I don’t speak as well as I write. My inability to speak in a clear and eloquent manner derives from my social anxiety. My blunders are spurred on by intense fear to say something, anything, if only to take the weight of social responsibility off my shoulders. In friendships, in work settings, in college, I have failed the spoken English language.
Then I started learning Japanese, and I gained a whole new perspective on my anxieties.
I knew when I went to college that I wanted to learn Japanese. As I studied, I started wondering about the ability to heal through a foreign language. When your own mind is fractured in your native language, can it be further fractured by another language? Or is it made whole in the discovery of new words, new grammar, new social nuances? For me, it was the latter. There’s a strange peace found in incorporating another language into your life. I believe my mind has learned to converge in the arduousness of learning Japanese.
When speaking Japanese, I mentally slow down to consider what words and grammar I need to convey an idea, opinion, wish, or reply. Contrary to what I once assumed, my anxiety generally doesn’t overwhelm me. The pressure to succeed on the first attempt is minimized to a degree because failing in a foreign language is expected. That inevitability of failure, in a world so uncertain and chaotic, is oddly reassuring.
In my mother tongue, I have failed over and over to truly digest what is being said to me, which often leads to doubt and overthinking. With Japanese, I listen to understand, not just to reply. Misunderstandings still abound, yet I can keep some sense of clarity. I’m nowhere near fluent in Japanese, but I’m not deterred as I usually am when anxiety takes the lead.
When I speak or understand something in Japanese correctly, that Aha! I did this! moment is truly gratifying for my dismally low self-esteem. Finally, I did something right. I worked hard and this is my reward. Yet more than just speaking correctly, it’s being able to convey what I truly want to say unimpeded by an anxiety rooted in American social standards.
I’m still socially awkward no matter what language I’m speaking, but I’m not as self-conscious of it when I’m in a Japanese state of mind. It’s as if all the kanji (Chinese pictographs) and keigo (polite Japanese) filter out the nasty bits of my anxiety and streamline my thinking. Japanese is a tough language, but it’s one I have no regrets learning. It’s given me an escape from my own anxieties. How can anyone deny that peace?