I have never learned another language.  Not that I haven’t tried.  But for whatever reason, I never felt like I could master the vocabulary, understand what was being said, or come up with ways to express myself in another tongue.


But I’m going to Italy with my family this summer and I decided that this time I was going to make it happen.  I did some research on learning languages, invested in a good flashcard program, bought a grammar guide, a phrasebook, and a 9-CD conversation set.  For the last 12 months I have spent as much as 2 or 3 hours some nights studying.


And to be as brave as possible, I’m actually going to my first Italian conversation group.  Yes, I’m going to walk into a room where people are speaking nothing but Italian and I’m going to do my best.  This is part of my “get your head all the way under the water and you’ll be fine” strategy, and I hope it makes the plunge into Italy less intense.


Because I’ve been so brave, I’ve had a chance to start to look at what the problem has been with me and languages all this time.  I’ve learned some surprising and not-so-surprising things about myself.  There are basically 3 reasons I haven’t wanted to just dive in before.


Reason 1) I don’t want to bore or irritate anyone. Reason 2) I want to be understood and I get anxious when I am not. Reason 3) I think very linguistically, and if I can’t express what I am thinking, I feel like less of a person.


All the reasons intertwine.  They have to do with my desire to control the amount of uncertainty around the way people see and think of me.  Therefore they are unrealistic and need to be jettisoned.


There are some real benefits to leaving that control behind.


  1. I just may be able to speak another language.
  2. Any opportunity to stop trying to control the world is a good opportunity.


And finally, 3) The other day I performed a movement of a Mozart sonata that I’ve been preparing all year.  Usually when I perform I have a hard time focusing on myself, and instead get caught up in what I imagine people are thinking about me.  This time, for some reason I was able to just play and didn’t get all worked up…hmmm…


That’s extraordinary.  I’ve been trying to make that happen for forty-five years.  And what did it take to finally get there?


Learning a new language.  Learning from a new language.  What have you learned?


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Two more articles came out this week, one on performance anxiety and the other on going back to college.  Visit my "Press" tab to read them!  

Adam Cole is an author, educator and performer who blogs weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and artistry.  He is the director of Innovative Approaches to Music, a comprehensive look at the benefits of music learning.  To take a quiz on what kind of music warrior you are, please visit www.mymusicfriend.net


Jan Kingston May 21, 2018 @06:18 pm

I love learning languages, Adam. I can relate to all you say. I can't say I'm fluent in any language but English (all that vocabulary--phew!), but I love your insight on concern about what others are thinking of you and how it reflected in your music. Progress! Learning a language and from learning the language! 5 years ago I began to study Arabic. I had studied Spanish in the past when I was younger, and for whatever reason I can blabber away (probably using the wrong tense or wrong words) with a Hispanic person, but haven't reached that with Arabic. Arabic _is_ a more difficult language, it is true, but I think my self-consciousness is also higher. I lived in the Middle East for awhile, and it started to flow a bit more. I realized at that point that my teachers had done something really right. They had started speaking Arabic in the class from the very first 101 day. (Where we were all clueless.) As I went through 2 and a half years of Arabic before I went to the Middle East, there was always a feeling of, shall I say somewhat of panic, cluelessness, nervousness, frustration trying to spit something out, frustration with trying to express oneself adequately, etc. when I tried to speak. What was great was that _that_ is part of the learning. When I got to Jordan, I _still_ felt that, but by that time, it was a familiar feeling, and it was like, Oh yeah, this is how it feels to speak another language for awhile (a little like you are a fool/stupid). One person told me to keep at it, because most of the people who succeed in Arabic don't succeed because they are the best, but because they are the most perseverant;i.e., a lot of people just give up, so the last ones standing, speak Arabic. Haha. It has made me very empathetic and kind to people who are trying to learn English. Because what I got, from Hispanic people and Arabs, was much kindness (a little laughter now and then as I flubbed the language, but in a good-humored way) and patience, and such pleasure from them that I had tried to learn. I don't know what Italians are like. But I hope you enjoy your trip. Butcher that language with flare! Laugh. Have fun. Love those Italians. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I don't usually comment. But you do a great job on your blog.

Marilyn Feingold May 21, 2018 @05:23 pm

I think playing or painting needs to be a very selfish act. You get into yourself, play or paint for yourself and forget everyone else. others will enjoy your playing most when you play for yourself rather than their approval. You can care about the audience when you first go onstage and when you finish playing or finished your painting. But you have to shift your focus as soon as you start to paint or play to what you are trying to say. The audience is there, but they don't want to have any responsiblity other than to view your painting or listen to your music.

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