I do not speak as well as I write. (Who does?) My inability to speak in a clear and eloquent manner is largely derived 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.
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?
There’s a strange peace to be found in incorporating another language into your life. I believe my mind has learned to converge in the arduousness of learning Japanese.
When speaking in Japanese my mind is forced to slow down, to consider what words and grammar I need to use to convey an idea, opinion, wish, or reply. Contrary to what I assumed, my anxiety generally doesn’t reach an overwhelming point in these situations. Sometimes I get a pass for being another gaijin (foreigner) learning Japanese. Failing in a language is expected, and so the pressure to succeed on the first attempt is minimized to a degree. That inevitability of failure, in a world so uncertain and chaotic, is oddly reassuring.
When listening to people speak Japanese I listen to understand, not just to reply. In my mother tongue I have failed over and over to truly digest what is being said to me, which often leads to doubt, overthinking, and heightened anxiety. I’m nowhere near fluent in Japanese, but I’m not deterred as I usually am when anxiety and depression take the lead. Misunderstandings still abound, yet I can retain some sense of clarity.
In seeking out to learn another language, I surprisingly found ways to cope with my shaky mental health. 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 convey unimpeded by anxiety rooted in American social standards. I’m still socially awkward no matter the language, 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 depression and streamline my processes of thinking.
Japanese is a tough language, but it’s one I have no regrets learning, for it’s provided me an escape from the absurdity of so many aspects of life. How can anyone deny that peace?
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