The Uncomfortable Learning of Language

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.”
— Ray Bradbury

This past weekend, I had the honor of being a guest judge for an English speech competition. I never partook in speech or debate in high school or college. Participating in Model UN remains the closest thing to any debating or speech making I have ever done. Yet there I sat as a guest judge, listening to students eloquently ramble.

A philosophical video served as the topic of the speech, and many students went off of the path and onto various tangents. I could not judge too harshly. As I sat in my seat, I ruminated over my Chinese lesson of the previous week.

Geez — languages are difficult.

The shaking knees of every contestant stood out. The nervousness of every young gentleman or young lady on the stage appeared through countenance or through body language. It did not matter where one sat in the room; the nerves remained obvious. Everyone felt uncomfortable, but I expected this.

Feeling uncomfortable when learning a language is the centerpiece of progress. Learning a language means embarrassment, strife, and tears. When you feel as if your language skills are understood by one local, you must seek out the rejection of someone else. Only until anyone can understand your words do you have any grasp of a language.

My Chinese skills are developing, and in the meantime I have had to develop a tougher skin. When I feel that I have found a place of acceptance in my Chinese language abilities, I must reject it. When I find rejection in a conversation with a local, I must accept it. This constant cycle beats at my self-esteem. My ego’s fire is fanned out. As a person who enjoys exuding confidence, I move from adaptive and aware to stumbling and aloof within seconds.

I miss being able to understand social cues. I miss catching underlying meanings. I miss sarcasm. Even as a piss-poor user of the tool, I miss sarcasm a lot. I miss hearing sarcasm leave the tip of someone else’s tongue.

Yet, this is something I have grown to accept, and I continue to do so every day. No doubt — I must give a shout-out to those who shower me with sanity and sarcasm from home on the daily. This is love for all who have sent a kind comment on Facebook, an email, or even a care package to me — a reminder that I am not alone no matter where I am in the world.

Still, part of me longs for the mutual feeling of conversation. I have posted before of meeting people on the middle ground, of finding some of “my people,” and having a good time stumbling along. Yes, all of these are true, and those feelings still remain. What I am really trying to hit on the head here is the idea that I cannot accept comfortability.

Comfortability means a sense of ease. Feeling comfortable at this point in the game would mean that I pushed too little. My boundaries must be stretched. If I sit on my couch every evening watching Netflix rather than going out, meeting new people, or practicing my Chinese, then what good is my time here? But oh, the comfortability of the evening. How wonderful it would be to escape from the world around me for even one episode. I will order my takeout, and I will sit on my couch and watch Archer.

No. This is not the point. I am here to embrace the uncomfortable, squeezing the air out of the inflatable packaging and getting down the core contents. I must change myself on the inside and have its effects appear outwardly.

Things are beginning to settle down for me here in China. Maybe it’s time that I shake them up again — language skills included.

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