Finding Peace in a Different Language

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.

Just a small selection of what I use for learning Japanese. (Credit: Alyssa Pearl Fusek)

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?

© Cat and Moth Writings
All Rights Reserved

One thought on “Finding Peace in a Different Language

  1. Jordan in Scotland

    Great observations, and very relatable. It’s funny that extroverts can be bad listeners because they tend to do the talking, and introverts can be bad listeners because the actual conversation can be drowned by our inner-dialog, ironically when we’re searching for what to say.

    “That inevitability of failure…is oddly reassuring.”

    I think this is a critical point. There was a good Freakonomics podcast about the importance of being able to say, “I don’t know”, and Invisibilia recently did a piece about how detrimental expectations can be, even when those expectations are, “You can do anything”. Our culture’s aversion to failure, perhaps partly derived from our reward-and-punishment system of education, certainly has its detriments when you look closely. Success is built on failures; it’s adaption. The only failure, as they say, is not to try. But we frown so heavily on failure that people often prefer to forfeit any challenge rather than risk being wrong. There’s definitely something liberating about exceeding expectations as opposed to meeting them.


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