One of the beauties of speaking another language is that it allows you to express yourself through different words and concepts that don’t exist in your native tongue. Never did I think though, that it could make me (loud, outgoing and laughs all day Alisa) appear to be shy and reserved.
Why is it so different?
It’s bloody difficult to interject during groups conversations, let alone keep up with what’s going on, when you’re still improving your foreign language skills. By the time you’ve considered grammatical accuracy and ensured you’re not about to embarrass yourself by using the wrong words, the moment has passed and no one even realises you were about to say anything anyway. Great. I sometimes decided to just listen and not talk because it was way easier and quite frankly, I couldn’t be bothered.
But it wasn’t all bad. I would leave social events feeling so happy because I had understood exactly what was going on and knew that my listening skills were improving. I didn’t however, consider that at a time when I was constantly meeting new people, keeping quiet meant I wasn’t able to be my true self.
But surely people understood?
Yes (some) people were very understanding, however this isn’t really the point. Sometimes you just don’t have the words and I think this is what confuses native speakers the most. You’ve been talking to them for ages about various topics and situations and then suddenly BAM! The conversation comes to a halt whilst you search every inch of your brain to find words that could potentially, but most likely won’t, fit the topic that you’ve never covered in your foreign language before.
And it’s even harder when you don’t really know the group of people and they are talking about something that happened when you weren’t there. In English I would never have struggled with these situations. I would just ask questions and get involved but when you’re not really confident with what your about to say, everyone is talking on top of each other, and you weren’t even there when whatever it was that happened, happened, trust me, it’s not easy.
So what to do?
I’ve been living abroad and speaking German on a daily basis for a year and a half now, and in the last few months I’ve noticed a huge difference in my ability to converse in group conversations, make jokes and really be able to express my true self. There’s a big difference between conversing on a one to one basis and group situations, and although it took a lot of practice and discipline (ie don’t use English just because it’s easier), it’s definitely possible.
Perhaps it’s also because I now also have more of a feel for the language and have become more comfortable with the group of people I am usually surrounded by? But whatever the reason, I’ve realised that it’s not just whether you understand the words, it’s whether you understand how to use them.
I was shocked to hear that someone had said I’m quiet, but on reflection it does makes sense. Whilst focusing on what was being said to me rather than actually saying something myself, I portrayed a quiet individual who doesn’t really have much to say. Truth is, I’m the complete opposite and I’m happy to now be able to portray my true self in a foreign language.