Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Wall: Overcoming Your Insecurities on the Path to Fluency

The Wall

While the process of learning a second language may come easy for some, it can be a great challenge for others. As someone who has been learning Chinese for nearly five years, I can say it has not come easy for me. There have been moments in the process that have made me question my ability to learn, or my overall desire to continue studying the language. I have referred to my own doubts as “the wall.” And I have found that once you recognize what your wall is, you will be better prepared to overcome it.

Most often our frustrations and doubts are the result of comparison. It is likely that you know someone who fluently speaks two or three languages. Or perhaps, you know someone who mastered Chinese in only a couple years. And I am confident we have all seen books, or online training courses that boast fluency in just six months! When I first began learning Chinese I was determined to realize the same success. When six months, and then a couple years had passed and I had yet to achieve anything beyond an intermediate speaking and reading level, I grew increasingly discouraged. Why was I struggling so much when others seemed to be doing so well? Slowly my insecurities began to take over. I was afraid to practice speaking in front of others, afraid they would judge me for my limited vocabulary and poor grammar. This fear and my concern with what others thought of me and my abilities grew, and as it did it began to undercut my learning.

I wish I could tell you this is something that is easy to overcome, but it is not. If you have experienced this yourself, I am sure you understand. Self-consciousness can keep you from utilizing the resources around you meant to promote learning, or make you pass up unique academic or professional opportunities simply because you do not think you have what it takes. My self-doubt prevented me from speaking Chinese with my classmates and other international students. It kept me from registering for courses that utilized primary resources in Chinese. While I was studying abroad in Taiwan four years ago, it caused incredible nervousness when I was merely trying to order a meal. I was absolutely terrified of conversing with anyone in Chinese. My fear grew from a bump in the road to a daunting wall. Fortunately, I have just now made it to the other side of this wall.

When I decided to spend the summer in Taipei studying Chinese, I told myself this was for me. I was taking this opportunity to improve myself and nobody else. Personal improvement is just that, PERSONAL! You cannot and should not measure your success or growth by anyone else’s standards. Everyone learns differently and at a different pace. Whether it takes you months or years to learn a language, be proud of yourself. Always be confident in your dreams, even when you are not confident in yourself. The growth I have experienced in the past month is more than I have had in the year prior, proof that when you commit to yourself and your goals, you can overcome all of the irrational yet intimidating insecurities that have ever held you back.

So, go forth! Make mistakes, but choose to learn from them rather than be discouraged by them. We all stumble and sometimes it takes us a while to get back up, but I promise you will make it over the wall!


Katelyn DeNap

George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs
M.A. Security Policy Studies
Organization of Asian Studies – Vice President
Sigur Center 2017 Asian Language Fellow
National Taiwan University - International Chinese Language Program, Taiwan

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