Language Learning is Not a One-Man Journey

Before coming to this program, because I love to learn languages, I never thought that I would burn out from being immersed in a language. For most of the program I was so scared that if I didn’t memorize the lesson for the day, if I continuously messed up the sentences I said in class, didn’t get an “A” on my homework and tests, then something was very wrong. Almost every day I wondered to myself, why is my speaking worse than everyone else in my class? Why does it seem like I am the only one who can’t express my thoughts in a coherent manner or remember any of the idioms and vocabulary words we studied? On top of doubting my speaking abilities, I felt especially vulnerable in our conversation and discussion class, which is where we talk about world issues such as pollution, politics, or food safety. I never was one to dig deep into learning about world issues, I just stayed in the entertainment realm (Asian dramas, listening to music, YouTube videos, social media) so I felt like I had nothing to contribute in these classes, resulting in my silence. I didn’t realize it at first, but by thinking that I was not able to express myself using Chinese, that I could never remember the vocabulary words, or that my opinions about topics were unimportant, those thoughts influenced my performance. I came to class tired and dejected because I “knew” how I was going to perform in class. I dreaded the moments when I would stumble on my sentences, or when my responses would be met with looks of bewilderment.

I decided that I needed to talk to someone, anyone, about what I was feeling. I knew that I needed to overcome these challenges and change the way I viewed my language learning journey or else I could not move forward, but on my own I could not change, so I decided to talk to our Resident Director (RD) about how I felt. First, she assured me that I was not a bad student. Though I felt like I was the only one experiencing these feelings, my RD explained that this was a part of the language learning process. She explained, when learning Chinese, when you are at a lower level of fluency, it is easiest to see your progress, but at some point you plateau, and it seems like you aren’t making any improvement. And then you start progressing very quickly, and then you plateau again. She shared that if I wanted to feel like I was growing, I had to seek opportunities outside of class to use Chinese and apply what I had learned inside of class.

Though we only have two weeks left in the program, I now feel a drive and a confidence that I didn’t previously possess. Instead of shrinking back in my seat and avoid making eye contact with the teacher after a question has been asked, I raise my hand first. Yes, I still struggle sometimes, but the previous expectation I had to be perfect is gone. Instead, I let myself struggle, knowing that my teacher or my classmates will help me out. Instead of trying to memorize the text, I try to understand it. I have also made a greater effort speaking with Taiwanese people, and I’ve found that even if I forget the vocabulary in class, they come out naturally when I’m outside of class! I have discovered that I am not in this journey alone. When I am having a hard time, it is important to seek someone out and share about my experiences and feelings so that I can work through them and overcome them.

By: Mikhala Gittens

Program: Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program, Tainan, Taiwan

Term: Summer 2019

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