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.
- I just may be able to speak another language.
- 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?
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