high levels of fluency. But, when you look back at your learning journey, there's something you should be proud of that's propelled you forward – the courage it took to get to where you are at today!
Learning A Second Language: An Act of Courage
Since the end of last year, I've really been reflecting on something one of my Members commented on. We were wrapping up a session, and during our 2022 reflection, he said something that just resonated with me and the others. He said, "It takes being brave to speak a foreign language. In fact, it takes being brave just to come to our Membership Session each month.
If you're reading this as a non-native English speaker, then, yes. You're brave.
My job requires me to pay attention to the little details - the flow, someone's intonation of a phrasal verb, the use of linkage in a sentence…but, even as I get wrapped up in these important details, I always keep my eye on the bigger picture. And that is the traits and qualities, the character, and the persistence required to succeed in a second language.
The fact that my Members and students use their English as a second language in business and a variety of cultural settings, all leveraging complex conversations and dealing with highly ambiguous situations daily is impressive to me.
They're courageous, determined, and bold to pick up a second language and weather the difficulties of being uncomfortable with a new set of sounds, grammar rules, intonations, and words that they're unfamiliar with.
When I teach, I am standing in front of a class of warriors!
Learning a new language almost resembles being a child again. The feeling of not having the words to express ourselves and often feeling frustrated as we wiggle to get our message across. Quite literally, when learning a new language you're reinterpreting new symbols and attaching a new value to them - you're creating a new value system.
However, this time, you're fending for yourself...you're not a child with a parent or guardian by your side guiding you through the uncertainty. You're kind of unprotected.
And then there's the added factor that our adult brains often believe that our inability to get our words across and be understood, and connect easily with another person, somehow reflects a lack of self-worth.
Do our grammar mistakes make us stupid? Do the difficulties we face in pronouncing unfamiliar sounds mark us as dumb?
I think you know my answer to that--of course not! But it doesn't mean that we may not feel that way sometimes.
Most of you reading today aren't beginners. You've got years of English under your belt, and you've endured the battle scars of the early stages of your language-learning journey.
Bravery is not just for beginners. Your badges of bravery shine even brighter the longer you speak English as a foreign language.
Actually, I remember when I first started learning Portuguese, I was fearless. It wasn't until I could hear my mistakes and feel my lack of progress, that I set judgment upon myself.
Even now, as someone who lives part-time in Brazil, there are overwhelming days of interactions with friends, in cafes, supermarkets, and with my husband. I come home and retreat back into myself feeling completely defeated by a day of micro-challenges.
Exhausted, my head hits the pillow sinking into what I hope might be a sea of English-speaking dreams.
Shrugging off self-doubt takes strength and resilience.
And I know all of the professionals I support have that, for sure!
And no matter what level your English, I want to let you know that you aren't alone.
The reality is, learning and mastering a new language requires you to stay bold. You're bound to mess up and stumble.
But here are some nuggets of wisdom I can offer you.
You're valuable. Your ideas and communication matter. And the fact that you speak a second language means that you are enriching others with your culture and your unique worldview
Think about it this way, you've got cultural fluency and despite any challenges you may face with the language, you've got tremendous power to bring people together when you step up with your humility and your courage.
You've come a long way.
Recognize your strengths and stay brave.
I just want to finish by saying, you inspire me.