Working in a Foreign Language

When navigating in a foreign language you are always performing somehow. Speaking German daily in my job now, I am constantly listening to myself and constantly noticing grammatical errors and the paucity of my vocabulary. Within a normal conversation, I am always deciding whether to correct my grammar as I speak; this may demonstrate I understand the correct way, but also draws attention to my errors. It also takes focus away from the content and turns it to the details of this embarrassingly painful attempt at communication! It’s amazing how much mind-space the language takes up, replacing what seem like more interesting thoughts. I really have come a long way in the last three months in the position; however, I am still sometimes stumped as I search for a word. I’ve probably read, heard, and wrote this word down, probably several times, and yet I still feel that I’m mid-sentence, up in my head searching through what resembles last Sunday’s newspaper. That is, after it’s been read through by an entire family and half-heartedly stashed back together. Again, I’m performing. But for whom? Who is judging?

The point is that it’s easy to feel inferior when working in a foreign language, or just darn slow. Everything takes me much longer, and I’m used to being a quick learner who always manages to get everything done. And ahead of schedule! This changes my self-perception, thus I’m amazing to realize I’m still treated very respectfully, like any other college. Yet how I sound in my own mind impacts how I treat myself. I’m the one constantly judging my own performance.

This is what coaching is all about. Increasing our awareness and control of our internal world, with the idea that these internal changes can create the most powerful shift for us in our energy, success, and life satisfaction. It’s exhausting to constantly be judging ourselves and coming up short. It’s distracting for ourselves and doesn’t allow others to appreciate what we might have to offer as well. Most importantly, it doesn’t allow us to play with words and sentences to learn how they work together!

At a certain point, you get the sense that your language skills are workable and no longer painstaking. This is the tipping point when we accept that making errors are inevitable, and are finally desensitized to the horror of such constant errors. People always say that a few drinks helps with the fluency! We need to finally let our guard down enough to try out words and sentences that we haven’t yet mastered.

This same self-judgment occurs in many other situations. Think about when you’re performing for someone new, trying to impress a crowd or a boss. You feel that everyone is looking and judging, when often it is just ourselves judging. This is a fear-based mentality that turns our focus away from what is important, to worst-case-scenarios of what is happening or could happen. When we do so, our energy is not directed at the goal at hand. We lose focus, and don’t allow ourselves to see the opportunities in front of us and creative solutions or connections. In the world of coaching, it’s important to notice where you are wasting valuable energy on fears and anger. Instead, you can use that energy toward positive and forward thinking, in this example it’s being able to focus on the content, listen to a person and build a relationship with a person in a foreign language. Much more important that your dative or accusative adjective ending.

Same goes for this blog.  I would never actually post anything if I allowed my self-critic and judgement to take over.  It will never be perfect, but most important is that I’ve done it, and made some wonderful connections with readers!  So who’s the critic getting in your way?  And in the way of what?

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