Sounds like a bit of a shocker coming from me, doesn’t it. But it’s true – language classes make me feel stressed and incompetent.
After last week’s Portuguese lesson, my friend and classmate Sofia remarked that I hadn’t been having a very good time in class that evening. Probably, so she surmised, because of my toothache. (I’m having some dental work done at the moment, but the pain is fairly well controlled by painkillers)
No, Sofia, this is how I am, ALL THE TIME, in language classes.
She’s going to have to get used to it.
My pet hate is having to read aloud. As a teenager studying Russian, I always dreaded the part where we were taking turns to read aloud from the textbook. I would practice for hours at home alone in my room, to the point where knew the text almost by heart, but it was no use. In class, my windpipe would constrict, and my pronunciation was all over the place. It was pretty much the same sweaty-palmed experience in my English class.
It’s not a fear of public speaking per se. Although I don’t particularly relish the first five minutes, I can stand up in front of hundreds of people and give fairly engaging presentation – I even enjoy it, as long as I know what I’m talking about.
When I worked as a Braillist for six years, part of the job was reading aloud to (blind) colleagues who were checking the Braille against the print version. Totally fine – I was in the room with only one other person who I was comfortable with. But as soon as there’s a classroom, an ‘audience’ and an expectant teacher involved, I completely go to pieces.
It’s not just reading aloud that frazzles me. When it’s my turn to construct a sentence or come up with a basic line of dialogue, more often than not I get stuck, out of pure nervousness. It doesn’t help that I’m a reticent foreign language speaker who hates making mistakes. When I’m not 100% sure, I’d much rather not say anything at all.
I’m not alone in this, I realise. A good friend of mine told me that he didn’t start speaking until he was four years old. Then, one fine day, he pointed at a vehicle parked outside their house, asking, in a perfectly formed sentence in the genitive case, “Wessen Auto ist das?” (“Whose car is this?”). This rather late start, btw, didn’t stop him from becoming multilingual.
It’s obvious that my performance failure has nothing to do with other people’s expectations of me, but is down to my fear of not measuring up to my own.
The upshot of it is, even though I’m generally considered to be “good” at languages, I struggle like hell in certain settings. I’m not like a fish in water as soon as I step into a language class, far from it. I get caught up in boxing against my own shadow. Six years of therapy should sort me out…
Despite this, I evidently still go to language classes and I do get a great deal out of them. So, I guess, it’s more like a love-hate relationship.
As an aside, my Portuguese class is about to fold, due to lack of numbers. We’re down to just three. I may go elsewhere in May if another class can be found, or continue on my own. I have placed an ad on a website looking for speakers of Brazilian Portuguese who want to improve their English or their German. Let’s see what comes of it…