Jumping off the High Dive – What is it that holds us back in language learning?

Speaking a foreign language is scary. I’m not talking ghosts and ghouls scary, but nerve wrecking kinda scary. There is no amount of practice at home, no set number of times you write the words perfectly, no magic pill you can take to steady your tongue and quicken your ear…though many will say that a few drinks does something of the sort 😉

Why is it that we become so afraid? Failure is a pretty obvious answer. But shouldn’t it seem that reaching out to connect, no matter how menial the level, would be better than nothing?

The reality is that you will absolutely positively fail…but also succeed! And that is how humans learn. We need trial and error; we must find the correct combination to unlock each question, each phrase. But most of us don’t get it right round one, which is fine as long as you don’t get KO’ed (that’s ‘Knocked Out’ in boxing terminology). Now you know what the other guy (or gal’s) signature left hook looks like and you’ve seen how they always feint to the right. You’re learning and you’re still in the game. So you pick yourself up off that mat and go speak some Creole!

The magical thing about Haiti is that people applaud every ounce of effort you put toward learning their language. Even using the most common greeting will gain applause and instant respect…now creatively termed ‘instaspect.’ This reduces the anxiety that goes along with attempting your new language skills. And honestly, speaking Creole in Haiti is sort of like jumping off the high dive as a kid. The first time you get the opportunity, you might just look over the edge and decide you’re not ready. But once you summon the courage, or some clever friend decides you need a caring nudge, you realize it’s not so bad. And the fear wears off with repetition… at least a little.

Perhaps it is not failure that we’re so scared of, but the unknown. Perhaps we fear that after asking someone’s name, they may ask us a question. And perhaps we will not understand them or be able to answer appropriately. We may get stuck, unable to proceed down that path of human connection, roadblocked by our lack of common vocabulary…. but at least still on the path!

In American culture, we are often ingrained with the idea that if you’re going to do something, you had better be the best at it, otherwise it’s not worth doing. But we have to leave these ideas in the dust when it comes to language …because the goal of language isn’t winning, it’s connection! And when you create that connection, taking it just as far down that road as you can, then you have succeeded.

And let’s be honest, the instaspect you get climbing out of that public pool after your ‘spectacular’ high dive performance, totally worth it.

Ready to take the plunge?

Written by Morgan Denny on November 11, 2015

Join your supportive community of fellow Creole learners at www.haitihub.com!!

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