Courage to speak: learning a new language

Hello from Seattle, Washington!

The past few weeks I’ve been using the Memrise app to learn some Japanese before we fly to Japan later this week. Learning languages is something I really enjoy: it’s like a road map to a different culture. I hope to pick up a bit of the language of each place we travel to before we get there, even if it means just saying hello and thank you.

The biggest hurdle for me when learning a new language is speaking it. I hear again and again that people appreciate when you try to speak their language. But when I’ve traveled in the past, the first thought in my head when interacting with someone local is “I don’t want to sound stupid! It’s probably better if I just speak English.” I get shy. I think that they’ll judge my poor speaking skills or think that I’m stupid. I don’t speak out loud because I’m not confident that it will come out perfectly. But then I don’t get any practice speaking, and I don’t improve. So already I’ve not only judged how I’d do, but also how they would react to what I would hypothetically do. Man, that’s a whole conversation in my head that’s based on zero evidence!

It’s the way I’ve felt stepping into a yoga class where everyone seems to be on another level: super lean-yet-muscular, casually hopping into handstand (adho mukha vrksasana) or flying pigeon (eka pada gala asana) before the practice starts, hair and makeup on point (how?? Why??), and a gracefully draping outfit. I automatically start comparing myself to the others, wondering if I belong in that class. It’s part of being human: noticing new surroundings and gauging them based on quick and simple judgments. I used to spend classes like this glancing over at others, pushing myself to the furthest extent I could, holding my breath and tensing my muscles, willing myself to get “better” at yoga. I still feel intimidated in some yoga classes (especially if they begin with “advanced”). But now when this happens, I can notice my breath and come back to why I love practicing yoga in the first place. I love it because you can do it any time, anywhere, no matter who you are. This is what I encourage in my students, and I’m grateful for these moments when I feel intimidated because it helps me become a better teacher. It helps me meet each of my students where they are, for them to listen to what they need that day, and for them to practice the courage  to speak their yoga.

So on this trip, I’m going to be in many different countries where I don’t speak a word of the language. But I promise myself that I’m gonna try. It may not sound pretty, it may not make much sense. But damned if I let that keep me from opening my mouth and seeing what comes out.