Our mother tongue is an innate part of us; we see it as our identity. So what happens when we can’t use it, when we need to replace it with the new language?
We may feel lost, vulnerable, and unconfident. We may feel frustrated that we can’t express ourselves as we wish. We may not feel real, authentic, ourselves.
What’s the solution?
The memory of a cartoon I used to watch on TV came to me this morning when I was thinking about how we can approach language learning and the issue of ‘identity’.
The children’s cartoon was called “Mr Benn”. Even though Mr Benn had a different adventure each episode, they always started in the same way: wearing a typically British black suit and bowler hat, he used to leave his house and go to a fancy-dress costume shop where he was invited by the shopkeeper to try on an outfit. He would then leave the shop through a magic door in the changing room and enter a world linked to his costume. Each adventure ended with the shopkeeper re-appearing and leading him back to the changing room, back to his normal life. However, Mr Benn used to keep a small souvenir to remind him of each magical adventure.
The first steps
Just like Mr Benn assumes his costumes in the BBC cartoon, the very first step is to dress yourself in the language, in your new “international” identity.
This doesn’t mean you change who you are; we don’t change as a person. In fact, even though we sometimes feel “less”, we actually become “more”. By adapting to the costume, we integrate new ways of communicating, new understanding of others, new perspectives. It’s also easier to say goodbye to any limiting beliefs we may have about what we can and can’t do.
You can start by taking an interest in the culture of the country, being curious about its customs, humour, news, cuisine.
You can start by analyzing how you can welcome and integrate the language into your daily life.
You can start by visualizing yourself speaking this language, wearing this “costume”. How will you be, what will you do?
Find that inspiration, that excitement, that motivation, inside of you.
The real problem
Remember that the costume, i.e. the language in question, is never the problem. It is our interpretation of the situation, our thought about it, which is the problem. It’s the way we tend to think: “I can’t wear this”, “it’s not me” or “it doesn’t fit”.
What would happen if we thought differently?
What if we stopped worrying about looking good or about what others might think? What if we just decided to enjoy wearing the costume in the moment? What would that look like?
We all have the ability to learn
What everyone tends to forget is that we all have the ability to learn another language because we’ve all done it before. We might not remember learning our mother tongue but guess what (spoiler alert!) we managed it.
What is stopping us from doing the same thing again?
The only thing actually stopping us is our thoughts.
So stop getting lost in your thoughts, put on that costume and get ready to embark on a whole new adventure!