To my readers, Hello! My name is Mikhala and my Chinese name is 季明娜 (jìmíngnà). Fear can come in a lot of shapes and a lot of sizes. It can disappear when you least expect it to, but also appear when you aren’t looking. This is my second time coming to the same exact destination, Tainan, Taiwan. The streets are the same as I remember them, the same laobans (lǎobǎn-owner) run the same stalls, the same high schoolers practice hip hop dance in the same spots around campus. It’s almost like a dream. Pretty much the only thing that isn’t the same is me. My knowledge of Chinese is a bit more vast. I have more courage and drive to explore new parts of time.
I’m still a bit scared to speak Chinese.
More specifically, I am afraid of making mistakes, that is. Afraid that when I am talking with someone, as soon as we get past the pleasantries, bypass the standard “your Chinese is so good!”, and finally make it to the part of the conversation where we begin discussing deeper, more complex, more abstract topics, the true level of my Chinese will be revealed. I’m afraid that I’ll be found out. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to convey all the thoughts that run around wild in my head, and that amidst all the confusion caused by stumbling on new vocabulary words and poorly learned grammar patterns, my listener will inevitably lose interest, and the conversation will get nowhere.
This may seem like a very elaborate yet utterly groundless fear of mine, and it is. But, aren’t all fears like that? At the very moment their seed has been planted into our minds, we spend so many of our hours nurturing them, preparing for the moment when they are brought into reality. We have thought of every possible thing that could go wrong and every possible way to control that situation and turn it to our favor.
And then the unfathomable happens: that fear runs up on us out of nowhere and hits us. Suddenly, our life flashes before our eyes. However, after the smoke and haze clears, we realize that we survived! This is what my experience has been like whenever I venture out of a comfort zone to use Chinese, or any language for that matter. I worry about how a situation will play out before I even say a word, and after long moments of contemplation I decide to open my mouth and see what happens. So far I have mostly been met with understanding responses and willingness to help me through my struggle.
I have come to find that the moment I decide to let go of my fear of embarrassment, let go of my pride, and let others see my vulnerability, is the moment that gives me joy. When I answer a hard question in class, when I go to a new cafe and ask the workers to explain what an unfamiliar drink is, when I decide to chat with a random person on the street, these are all opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone. No matter how insignificant and trivial the fear may seem to myself or even to others, because it is mine, it is my responsibility to face it and learn from it. And when I do decide to face it, and then overcome it, the sense of relief, joy, confidence and peace that follows provides a satisfaction that is hard to find elsewhere. Suddenly, I am more open and inclined to bless strangers with a smile and a short greeting. I have the freedom to decide to wander down a new street and to my amazement, I discover a food stall that was foreign and new, but once I taste their dish it seems as if it was made to specifically for me.
If you have made it this far into my blog, I want to thank you and leave you with this message: learning a language truly is a unique journey and it is tailored specifically for each person. You will not experience things in the same way. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; instead, be eager to make more, for it’s from those mistakes that you will learn the most. Language is a tool, so use it to communicate and build bridges with people. As often as you can, try to use your language in a new way that is exciting to you. Be vulnerable when learning a language and let experience, not just books, be your teacher.
By: Mikhala Gittens
Term: Summer 2019